Rod Duke is widely credited with saving Briscoes Group, which was not waving but drowning when he was hauled over from Australia in 1988 to do damage control and prepare the company for sale.
Now Duke now owns just under 80 percent of Briscoes Group (which includes sports retailer Rebel Sports and Living & Giving). The company is pegged to post in 2015 a net profit of $36.8 million.
But it hasn’t always been sunshine and rings of roses on Royal Doulton china plates for the retailer, even under Duke’s eagle eye.
After recording an outstandingly poor year in 2007 – its poorest compared to the prior year in a quarter century – Briscoes made what Duke calls “a ballsy move”.
Instead of bunkering down to weather the storm, as many other retailers were, it gave itself an expensive makeover.
“We had a look at the way in which we do business, the structure of our people and the merchandise, the offers we had, and we aggressively went out there to acquire famous brands as well as doing some pretty clever restructuring of our people within the organisation,” Duke says.
The company also invested upwards of $3 million on new back office and financial systems giving its managers a wealth of data to make smarter decisions.
Duke says analysts thought it was a daring move for the company at the time.
“We thought it would be valuable to invest, and invest vast sums of money. For a business that was still a mid-sized company at that point, that was a pretty ballsy move.”
It’s an attitude that seems to help the retailer, and goes some way to explain how one man can change the fortunes of a retail company as dramatically as Duke did.
“The folks inside this organisation are always looking forward, and looking forward at ways of defending our particular patch within the retail landscape: fending off people who want to invade our space, doing the job better and making the proposition irresistible for customers,” Duke explains.
When asked what the secret to the year’s success was, Duke credits a market shift in New Zealand.
“I have a sense that value these days means something different to New Zealand customers than it did seven to eight years ago.
“Value used to mean cheapest price and cheapest price invariably meant poorest quality and you’ll see that retailers that occupy that space of New Zealand are generally doing very, very poorly,” he says.
The majority of brands stocked at Briscoes are ones people really desire, Duke says.
“I just don’t sell rubbish and that’s the differentiator I think.
“You know - the proposition of really good quality famous brand name products at real good prices is just irresistible.”
This story was originally published in NZRetail magazine issue 736, March 2015.