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Real Business : Winter 2008
16 +#8; REAL BUSINESS+#8;ISSUE+#8;2,+#8;2008 manufacturers in an industry where stock is increasingly coming from offshore or industry trends need exploring. “Part of the excitement of a job in retail is the transferable nature of the work – women’s apparel, widgets, luxury goods. There’s variety in what you are selling as well as where you can work,” explains Thomas who, at 31, has the experience of someone far more senior and the title and position to show for it. His first job as a graduate accountant was with the then troubled Sportsgirl/ Sportscraft empire back in the late ’90s. Thomas has a habit of finding work with enterprises in the doldrums. Subsequently, he went to the now defunct Ansett airline and was there for its demise in 2001, before joining Country Road, which at the time was in dire financial straits. Not anymore though. Thomas has been an enthusiastic player in making the business more successful than ever through starting new businesses, including 75 concession outlets in department stores, venturing into new markets, moving out of wholesale and opening an offshore pick ’n’ pack facility in Hong Kong. “We’ve streamlined supply chain activities through the domestic market and brought down our cost base significantly. We’re trading at 20 to 30 per cent growth in our home stores. When I started in my role we were breaking even, turning over about $180 million. Now we’re turning around $300 million with a profit of $15 to 20 million – and the credit can’t all go to me,” says Thomas who heads a “nimble team of 10”. “Accounting has provided a great spring- board for me. I can dissect a balance sheet, build a cash flow and understand what drives a profit – and in retail that’s the customer. The endgame is providing them with the right product in the right place at the right time. “Vitally, it’s about people on both sides of the counter. Everyone who works in retail needs to know how to romance the customer,” says Thomas, whose first taste was working in-store while at uni. The joy of retail, all agree, is its accessibil- ity. It’s an industry in which we all have some expertise as consumers. And it’s dead easy to research at the pointy end of the business, by asking on the sales floor, “Are you being served?” n Louise haskins CPa, says it’s a lot of fun being a shopkeeper. although she works as a commercial manager for a large business, the Mitre 10 hardware chain, she’s respon- sible for the day-to-day financial operations of seven stores, geographically spread from the south coast of nsw to metropolitan Melbourne. “there are all the challenges and enjoyment of running your own business,” says haskins, 37. “i look after all the com- mercial elements of the stores, which have their own accounting and admin teams and operate in their own right. essentially it’s about identifying opportunities and ways to improve things. in retail, after you take out the rent and labour costs, there’s not a lot left. the challenge is looking for a couple of cents on a margin.” in a typical Mega store there are 27,000 products. “You are looking for opportunities at department level, and every day it’s around maximising inventory and finding ways to keep it fresh so the consumer always sees something new,” she says. “stock manage- ment is critical because it’s your biggest investment and therefore your biggest risk.” haskins, who admits she’s no home handywoman, also steps beyond retail into manufacturing, with responsibilities for two (roof) truss plants. when she left rMit with a bachelor of business majoring in accounting, haskins had a sneak preview of the sector when she joined her father’s company, a distributor and provider of retail software to a pet store chain. in a stint overseas, she took a more rarified role in accounts at Christie’s Fine art auctioneers. back in australia in 1997, she became finance assistant for the then seven Disney stores operating nationally. using systems established in Disney opera- tions globally, she ran payroll, monthly report- ing and accounts payable for an ever-growing local concern. by the time she left, the company had 13 stores operating in australia. “i loved working for Mickey,” she says. “but no matter what you are selling, the great aspect of retailing is its tangibility.” Louise haskins CPa commercial manager mitre 10 net gains Check out the website of the australian retailers association at www.ara.com.au anthony mckee
Issue 3 2008