The Retail Leaders Forum – Part 1: The state of play in Australian retail

This week I spent two days in the company of some of Australia’s most senior retailers at the Retail Leaders Forum in Sydney. It’s always worthwhile attending industry specific forums, anywhere in the world. The shared knowledge, interaction and discussion from all parts of the industry sheds light on many areas – often deliberately, but sometimes unintentionally – in the heat of debate.

These industry gatherings highlight trends, normalise pain points, magnify similarities and differences, and give attendees the opportunity to distil from the proceedings the issues and opportunities that may be worth getting ahead of in the months and years to come. There was so much interesting content coming from the bankers, retailers, CPG marketers, researchers and government who attended that I will endeavour to spread the forum’s key themes over the next three blogs. Today, I will focus on the forum’s attendees and presenters.

Presenting at the forum were senior execs, predominantly CEOs and COOs, from Coles, Australia Post, Foodworks, Catch of the Day, Anaconda, Spar, General Pants, Retail Adventures, Target, eBay, Supercheap Auto, BCF, Pandora, Masters Hardware, Gloria Jeans, Myer, Boost Juice, Apparel Group and Fantastic Furniture. In the audience were execs from Coles, Woolworths, Suzanne Grae, IGA, Bunnings, Big W and many others. The debate was good, some punches were pulled, but overall I was left with the feeling that we – Australia and New Zealand – are in the midst of our own retail overhaul, which is about 36 months behind the rest of the world.

It doesn’t matter why we are behind (but, interestingly, this was the area that caused the most angst at the forum). The fact is we are, so what we should be doing is learning very fast from the lessons of others within our region, as well as the northern hemisphere. Years ago, I spent time doing officer training and I always remember German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s observation on experiential learning: ” Only a fool learns from their own mistakes. The wise learn from the mistakes of others.” Otto was wiser than me; my experiential learning is dotted with mistakes.

With the fact that Australian retailers need to catch up to other parts of the world, here are my observations on three of the 30-odd presenters.

I have seen and heard Coles CEO, Ian McLeod, present several times over the past three years. I have never seen him so relaxed, energised, entertaining or open as he was at the forum. His operations director, Stuart Machin, was in the audience and referred to by Ian several times. I hope we can hear Stuart’s own perceptions and observations very soon on the huge and successful change project he has led at Coles. With the success Coles has achieved in the market recently, it’s obvious Ian and Stuart make a very strong team.

Founder of online discounter Catch of the Day, Gabby Leibovich, was seriously confronting. Not just in his description of being locked out of his room in his underwear that morning, but his delivery manner and fundamentally what he and his business had achieved in less than six years. Whilst Gabby was self-deprecating, he has quickly built a brand trusted by millions of Australian shoppers — note I didn’t limit my reference to online shoppers. We are all shoppers; the place where we shop really doesn’t matter.

Target’s new CEO, Dene Rogers, was very calm, collected and a seriously focused retail leader. His experience in retailing, and knowledge of the levers to pull, based upon his time in North America with Sears and Kmart, will undoubtedly morph Target Australia into a very different retailer over the next three years.

While each retail leader had differing lenses on where we are, they all had a common view on how we move ahead: better buying with greater focus on range management; the fast roll out of online retailing as a seamless option for shoppers; and more own-brand sourcing where international brands pricing parity could not be improved.


In his role as CEO of CROSSMARK, Kevin Moore looks at the world of retailing from grocery to pharmacy, bottle shops to car dealers, corner store to department stores. In this insightful blog, Kevin covers retail news, ideas, companies and emerging opportunities in Australia, NZ, the US and Europe. His international career in sales and marketing has seen him responsible for business in over 40 countries, which has earned him grey hair and a wealth of expertise in international retailers and brands. CROSSMARK Asia Pacific is Australasia’s largest provider of retail marketing services, consulting to and servicing some of Australasia’s biggest retailers and manufacturers.


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