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Our Independent Future, Together

Speaking at the Indepet Shareholder Convention in 2012, Matt Kane spoke of the universal strengths and characteristics of independent businesspeople that have stood the test of time. This is an extract of his speech.

Speaking at the Indepet Shareholder Convention in 2012, Matt Kane spoke of the universal strengths and characteristics of independent businesspeople that have stood the test of time. This is an extract of his speech.

The true advantage of being an independent retailer in 2013 is the control you have over your own

business affairs. Our ability to respond freely and imaginatively to the needs and expectations of our customers is unique.

Since pet ownership is a very personal pursuit, often guided by a range of feelings and emotions, pet owners place enormous trust in the people who actually run the store. So, service- oriented retailers like us will always cope better than corporates, provided we play to our strengths.

We must always be sensitive, flexible and creative in the way we run our retail operations. And those qualities clearly belong to the independent. History shows that corporate retailers are more interested in buying successful independent retailers than creating new businesses from scratch. They watch the marketplace, hoping to find an independent business with a solid customer base. Then, with the right set of circumstances – perhaps a cash flow problem or a staffing shortage – they pounce with an offer to buy.

It’s independents who have the track record when it comes to pet care retail start-ups. Long term success follows when independents are able to tap into a source of collective power, as a substitute for corporate power. After the global financial crisis of 2008, I would argue that the independent model of doing business is more robust and sustainable. There are universal strengths that independent businesspeople possess and that corporate employees often lack.

Independent retailers – especially when they work collectively as a group

– are more nimble, flexible, adaptable and dependable in the eyes of customers. Locally owned businesses run by community-minded people will be attractive to many customers.

Indepet shareholders are in the perfect position to understand consumer’s tastes and preferences as they change in this fast-moving market.

Keeping abreast of market dynamics involves a willingness to gather and share information. It’s something which ought to come naturally to independents. We’ve never had our own market research departments like our corporate ‘cousins’ so we’ve learnt to read the marketplace with our own eyes and ears, which is where Indepet has enormous potential. By facilitating and encouraging the free flow of vital market data, Indepet can help us to help each other.

Suppliers welcome Indepet

The positive perceptions that suppliers have of Indepet strengthens my belief in our independent future together. Suppliers recognise that Indepet is a unique independent retailing model with a professional culture. And our experience shows that suppliers are willing to support a new independent group that is unified and focused on its core business from the outset. They recognise the enormous potential for profitable growth in Australia and New Zealand.

Some suppliers would be increasingly

wary of the corporate retailers given their tendency to become heavy- handed in negotiations, as they get bigger. When corporate retailers pursue core ranging strategies, they often lock certain suppliers out of the market completely. For those suppliers, sometimes the only way to get product to market is via the independent sector.

In my estimate, Indepet and the various unaligned independents still manage to control about half the entire pet care market. So, for the industry’s suppliers, Indepet is clearly a less risky route to market than the corporate retailers with their single order books.

Further, suppliers see Indepet as a great way to synthesis all those individual strengths of independents into a unified, professional group that’s practical and efficient to do business with.

Working together, as a professional independent group, Indepet is well placed to capitalise on the anti- corporate sentiment that’s emerged around the world since the global financial crisis. What IGA is doing to Coles and Woolworths, Indepet can do to its corporate competitors.

In the case of corporates, the often- used strategy of wielding ‘the big stick’ at suppliers may initially deliver great deals for customers. But eventually it can breed arrogance, laziness, and complacency to the point where insight and empathy with the market is lost. In the end, expectations of customer needs are way out of alignment with actual customer needs.

As independents, we tend to be locally owned family businesses keenly attuned to our local customers, their children and their beloved pets. When you live, breath, work and socialize in your own town or suburb, it’s almost impossible to become disengaged with your customers.

*first published in Inside Indepet April 2013