From multinational technology companies to family businesses, leading operators in Australia’s retail landscape were recognised by the Australian Retail Association in Melbourne this morning, with the winners all displaying the ability to stay ahead of trends in behaviour from demanding consumers.
The ARA Australian Retail Awards shortlist of the top 20 businesses of the year included the likes of Ikea, Big W, Aldi, Bunnings and Cotton On, but smaller operators were also recognised for leveraging speedy growth and engaging with the community in a tough retail climate.
Among the award winners was “Chief Party Dude” and former Shark Tank contestant Dean Salakas, who won the gong for Individual of the Year in the retail space for his growth of family business, The Party People.
In 2015, Salakas walked away from a deal that could have seen shark Janine Allis invest $400,000 in the business in return for a 40% stake. Two years on, he was recognised for his ability to grow the 30-year-old operation into a market-leader for party supplies.
Retail stalwarts were also honoured this morning: Officeworks took home the award for overall Retailer of the Year, while Myer secured the People’s Choice Award for best retailer.
The importance of bricks-and-mortar retailers that cater to customers’ increasing hunger for “experiences” was also highlighted. Sydney activewear designer Nimble and Melbourne bookseller Readings were both recognised for store designs that offer more than just a place for shoppers to make a transaction.
Disruption and positive corporate culture were two key themes of the morning, with tech giant Airbnb winning the award for the Retail Disruptor of the Year for the influence it has had on the short-term and holiday rental market.
The importance of moving seamlessly as the industry changes, and doing this with a kind and mindful culture, was driven home by former chief executive of Swisse Vitamins, Radek Sali.
In a keynote address, Sali marveled at the fact that 10 years ago, his company’s approach to mindfulness in corporate culture would have been highly unusual. But much like the Australian consumer’s growing affection for wellness products, retailers now understand culture gets results.
Sali said he learned how to manage people while also staying mates with them when he was working at Village Cinemas while at university, and believes this skill served him well in the role of chief executive.
Now running his own investment firm after leading the sale of Swisse to Hong Kong giant Biostime for $1.67 billion in 2015, Sali says the success of Swisse comes from a similarly mindful approach to business decisions.
By taking note of the rise of the Chinese student shopper in Australia at the start of the 2010s, he says the company was able to get ahead of a huge surge of interest and test out new markets early.
“All of a sudden, we were able to trial in our own backyard growing in another market,” he said.
The 2017 ARA Australian Retail Awards winners:
Retailer of the Year
Runners-up: Aldi Australia, JB Hi-Fi, Bunnings, Dan Murphy’s, Ikea Australia
Independent Retailer of the Year
Winner: The Party People
Runner-up: Nimble Activewear
Retail Individual of the year
Winner: Dean Salakas, The Party People
Runner-up: Kelsey Subritsky, Pandora
Retail Disruptor of the Year
Runner-up: Crust Gourmet Pizza Par
Omni-channel Retailer of the Year
Winner: EB Games
Retail Store Fitout of the Year, 1-5 store category
Winner: Nimble Activewear
Runner-up: LUC Homewares and Design
Retail Store Fitout of the Year, 6+ stores category
Winner: Readings Books, for Readings Doncaster and Readings Kids
Runner-up: Amart Furniture
HR rising star award
Winner: Shalysse Romer, HUGO Boss
People’s Choice award
Runner-up: Bunnings Warehouse
Corporate Social Responsibility Award
Winner: Hill St Grocer, Tasmania
Frontline Retail Employer of Choice Award
Winner: Aldi Australia
Runner-up: Peregrine Corporation
ARA Retail Hall of Fame inductee
Winner: Wilson Retail