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Balancing tradition and innovation

Balancing tradition and innovation

John Winning is CEO of Winning Group, one of Australia’s oldest family businesses that specialises in homewares and appliances. John set up Appliances Online when he was only 21, despite strong opposition from management who didn’t yet see the benefits of internet retail. After pleading with his father to give him a shot, he turned a profit in just three months. Since then he’s formed the Winning Group, a retail entity comprising Winning Appliances, Appliances Online, Big Brown Box, Handy Crew and more. Here, John Winning shares some of his insight with Resilium.

What benefit does tradition have in the new, digital world of business where a lot of people are starting from scratch?

Technology may change the way businesses operate, however the essence of good old-fashioned customer service remains the same. No matter whether you’re shopping in store, over the phone or on a mobile, at the end of the day people buy from people. So it’s key to have staff that live and breathe your company values and are willing to go above and beyond for your customers

This level of service is even more crucial for startups as positive word of mouth and referrals are fundamentally important for those initial stages of growth.

What has been the biggest challenge of balancing tradition and innovation?

I faced challenges balancing tradition and innovation when I took over Winning Appliances. A key focus was how to balance moving forward with retaining elements of the business's legacy: good old-fashioned customer service, family values and an entrepreneurial spirit. 

As any business will know, most people don’t like change. When I took over Winning Appliances, the business was continuing to perform well despite many brick-and-mortar businesses struggling at the time. The company was profitable, yet I knew that we needed to be on the front foot and use technology (online and in store) to bring Australians new and innovative ways to shop. Often faced with the “If it ain’t broke, why fix it” mentality, it was difficult to convince staff of the need to make a change. But I was determined not to be complacent.

To use Seth Godin’s wise words: "We often stop surprising ourselves (and the market) not because we're no good anymore, but because we are good. So good that we avoid opportunities that bring possibility."

What steps should you take when introducing major change to an established business? 

Convincing people of change is a slow process that requires patience and careful planning. Different approaches are needed for different situations; however, communication is the common thread for successfully introducing change.

When I first took over Winning Appliances, I spent the first seven months learning about the people within the business before I changed the work environment and culture too drastically. Educating staff about why changes are taking place is hugely beneficial for improving how it is received within the business.

What are the best ways to convince long-term staff and managers to embrace new ideas?

Open, two-way communication is vital for all businesses and can make or break how employees receive new ideas. If you find yourself in a situation where staff are rejecting ideas or resisting change, chances are they don’t fully understand the scope for why this idea or change has come about.  

At Winning Group, we hold strategy nights for all staff across the country to ensure our employees know exactly what we're working towards and how we're going to get there. This knowledge puts new ideas in context and helps staff understand how the idea or development will impact their daily role and help us as a business achieve our goals.

Why is having a digital presence critical for success (and indeed your survival)?

A company’s digital presence is crucial for success as it generates leads and has the potential to determine what type of impression you make on a potential customer – if any impression at all. On top of a website, companies need to also build their online presence through the following channels:

  • Directories and major search engines.
  • Social media – this can also amplify the impact that positive word of mouth has on your brand awareness and sales by way of earned media.
  • Product-review sites.

How did you go about building your digital presence at Winning Group?

Having an online presence goes beyond simply having a site with your company logo and contact details. Businesses need to connect with consumers on multiple channels for different purposes.

Winning Group and its brands all have a digital presence – regardless of whether or not the business is transactional online. For example, as well as its website, Winning Appliances connects with its target audience on Pinterest as many use the platform for inspiration when renovating their kitchens. Appliances Online has a huge presence on Facebook and product-review sites.

What are the best ways to keep up to date with new global trends?

Staying ahead of the curve is vital in any industry, but especially in retail and e-commerce as technological advances are constantly reshaping the traditional retail landscape. To stay one step ahead, I regularly travel overseas to experience offshore retail experiences and meet with technology developers at the top of their game. 

What’s the best piece of advice you received when starting in business?

My grandfather once told me: "You can't control what you sell something for; all you can control is what you buy something for. The market controls the sell price, so the only thing you can control is the supplier relationship and this will help you remain competitive."

Whether you operate a family business or not, you want to make sure your business will be in good hands when you decide to step away. Learn how to set up a succession plan to preserve the hard work you've put into your business.

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