Keeping in touch
Shayne Elliott: As you mentioned, you're seven weeks into this new environment. At some level, in the first seven weeks it's all a bit exciting. People rally around. I'm sure your teams feel very motivated about the impact they're having and doing the right thing and people work a little bit harder. But you can't rely on that forever.
How prepared do you think your business is to sustain working in this unusual environment, not forever, but for a sustained period. How prepared are you for that and what's your biggest challenge in thinking through how you're prepared to continue to operate in this environment?
Fred Harrison: Look, although COVID-19 came out of the blue, we almost had a test run - if I can put it that way - in January with the bushfires. We had a number of our stores heavily impacted by that.
Our Bright store, for example, was 90 per cent down most weeks because the town had been evacuated. We were basically feeding TV crews and a couple of the locals. And that was something we weren't really preparing for - we had a lot of stock in those stores. I think we would all say we haven't done a perfect job with the pandemic but we've been taking notes.
One thing - it's all about communication. You cannot over communicate. I've been speaking to our team basically every day of the week, whether it be our senior team or store managers. We are keeping our people up to date but also listening to what they've got because sometimes you sit around an office desk and you put good plans in place but we have a little saying - it's only the execution at store level that counts.
So, the feedback we get from our stores, what customers are saying, where the trends are going with people's behaviour - we need to get that from the stores. So one thing we've learned is that even in good times when there are no pandemics or bushfires, we need to communicate more often and more closely with the people working in our stores.
We have to be flexible. We have to be nimble. We may have rules, we may have done it a certain way for 20 years and it's worked, but that doesn't mean there isn't a better way or another way. So I think we should always question the way we've done things traditionally, to say “you know what, if the world is tipped upside down, how quickly can we change and react?”.
And the good businesses can do that and adapt and you're not going to have people sitting in the corners saying “I want it to be like it was 20 years ago”. So, to me, one of the key take outs is better and more communication with our - not only our senior team, but people out on the shop floor or in the banks in your case.
It's also our people, our teams. That was an issue at the start - we didn't have enough staff. In our business we tend to rely on those who are hard-working and long-serving. You might have casuals doing 30 or 40 hours a week, and that's well and good, but when the stress goes on, you can't bump them up to 60 or 70 hours a week. You need to have a slightly bigger workforce so you can share the load around and have the responsibility shared around as well. So that's made us realise that we need to be a bit heavier on numbers, particularly casuals so we can gear up quickly if we need to.
One other thing we did - and there was no science to it – but when our people were putting in a huge effort a few weeks in, we gave all our permanent and casual staff a Ritchies voucher to say thanks which was really well recieved.
But one of the things I'm really spruiking is that we don't get too far ahead of ourselves. In some respects, if I put it in a humbling sort of way, we've had a pretty lucky six or seven weeks, but we had an unlucky January with the bushfires.
It's not like Ritchies have found this magnificent, exclusive new product or we've magically upgraded all our stores overnight and now we've got the best-looking supermarkets in Australia. So while the numbers are impressive, the reality is this has come out of a pretty unfortunate circumstance that won't last forever. As a business we must still focus on our core standards, goals and expectations and not to deviate, because the wheel turns.
We know in business, in life, nothing remains the same forever. We've had a good run now but we're mindful that over the next 12 months unemployment and finance might be tight, people might have more debt to pay off, so we're mindful of that.
Shayne Elliott: Understandably we have heard a lot of sad stories and those are definitely a focus. We're doing our bit to try and support people going through a really difficult time but of course there's also opportunity in these times.
It's about the value of relationships, of being flexible and being able to adapt quickly to the new environment. It's about the value of people and culture. That is ultimately what differentiates Ritchies and will differentiate us. It's also about being really respectful of all of our stakeholders, including the broader community.
Thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate the chance to have a conversation with you. Best of luck.
Fred Harrison: Cheers Shayne.
Shayne Elliott is CEO of ANZ