Talking shop: Rod Duke, Briscoe Group

Welcome to Talking shop, a weekly series where we interview the head of a New Zealand retail business about their growth plans and challenges, and get their thoughts on the latest business trends.

This week, we’re featuring our interview with Rod Duke, group managing director and deputy chairman of Briscoe Group, the parent company of Briscoes Homeware, Living & Giving and Rebel Sport.

Inside Retail New Zealand: You recently announced that you’ll be refurbishing and opening new Briscoes and Rebel Sport stores over the coming months. What’s your rationale for expanding the store network at a time when the retail climate is fairly subdued, rather than focusing on cutting costs?

Rod Duke: Our bricks-and-mortar stores still represent around 90 per cent of our transactions and the only place where customers can touch feel and most easily view our entire product offering.

The opening of new stores in new catchments can most often be because of newly established suburbs or perhaps some movement in
shopping precincts. Furthermore, customers prefer not to travel
long distances to shop so easy to access stores with good
parking is often very important.

IRNZ: Do you think consumer sentiment will pick up before Christmas? What are your expectations for the peak retail period this year?

RD: Clearly when customers feel confident about their job, cost of
housing (including rent) and the cost of running the household (food,
petrol), they are more confident about spending money on non-
essentials.

I think the current Government has a little way to go to restore that confidence but I am a little more positive than negative.

IRNZ: Over the past few years, you’ve shifted the Briscoes offering to be more about quality and branded products, rather than low prices. That can be a difficult transition to make, since customers are conditioned to shopping on price. Why did you do it? And how has it gone for you? 

RD: I think our Briscoes strategy would be best characterised as
quality branded product at low prices, not just low prices.

Perhaps the reason it looked like a recent transition, was that it
is only in the last five or six years [that] we have acquired a vast number of international high quality brands.

IRNZ: A lot of retailers are trying to make their stores more experiential as a way to drive foot traffic. Are you doing anything along these lines in either Briscoes, Rebel Sport or Living & Giving?

RD: We are constantly experimenting with both our major brands. Promotional ends, departmental signage, product and lifestyle images, aisle direction and width, product adjacencies, etc, etc.

Many of the stores have a subtle difference.

IRNZ: The group is seeing pretty rapid growth in its online sales. What are you doing to increase the share of sales that are made online? And do you have any concerns about going all-in on e-commerce?

RD: Online is an attractive option for many customers. In fact many customers shop both channels. Often a customer will change channels due to circumstances of time or convenience, not necessarily just a pure preference.

For the present time and perhaps many years into the future the vast majority of our customers will still choose bricks-and-mortar.

IRNZ: Another major trend in New Zealand and Australia at the moment is sustainability. A lot of retailers have started to look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Besides phasing out plastic bags at checkout, is Briscoe Group doing anything on the sustainability front?

RD: Sustainability, carbon footprint and waste are all key issues retailers must address. We are partway through the journey but recognise it as a key undertaking for the Group.


IRNZ: What is your personal view of retail? Do you ascribe to the idea that the business has changed dramatically (that it’s more online, more influenced by global trends, etc.)? Or do you believe that it’s essentially the same business it always was: that it’s about listening to the customer and giving them what they want?

RD: I suspect it’s both. There is no question retail has undergone change. But to be accurate that change has not been short-term, it’s been sustained and constant.

For me, every year there has been change, sometimes quite obvious and other years somewhat subtle. Listening to customers is without doubt the surest way of identifying change and adjusting.

IRNZ: What are some emerging retail trends (either tech trends or otherwise) that you’re paying attention to right now?

RD: We are currently looking to solve a number of interesting innovations. But for me solving these issues in the short term would be a real bonus:

  • Queue busting: Too often on a busy day the checkout queue is way too long and customers waiting for extended periods.
  • Re-stocking: That is shelf replenishment of stock.

Two of many challenges but we are well on the way to eliminating the worst effects through a mix of technology and workplace system changes.

IRNZ: You’ve been at the helm of Briscoes for 30 years, and in that time you’ve added the Living & Giving and Rebel Sport chains to the group, and continued to grow sales and profit. What do you think it takes to be a successful leader?

RD: Without question, successful team leaders are the people who walk the walk. As a leader you must demonstrate that you are worth following.

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