07/12/2004 - 21:00

Editorial: Mark Pownall

07/12/2004 - 21:00


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Retail giants share secrets IT’S always hard to get retailers to share their secrets, so sometimes you have to wait until they retire or sell up before they’ll let a few tips slip.

Retail giants share secrets

IT’S always hard to get retailers to share their secrets, so sometimes you have to wait until they retire or sell up before they’ll let a few tips slip.

In this week’s special focus, five of Western Australia’s great retailers have provided us with their insights about performing at the top of this business.

These five all come from different parts of the sector, with supermarkets, department stores, specialist traders and category killers included.

Some of their messages are obvious. Customer service ranks highly as a tip – surprise, surprise.

But others are equally simple, yet not so automatic.

A number of these retail legends recommended con-stant travel as a way of seeing how retailers were operating elsewhere and what ideas could be borrowed.

I recall Joe Boros, the mastermind behind the Bunnings brand, talking about the way they sent an army of Wesfarmers staffers to the US to take notes and photos of major hardware player Home Depot’s operations.

I am not sure if he’s kept the travel up but Wesfarmers certainly benefited from that expedition.

Looking for the sparkle in float

IN the mid-1990s I wrote quite a few stories about the undesirable business practices of a King Street gem-dealing group controlled by people connected with a bloke named Elias Christianos.

Basically, a lot of people were left unpaid by a company linked to the Christianos family. Even the then Department of Minerals and Energy struggled to extract royalty payments from this enterprise.

They were a well-travelled bunch, too. I even wrote about a Colombian businessman who unsuccessfully sued them over a gem deal he claimed had gone wrong.

After quite a bit of publicity, Mr Christianos’s group quietly disappeared and I figured I’d never hear of them again.

So it was with much surprise that, seven or eight years later, I discovered that some of the familiar names have re-surfaced.

This time it is in a sapphire float called Australis Mining, which has been seeking about $3.5 million from the public. Mr Christianos is an alternate director of Australis and will be the biggest beneficiary of the float if it succeeds.

Mr Christianos is the alternate director for his Sydney lawyer Ted Tzovaras. Mr Tzovaras has another link to sapphires by way of acting for former SAS soldier Kerry Danes and his wife, Kay, who were in hot water in Laos a few years ago following accusations they smuggled gems out of the country.

Fortunately, in my view, there has been quite a bit of exposure about some elements of this float, even without any connection with the financially disastrous days from King Street, when a little WA chrysoprase (similar to jade) producer called Gembank struggled to pay its debts.

Just how the various advisers and others who plan to profit from such a float failed to do a few basic fact checks – like the bankruptcy records – beats me.

Ziggy’s snapshot of a mobile future

ZIGGY Switkowski might be the outgoing CEO of Telstra but he still has plenty of views on how the world of IT and communications will pan out over the next few years.

While Mr Switkowski alluded to the dramas, present and future, created by Telstra’s current ownership, he pointed to a world that was clearly adopting technology faster than anyone had predicted.

Just a year ago, he reminded the audience at a luncheon earlier this week, he was predicting Australian mobile ownership would leap to 16 million by the end of 2004. In fact, that number is around 18 million.

More than 600 million texts get sent every month from those phones and people are upgrading as soon as new offers hit the market.

With Telstra set to get behind the next generation (3G) of mobile phones with its imaging capacity Mr Switkowski warned the traditional camera market players to watch out.

Meanwhile, companies are pulling out all the stops trying to invent new whiz bang ways to use this new technology to capture people’s dollars in what will become a wireless world, even within the home.

Mr Switkowski said one way Telstra would attempt to harness this was to move R&D away from traditional labs connected to telephone exchanges and put that capacity in technology parks.

There would be more “D than R&D” done in these, as Telstra has decided that Australia is not a player in the hardware side of the business but can develop new applications for local conditions.

Government moves on approvals

AN issue of concern raised by Western Australian miners at WA Business News’s recent roundtable was that concerning the approvals process for developments.

Resource companies said they were being bogged down in bureaucracy, which wasn’t equipped to handle the big-ticket items.

The WA Government, to its credit, has since announced the formation of a special unit to help fast track project through the myriad of approvals.

That strategy was further enhanced this week when State Development Minister Clive Brown announced a specific $7.5 million allocation to fund the fast-tracking of environmental approvals for projects, arguably one of the biggest obstacles to getting a development off the ground.


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