Talking about Mitre 10's “quiet revolution”

By Steve Bohling October 21, 2016 Industry news

Just quietly, there’s been a lot going on since CEO Neil Cowie joined Mitre 10 three years ago. Steve Bohling reports.

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.

It’s not a Kiwi trait to shout about our achievements, possibly for fear still, after all these years, of re-awakening the dreaded tall poppy syndrome.

Now Neil Cowie may not be a Kiwi born and bred, but he’s clearly a good fit for the New Zealand cooperative and a reserved yet high achiever in both manner and actions.

And, although Mitre 10’s latest year end result is yet to be revealed, the co-op’s CEO is nevertheless quietly pleased with the figures he knows are coming.

In which respect it’s safe to assume that pretty soon we’ll see the cooperative reveal not only its third consecutive $1 billion-plus top line result but also another boost in its distributions to members.

(In which respect see our subsequent update on Mitre 10's latest financial result here.)

 

THREE YEARS IN…

Neil Cowie already has three years under his belt as CEO. Where did that time go? “When you’re having fun, time always goes quickly,” he says, without a trace of irony.

“It’s been a fantastic journey so far, a breath of fresh air for me as a former corporate retailer and a rewarding three years – I have learned so much.”

From this, it is clear to see Neil Cowie is enthusiastic about working with his members and hardworking team. Although some of the overall growth we’ll hear about soon enough has been organic, another major driver of momentum is the members buying into some new directions.

“The membership has really got behind our strategies – it has been great to have their endorsement and having them deliver on those strategies is awesome,” he says.

These strategies were tabled and actioned earlier in the CEO’s tenure and the outcomes have started to show in the last 12 months.

 

FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

So, what about these strategies and changes? Some have been internal, while some have been more visible from the outside, even if less striking perhaps than Project Orange.

For example: all the remaining corporate owned stores are now in the hands of members; there has been at least one category rethink; there is a new e-commerce platform, including click & collect and on-demand content for a longer and more rewarding online experience; and then there’s the grass roots rugby sponsorship which has been netting the Mitre 10 umbrella brand countless name checks in recent weeks.

At this year’s member’s conference in Shanghai, the cooperative also agreed a constitutional change.

“We undertook an end-to-end review of our capital structure with the intention of setting our co-op up for a successful next 40 years. Our shareholders voted for the change, demonstrating trust and absolute belief in our co-operative business model,” says Neil Cowie appreciatively.

The review, amongst other things, addressed a simplified fee structure, and how future capital would be generated and spent.

“It is quite a significant shift,” he underlines, all with a single aim: “It’s all about driving our member’s profitability.”

 

FROM THE INSIDE LOOKING OUT …

Among the more visible changes has been Mitre 10’s e-commerce platform, which went live in June and has delivered a rapid, slick and stable online customer experience including click & collect.

And, with more to come around content and ways of informing the online end user about products, Neil Cowie is clear that being successful and staying ahead online is a long game: “We needed a platform that was able to deliver the future, not just a new website.”

Indeed, as any retailer worth his or her salt knows these days, just having a slick website isn’t enough – punters are looking for an end-to-end experience.

For example four out of ten Mitre 10 customers who have “clicked” online are now “collecting” in-store.

“The path to purchase may start online,” agrees Neil Cowie, “but the store experience is still ultimately what it’s all about – customers want to come into the store and be inspired.

“They want to see it, feel it, touch it. They want to be served and they want that engagement, from the café to the garden centre to the tool guide… You can’t beat the feel you get when you walk in-store.”

 

TRADE TO GET A NEW HUB

Mitre 10 Trade has also been growing apace, and is soon to be aided and abetted by a new version of Mitre 10’s Trade Hub (another benefit of the new ecommerce platform).

Neil Cowie is quietly confident that there’s more to come. The new Trade Hub will be “a ground breaker”, he says.

“What our trade customers have told us is that they want to be able to take their pricing and create a quote for a customer, margin it up, put their labour costs on top and turn that enquiry into a quote and then turn that quote into an invoice that carries their brand.

“It is all about making life easier and simpler for our tradies by delivering an online experience that enables them to save time and money.”

With more enhancements to come, Neil predicts it’s going to be the tradies’ website of choice.

“From a trade perspective it’s all about staying ahead of the pack, remaining relevant and meeting the needs of our customers.”

 

FORWARD LOOKING STUFF

Certain that there’s more to come from Mitre 10 further out, what is Neil Cowie’s outlook? “There’s a lot of momentum and a nice little runway ahead of us,” he says.

“Kiwis are investing in their homes – they’re feeling confident, they’re building, painting, gardening, updating bathrooms and kitchens.

“It all bodes well for our industry. But, if you’re not relevant and not engaging with your customer, it doesn’t really matter does it?

“Everything we have done with the Mitre 10 brand is about making sure we are top of mind when people are making those home improvement decisions.

“Everything we do is for the customer and that ethos is ingrained throughout our business and getting stronger.

“We’re confident in terms of how strong our cooperative is and we believe it will continue to be strong as long as we stay focused and stay close to what Kiwis want.”

That’s “quietly confident” by the way...

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