From The Source: John Winning
Inside Retail chats with 30-year-old John Winning, a fourth-generation retailer and CEO of Winning Group. In 2005 he founded Appliances Online, which has grown to become one of Australia’s leading online appliances retailers.
Winning Group is the parent company of the 109-year-old Winning Appliances, as well as Appliances Online, Best Home Chef, Handy Crew. Winning Group is a fourth-generation family business and has its origins in the carriage and saddlery trade established in 1906 by Richard William Winning. Today, it is one of Australia’s leading appliance brands and a noted leader in e-commerce, selling cooktops, ovens, fridges and laundry appliances online and instore.
Justin Grey: How was FY15 for Winning Group?
John Winning: FY15 was a great year for Winning Group. We experienced strong double-digit growth and achieved significant goals, including:
- New state of the art distribution centre: Due to the growth of our businesses and escalating demand, we launched our new high clearance DC in Sydney at the beginning of the year. This enabled us to meet both new and existing demand and hold stock much more efficiently.
- Brand awareness campaign: In November last year, Appliances Online launched its Legend Blimp to elevate brand awareness to new heights. The blimp has already lifted Appliances Online’s brand awareness.
- Strengthening our hold in the market: In April we acquired Sydney-based factory clearance outlet business, Electro Seconds. The acquisition provided a strategic opportunity to strengthen Appliances Online’s positioning in the clearance market and also expand the Group’s hold in the market. Winning Group now successfully caters to each customer segment in the appliance market.
JG: How has David Woolcott settled into the role of CEO of Winning Appliances since his commencement in July?
JW: With a thorough understanding of the appliance industry and extensive experience working with premium lifestyle brands, David has hit the ground running in his new role. He has already begun building on a number of initiatives to continue to help drive the best instore experience in the world. These initiatives focus on elevating Winning Appliances’ strengths to a new level. As one of Australia’s longest standing retail businesses, we know we have the right formula. So it’s not about turning things upside down; it’s about looking at new and different ways to improve our already strong offering. He’s proving a great asset for our business and I look forward to continue working with him to lead Winning Appliances to further success.
JG: And how has James Fleet settled into the CEO of Appliances Online role?
JW: James has successfully taken to the role of CEO of Appliances Online. James worked with me on the original model for Appliances Online 10 years ago, and also helped me build our very first website. The fast paced nature of today’s retail landscape, in conjunction with the continued digital disruption of the sector, means retailers need to constantly evolve their business model by pushing boundaries both online and instore. The ability to analyse trends, anticipate what’s next and adapt your business accordingly will be the differentiator between today and tomorrow’s successful retailers. James’ passion and expertise in e-commerce, business, technology and sales will help lead Appliances Online to continued success. We both share the same passion for e-commerce and hold a very similar outlook on where we believe Appliances Online needs to be in the online space. We both want to set the bar for online retail, both in Australia and abroad.
JG: How important was it for you yourself to step back from Appliances Online, which you obviously founded, and relinquish the CEO role?
JW: Strong growth of Winning Appliances, Appliances Online and Handy Crew led me to the decision to hand over the day to day operation of Appliances Online to James, so that I could focus on ensuring that the Group implements our vision of providing the best shopping experience in the world. I am still actively involved with Appliances Online, however James’ appointment has given me more time to explore and innovate ways to enhance our customer experience. In such a competitive market, it is crucial for us to stay ahead of the curve and uphold the high level of service our customers have come to expect when shopping with us.
JG: Given your origins in bricks and mortar retail with Winning Appliances, coupled with your founding of Appliances Online and the success you’ve had with that, you have some unique perspective on online/offline/omnichannel retailing. What do you think Australian retailers do and don’t do well in online retail?
JW: Australian retailers are investing more in technology, and this has drastically improved website capabilities and the online user experience offered to Australian consumers. The final delivery stage of the customer experience, however, still lags behind that of international online retailers. That’s not completely surprising, considering Australia is one of the world’s most geographically difficult continents to deliver bulky goods in. The shift to a 24/7 shopping economy demands 24/7 support and fast and efficient delivery.
JG: Why can’t Australia lead from the front in retail, rather than follow overseas trends?
JW: There is no reason why Australian retailers can’t lead the pack and redefine retail. Although Australia’s online retail sector is not as mature as the markets in the UK or US, we still have the ability and power to innovate, set new trends and lift the bar on a global scale.
JG: Setting up Appliances Online as a pure play online retailer was something of a necessity at the time. There’s not really anything that can’t be sold online these days, is there?
JW: I don’t believe there is anything you can’t sell online. However, there are obviously product categories or services that lend themselves to either an online or instore experience. For example, within our company, Appliances Online’s business model lends itself to the replacement market, whereas Winning Appliances’ instore offering is more tailored to renovators looking for appliance packages.
JG: And if that’s the case, where does that leave a business like Winning Appliances?
JW: Businesses like Winning Appliances have a very exciting future in Australia’s retail landscape, because to remain relevant and successful in today’s environment, retailers need to engage and heighten the senses of customers. Customers still want the same things as they did generations before, but now they want it quicker. They want choice and service at the same time and they want something familiar, but also unique, and something that inspires them.
There will always be demand for a bricks and mortar retail experiences; just not as we have traditionally known it. Our goal is that Winning Appliances will not only recreate the instore shopping experience, which we have demonstrated in our Flagship Showroom in Redfern, but will set the bar for shopping instore in Australia and globally.
JG: You’re running a business [Winning Appliances] that has been in your family for generations and bringing it up to speed in terms of e-commerce and digital. Can you share a little about that experience – taking over the business, and digitising it?
JW: When I originally approached my father over 10 years ago with the concept of Appliances Online, he basically said that he didn’t think it would work and that no one would buy appliances online, which is why I was not allowed to use the family name for the business. As the fourth generation of the family business, it was important for me to leave my mark on what my family created. My father gave me three months to prove it would work, so if the business didn’t make money by then I had to forget about it. I proved him wrong and today Appliances Online employs over 250 people; we won the World Retail Award last year for Customer Experience of the Year; we have five warehouses across the country; and we have the best two-man delivery team in the country.
I think people underestimate what it takes to run an online business. It’s not simply having a few pages of a website, contact information and checkout facilities. My focus when developing Appliances Online, and still is to this day, is balancing old-fashioned customer service in a modern world. Winning Appliances remained and remains successful because my dad was able to provide an experience that exceeded customer’s expectations. Something that customers would come to rely on and know us for. And still do today.
With this in mind, I made the decision to invest in the logistics and customer service divisions of the business to support the growth of Appliances Online and all the businesses within the Winning Group. Appliances Online has a 24/7 customer service division, as well as a customer experience team that helps solves customer issues. We have our own fleet of trucks and delivery teams so that we can ensure that from the moment a customer is on our website, they can expect to receive a high level of engagement and service right through to when their product is delivered. Being successful in e-commerce really comes down to the level of service that you provide the customer and being able to provide them with an experience that they will remember fondly, return for, and tell their family and friends about.
JG: There must be a strong sense of pride in leading a business that has been successfully run (and 100 per cent owned) by your family for 110 years, and counting.
JW: I feel an immense amount of pride being able to take my family business into the next generation. The spirit of being a family business is very important to me and for the people that work for the Winning Group. We have staff who have been working with the business for decades. Our head office is completely open plan, so anyone can come up to me, or a member of our senior executive team to discuss an idea, solve a problem or just generally catch up. I am proud of this set up and I believe it has ensured that the family atmosphere lives on and makes us better as a team and a company.
JG: How did that sense of family play into the IPO equation when you guys were looking into possibly floating the business?
JW: Being family owned and run is important, as we are in charge of our own destiny. When Appliances Online in the UK, now AO World, successfully IPO’d, we had a lot of people looking at us and expecting us to do the same thing because our online business has a very similar offering. This heightened interest meant our phone was ringing off the hook and we subsequently appointed an independent advisor to field calls and assist us during this time. As an agile business, we always like to keep our options open. However, it was never a path we had decided on. We are focused on continuing to grow through our own success.
JG: Do you see Winning Group staying in the Winning family and being a fifth-generation (and beyond) family business?
JW: As my grandfather passed the business onto my father and my father onto me, it would give me an immense amount of pride that the Winning Group was passed onto another generation.
JG: How are the newer additions to the group, such as Big Brown Box and Best Home Chef, coming along now?
JW: Big Brown Box merged with Appliances Online in March of this year. We found that customers shopping at Appliances Online would also shop with Big Brown Box for different products. With increased demand for more product categories on Appliances Online, it didn’t make sense to direct customers away from the site. We wanted to simplify the experience for our customers. Best Home Chef is currently in a rebuild phase.
JG: How has Electro Seconds Factory Outlet evolved since Winning Group acquired it six months ago?
JW: We acquired Electro Seconds Factory Outlet in April to help strengthen Appliances Online’s Clearance Outlet offering, and since then the integration has been successful and reaction from customers has been strong. We are noticing that the clearance market is starting to flourish, which complements the Group’s offering. Electro Seconds Factory Outlet is now Australia’s only appliances factory outlet with award winning customer service that includes 24/7 phone support, in-house national logistics network, free delivery to metro areas and free connection and removal of old appliances.
JG: What other acquisitions or expansion plans are in the works for the near future?
JW: We don’t have any acquisitions in the pipeline, but we are always open to opportunities that complement the group.
JG: Are the any plans on the horizon to go into new categories that you can reveal?
JW: Not at this stage.
JG: What’s the outlook for 2016 and beyond for Winning Group?
JW: 2015 has been a big year. We moved our NSW DC to a new state-of-the-art premises at Rosehill; we launched our Appliances Online Legend Blimp that is currently travelling around Australia; Electro Seconds Factory Outlet joined the Winning Group; Appliances Online is celebrating its 10th birthday this year; and Winning Appliances has expanded into Western Australia. These achievements have put us in a solid position to continue to grow across the Group in 2016. We will continue to focus on improving our customer service and creating experiences for our customers that are not only Australian leading, but also are the best on a global stage as well. Our company mission is to provide the best shopping experience in the world and everything that we do is focused on achieving that.
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