We interviewed our members to hear their insights and adventures in the retail world. Meet Anita Dorwald, Chief Operations Officer at City Beach.
How long have you been in retail? / How did your retail career begin?
Having ticked over 15 years, it’s hard to remember a time before City Beach, but all up I have been in retail for 34 years. My retail career began in the Victoria Markets down in Melbourne when I got my very first job at age 14 selling handbags on the weekend! I loved the customer interaction and always felt a small thrill when I managed to find them the perfect bag, and sent them home happy with their purchase! That excitement of matching people to the perfect product has never left me – since those early days, I have worked in homewares, books, vintage clothing and boutique retail before joining City Beach in 2003.
What is the biggest challenge working in retail and in your opinion what steps to overcome this challenge are.
The biggest challenge in retail remains unchanged in my opinion – meeting and exceeding your customers’ expectations. I think the advent of digital and the globalisation of the marketplace has intensified this challenge because we no longer have the luxury of time to experiment and adapt – and the customer’s expectations have shifted exponentially in the past decade. Retailers are no longer in the driving seat as they once were – dictating trends, offers and value. Customers have firmly taken control- being spoiled for choice, and having access through multiple channels means they are educated about the market, and choose who they interact with and support very consciously and deliberately – Retailers have to constantly re-evaluate their value proposition and give their customers a compelling reason to connect – and offer an even more compelling reason to stay connected.
How do you keep your team motivated?
Good question. I don’t consciously think about motivation. I focus instead on creating an environment in which the team is empowered to engage and find their own voice. In my experience, people are motivated when they are given the opportunities to explore and grow as individuals and professionals. We have a culture that promotes from within and focuses on rewarding energy and enthusiasm, and teaching skills. The open door policy and flat structure at City Beach means that a good idea can literally come from anywhere within the ranks across the business and immediately land on the desk of the decision makers. So we try to recruit the right people from the beginning, and then offer them an environment that taps into their inner ‘why’ and keeps them motivated and engaged. The result of all this is a business that enjoys and benefits from unusually long tenure for a youth retailer. It is not uncommon for Team Members in their 30’s to celebrate 10, 15 and even 20 year milestones with City Beach.
I feel that intrinsic motivation is more powerful and enduring than extrinsic motivation – although to be fair, regular celebration never get old, and certainly helps to keep spirits high!
Retail is a very competitive industry – How do you stay current and what trends are you focusing on at present and why?
I think success in Retail these days is about finding the sweet spot between remaining true to the core DNA of your brand, and innovating to keep the offer fresh and engaging. This requires a combination of effort from all levels of the business. At City Beach, we are currently in the midst of a major digital transformation journey – but the hallway talk is all about the customer rather than the technology. Technology is only truly beneficial is it assists the retailer to have a better relationship with their customer. So unsurprisingly we are focusing on all the trends that are currently in our market – Click and Collect, interactive screens, apps etc. We are looking closely at the pioneers who have gone before us in these areas and trying to learn from their successes and missteps. Similarly, through conferences, media, industry events and general brainstorming in the teams, we are keeping an eye on the more progressive trends that are perhaps still on the cusp of commercial viability, like magic mirrors and VR, and considering when and where they might best fit into the City Beach roadmap.
Where do you see the future of retail?
I’m not a subscriber to the gloom and doom that currently abounds. I recently read an article where the current retail environment was described as one of ‘survival of the fittest’. I feel like this is no bad thing – retail must evolve along with every other industry and the law of averages dictates that not every retail entity will be able, or in fact willing, to adapt to the new consumer landscape. The future is digital, no doubt, but there is still a place for the physical offer. Perhaps future generations will feel that virtual reality and 3D printing will be a perfectly normal substitute for a trip to the shopping centre, but the reality is this is still quite a way off.
I think the more immediate future will continue to provide a blended experience. Digital personalisation, driven by ever improving AI and automation will translate into an increasingly personalised in store experience – curated specifically for each customer. Elimination of friction in the customer journey is one of the key drivers of initiatives like click and collect, queue busting, endless aisle, price comparison apps, deferred payment types, marketplaces, chat bots and a host of other innovations. When you combine these with the immediacy of information available about a product’s features, manufacture, provenance, quality and popularity through social media, the future of retail is all about the customer.
I think the renewed interest in provenance, craftsmanship, quality and social responsibility through the supply chain will continue to create opportunities for new and existing brands. Boutique offerings will sit quite comfortably alongside the big box success stories and mid tier retailers that build wonderful brand stories that resonate with their customers. Both will attract and inspire loyalty – but both will need to adapt and constantly evolve to stay relevant.
At the end of the day though, I truly believe the bones of the relationship remain unchanged – retail is, (and in my opinion should remain), all about the thrill of matching people to the perfect product and having both parties go home happy with the exchange. The future should just make this easier.