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The top 10 retail movers and shakers of 2015

  • News
  • December 17, 2015
  • Elly Strang
The top 10 retail movers and shakers of 2015
  1. Jamie Whiting



    Calling 2015 a busy year for Barkers and Top Retail managing director Jamie Whiting would be an understatement. In late 2014, Barkers opened its biggest store to date in Auckland at No 1 High St and launched a new stock control process. Not one to sit still, Whiting then kicked off the 2015 year by switching focus and launching an international bricks and mortar franchise into the New Zealand market, with Topshop’s first store opening on Queen St in March. While the strategic development, performance and focus of Topshop falls on Whiting’s shoulders, he is also credited with refreshing the Barkers brand. He wasn’t afraid to admit the company had become “generic” when he came on board in 2010 and it has since had a complete revamp, from marketing, to IT systems to store concepts. First Retail managing director Chris Wilkinson says what Barkers is doing is “retail as best practice” and “game changing”, particularly with its customer data base building. “What they’ve done with Barkers is an amazing story – they’ve re-engaged with the market right from older to younger guys,” Wilkinson says. Whiting’s smart moves in retail have cemented Whiting at the top of the list. Not too bad an achievement for someone who started on Hallenstein’s shop floor at age 17. As he said in an issue of NZRetail Magazine earlier this year, the key thing in retail is to stay relevant. “Competition has always been around for ever, and its survival of the fittest… there is no time to sit still and smell the roses in this industry.”
     
  2. Rod Duke



    Rod Duke didn’t shy away from controversy this year, fronting a takeover attempt against Kathmandu and speaking his mind about its board’s rejection of his offer. Duke didn’t manage to pull off the takeover, with Briscoes Group retaining just shy of a quarter of Kathmandu’s shares (22 percent). However, the move was bold and showed Duke isn’t content to sit within just one category, as demonstrated by his company’s activity across homewares (Briscoes and Living & Giving), sportswear (Rebel Sport) and previously holding a large stake in Pumpkin Patch, a children’s clothing retailer. Had the move paid off, it would’ve been a smart opportunity to seize on in terms of IP, infrastructure and stockholdings. It wouldn’t have been the first time Duke’s turned around a company in dire straits, either. He joined Briscoe Group in 1988 and revived it not once, but twice – its second coming occurred in 2007 after a very poor sales year. Takeover aside, Briscoe Group has had another strong year with Duke at the helm, reporting an 11 percent increase in its first-half profits in September. Duke told NZRetail magazine earlier this year the key to his success is he sells products that people really desire. “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.”
     
  3. Chris Gudgeon



    Chris Gudgeon isn’t a retailer, but he is at the forefront of huge changes to New Zealand’s retail landscape. As the CEO of the property group, Kiwi Property, he secured H&M and Zara as tenants at Sylvia Park mall and paved the way for them to enter the New Zealand market for the first time. The fact that Zara and H&M were looking to open a store in New Zealand was the worst kept secret of 2015, but retail experts say negotiating a deal with them would’ve been no easy feat. Both would’ve needed to be convinced that opening their first stores at Sylvia Park would be a better option than choosing one of the main city’s CBDs like David Jones and Topshop. The opening of these stores will be a game changer for the centre and will benefit other retailers at the mall through higher foot traffic. Aside from Sylvia Park, Kiwi Property also spent $39 million opening an outdoor dining development, The Brickworks, at LynnMall. Overall, 2015 has been full of smart moves for Gudgeon, as property players and retailers seek incentives for customers to visit physical stores, while customers look for new retail experiences.
     
  4. Rod McDermott

    While Rod McDermott isn’t the most outspoken of retail executives, Farmer’s managing director certainly was busy behind the scenes. The company grew both its digital and physical channels this year, launching its long-awaited ecommerce site, installing RFID technology with its stock and opening a new 1600 square metre Queen St store. These moves were impressive considering the market for department stores at the moment is extremely volatile. In 2015, we saw Kirkcaldie & Stains be bought by Australian retailer David Jones, while South Island stores merged as H&J Smith purchased Arthur Barnett. Experts commended Farmers on not rushing into the ecommerce game, but instead biding its time and making sure its technology was up to standard before launching it. RFID technology is what is used by ecommerce giant Amazon to control and grow its stock. The retailer also made a comeback to Queen St and opened a store on the corner of Queen and Victoria Sts, spending $5 million on the fit-out. “When you’re in the same street as European luxury brands and new overseas brands, you really need to put your best foot forward,” he told The Register.
     
  5. Emma Hill



    Emma Hill may bear the famous last name of her father, but she has certainly never been handed any shortcuts because of him. She began at the bottom rung, working on the Whangarei shop floor at age 13 emptying rubbish bins and cleaning counters. She worked her way up the company hierarchy over the course of 30 years, going on to establish Michael Hill Canada in 2002. She was also named as instrumental in the forming the company’s vision of 1000 stores by 2022. There are now 65 Michael Hill stores in North America, and there are still plans to grow the company to 1000 or more stores. After three decades of hard work, Emma Hill’s commitment was rewarded when she was appointed company chair to replace Michael Hill this year. Her father shed tears when defending her appointment to a shareholder, saying it’s important that the company stays a family business and doesn’t become a big business without romance or soul. Emma Hill will lead the company’s push into the US, where it has nine stores and a second New York store in the works. It recently ran its ‘We’re for love’ ad in arguably the US’ biggest event of the year – the Super Bowl.
     
  6. Cecilia Robinson



    Chief executive officer of My Food Bag, Swedish-born Cecilia Robinson has revolutionised the ways Kiwis shop for groceries. She’s 30 years old and has founded two New Zealand companies that have made it onto the Deloitte Fast 50. She co-founded Au Pair, a company linking au pairs from around the world to Kiwi families in New Zealand after noticing a gap in the market. This happened again when she realised there was no meal subscription service like back home in Sweden, so her husband; Masterchef winner and dietician Nadia Lim; Lim’s husband and former Telecom chief executive Theresa Gattung founded My Food Bag in 2013. In just three years, the company is set to hit the $100 million annual revenue mark, which is faster than Trade Me and Xero’s progression. It is now the third largest food retailer between Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises and has expanded into Australia. “Supermarkets are some of the oldest strongholds in society - a lot of businesses have moved in line - but that has given a market opportunity for people like us to explore and really shake up the market,” she told NZRetail magazine earlier this year.
     
  7. Dave Elliott


    Mitre 10 is a true Kiwi success story, with more than $1 billion in sales on its 40th birthday last year. However, what makes it truly stand out as a company is its use of digital marketing – and Dave Elliott is the man behind it. Its ‘Easy As’ DIY how to videos have reached over four millon YouTube views and its engagement from customers on its Facebook page is next to none, with Mitre 10 personally replying to almost every comment on its page. Elliott told The Register earlier this year the secret of being successful on social media is being genuine. “We pay a lot of attention and care to how we use [social media] and what we post to ensure the social contact we have is not an advertising platform by any means, but a way of having a relationship with our customers. We add value to what they’re doing,” he says. He says the company’s digital mission is to make Mitre 10 the first choice online destination for home improvement in New Zealand. While not every item is available for purchase online, it looks to be well on the way to that goal.
     
  8. Graeme Popplewell

    The Hallenstein Glasson CEO hasn’t had a smooth ride this year. In April, an ethical fashion report gave Glassons poor scores in workers’ rights, traceability and transparency, amongst others. Though Glassons didn’t actually participate in the survey, public backlash was swift, with some consumers declaring they’d boycott the brand until it improved its practices. At the time, Popplewell wasn’t afraid to weather the storm and said to The Register Glassons would be reviewing its policies and procedures. In November it did just that, announcing on Facebook its supply chains were audited and found no child labour or human rights violations, and that working conditions were of a high standard. “We will continue to run these audits on an ongoing basis, so when customers are shopping at Glassons, they can shop with absolute confidence that their clothes have been ethically produced,” the statement said. This turnaround by a large retailer was commendable, showing Glassons values its customers’ concerns and its workers. In terms of numbers, Popplewell has also grown Hallensteins’ profits, reporting a 19 percent increase to $9.6 million. The group’s overall profits grew 21.8 percent after a poor showing in 2014.
     
  9. Karen Walker



    Never shy from a list of top people in business, in 2015 Walker once again proved her influence over the fashion industry in New Zealand. She launched an eyewear campaign, which propelled the dog modeling her frames into Instagram fame; her first fragrance line, Karen Walker Fragrances, which was two years in the making; and helped international brand Topshop open its first bricks and mortar store here through her role as part-owner of Top Retail, which owns and manages Topshop in New Zealand. Internationally, Walker was recognised in the Business of Fashion’s BoF500 list, which recognizes the 500 most influential people in the fashion world globally. This is a huge feat for Walker, who says if your fashion brand is from New Zealand, you’re already at a disadvantage on the world stage as fashion is not part of New Zealand’s brand DNA.

  1. Mike Bennetts



    Z Energy’s chief executive has had a strong all-round year. Z made a move to buy Chevron Petrol’s brands in New Zealand, while its earnings and profits have been up year-on-year. However, what makes Z stand out is its customer and employee satisfaction, which are at a high. Bennetts has championed bringing great customer service back to the forecourts and improved stores at stations as part of the overhaul of the Z brand. It’s clearly working, as the Z Valley service station in Dunedin was a firm community favourite and won the People’s Choice Award at the Top Shop Lower South Island Awards earlier this year. The company is also investing in its staffs’ future with training, as over 300 of its staff graduated with a level three New Zealand Certificate in Retail through Service IQ and a further 700 staff working towards it.

    Bonus: Ones to watch



    Jay Goodey: Goodey was just 22 when he quit his job in television to launch Onceit, a site for retailers to sell designer and branded outlet stock. It now has more than 300 suppliers and more than 250,000 users in its member database and is growing exponentially each year. Goodey also made Onceit one of the first companies in New Zealand to move from the online realm into physical, opening a bricks and mortar pop-up store in Newmarket last month. If it works well, he might keep it as a permanent outlet. Watch this space.

    Melissa Williams-Lamb: Kilt founder Melissa Williams-Lamb noticed there was a hole in the market for affordable New Zealand made fashion and thought she could fill the gap. She created Kilt, which has since grown to 11 boutiques across the country and an online store. Instead of releasing collections, the design team at Kilt aims to release a new item each week. This allows Kilt more flexibility than foreign-made clothing brands as it can incorporate feedback from customers on things like length and colours into its designs. Its omnichannel prowess was recognised at the Top Shop Awards earlier this year, with Kilt Christchurch winning the Upper South Island multi-store omnichannel award. It was also a runner up in the Upper South Island fashion and footwear category for its Nelson store. 

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  • Sarah Dunn
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