Building an empire: Mitre 10's Neil Cowie

  • News
  • April 29, 2015
  • Jessy Edwards
Building an empire: Mitre 10's Neil Cowie

Mitre 10 celebrated its 40th birthday last year by grossing more than $1b in sales.

But it’s nothing to do with him, Mitre 10 chief executive Neil Cowie says.

“It’s been 40 years of intergenerational growth, and a strong strategy over a long period of time,” he explains.

Cowie, who has been at the cooperative for just over a year, will admit strong marketing has gone some way to boosting the retailer’s growth.

“We’ve been quite innovative in that area I believe – our latest campaign, ‘Bring on the Weekend’, two-thirds of Kiwis recall seeing, which I think is fantastic, it goes to the strength of the brand.”

Mitre 10’s Easy As videos is another online campaign that’s been a riotous success for the brand, with just over 4 million views at time of writing.

The videos cater for everyone from the DIY dabbler to the reno-buff, spanning from how to paint an interior wall to how to build a retaining wall.

Cowie says the renovation category, spurred by DIY programs like The Block, is on the rise “without a doubt”.

“There’s a whole generation coming through looking for inspiration...We wanna be the helpful mate,” he says.

Mitre 10 has about eight thousand people per day viewing the 54 videos, and plan to add ten more this year. And it’s not just Kiwis watching: 170,000 views are from Australia and 251,000 views are from the US.

“We’re inspiring them around the world how to build a fence and deck,” Cowie laughs.

Despite sharp social media strategy, Mitre 10s key focus is still in-store experience, with the retailer aiming to be a weekend destination store for families.

“The experience in-store is central to what we do – so they come on a Saturday, mum goes to garden centre, dad goes to tools, kids go to the jumping castle and they all meet up for lunch,” Cowie explains.

While Mitre 10 does have an online store, Cowie says he doesn’t see all hardware translating to ecommerce as naturally as clothes or books.

“Hardware is more about research and about information.

“Not too many people are going to buy 10L of paint online but what they’ll certainly do is look for inspiration online – they’ll watch the Easy As video online and then go in store and expect the customer experience to be equivalent.”

He says customer expectations are changing rapidly, but the real success of a business always comes down to having the right offering.

“The advent of omnichannel certainly makes [retail] more challenging but I think it’s damn exciting…you could have the best website but if your products aren’t relevant - forget about it.”

This story was originally published in NZRetail magazine issue 736, March 2015.

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