Australian retail is in a healing phase. Seared by the COVID-19 pandemic and forced into hibernation for much of 2020–21 by the resultant lockdowns and social distancing measures, the sector is beginning to emerge as the vaccine rollout continues around the world.
The experience has cost retail none of its dynamism. Just as the world has changed dramatically in that short space of time, retailers – and the companies behind them – have taken the opportunity to pause, prepare and refine.
When customers return, they will be armed with new expectations and understandings fostered by click-and-collect and online shopping experiences; retailers will be prepared to remind those customers what they’ve been missing. According to Precision Group Founder, CEO and Managing Director Shaun Bonétt, the customer experience lies at the heart of this reunification.
One of Australia’s foremost private property investment groups, Precision has kept its portfolio refreshed and ready during the pandemic. “Most businesses I work with know that things are different,” he says.
“The businesses that have managed the crisis well have accepted that things have changed and have operated with that constraint in mind.” Decisions that were “unthinkable” are now options in the ‘anything goes’ environment of COVID-19. “High-end restaurants have shifted to takeaway while other businesses have come up with modified or new products to sell,” Shaun explains.
“This flexibility has and will be rewarded.” Precision is, of course, leading by example. In what some might describe as one of those “unthinkable” decisions, the company made hefty reinvestments in its Port Adelaide Plaza development in South Australia in 2020 and 2021. According to Shaun, these investments were beneficial for the shopping centre, but also for SA itself. “Port Adelaide is evolving into an energetic and rewarding destination. No other community in the state is going through such a huge transformation,” he says.
We aren’t just investing in the now; we’re investing in our future. – Shaun Bonétt
“It’s the engine room of the South Australian economy.” With the recent announcement of new nuclear-powered submarines to be built in SA, Port Adelaide has been cemented as the ship-building capital of the country. Over the coming decades, thousands of jobs will be created, boosting the local workforce and the population.
As a result, Precision’s canny development of Port Adelaide Plaza looks set to pay off in an all-new way as the development of more than 21 hectares of waterfront land delivers 1,150 brand-new homes for up to 2,600 new residents.
“We are carefully curating everything at Port Adelaide Plaza to create a contemporary shopping centre that sets a new benchmark for retail in Adelaide,” Shaun reveals.
Tasked with maintaining Precision’s pride of place in the Australian retail landscape is its COO Trevor Dill. An industry veteran, he has spent years with some of retail’s biggest and best: Woolworths Group, Westfield Group, Walker Corporation and now, of course, Precision Group.
“Having experienced the demands of publicly listed companies and overlaying that with both the agility and accountability of privately owned companies provides a unique perspective of the industry,” he points out.
It was during Trevor’s tenure that Walker Corporation revitalised Sydney’s landmark heritage Grace Bros building into the Broadway Sydney shopping centre and transformed the Rhodes peninsula from an industrial wasteland into the Rhodes Waterside shopping centre in 2006. The following year, Walker Corporation partnered with VicUrban to construct the A$150 million Point Cook Town Square, combining retail and lifestyle into one 12.5-hectare precinct. “That was the clever part,” Trevor says.
“Creating a high-street theme featuring side-street shopping, complete with undercover walkways and a village atmosphere, which encouraged residents to come together, shop and socialise.”
Since joining Precision towards the end of 2012, Trevor has spearheaded the development, leasing, marketing and operational management of the Group’s A$1.2 billion retail and commercial portfolio in Australia and New Zealand. “As a leader, I am committed to aligning our teams and managing our customers in a manner that drives long-term outcomes,” he says.
“With a genuine interest in retailers and their businesses, I try to find common ground and nurture relationships to build trust and confidence as well as overall commercial outcomes.” Trevor believes it’s this aspect, which he likes to describe as ‘people success’, that’s ultimately the most rewarding part of his job.
“Throughout my career, my experiences in hiring and working with hundreds of talented people have taught me that putting people at the centre of your business is not just about doing right by them; it’s also the most important thing you can do to achieve business success.”
Whether it’s clients, partners or members of Precision’s 100-strong team, Trevor firmly believes the Group’s sustained business success is in large part down to its people-centric approach.
“Precision has a thriving, high-performance culture that addresses the needs of individuals and empowers them to take joint ownership of their happiness, development and prosperity,” he says.
“That means happy people and tangible business success. It’s pretty magical when you do something that benefits both our people and Precision Group.” Likewise, the dynamic between Trevor and Shaun is a snug tessellation of complementary skills held together by trust and mutual understanding.
“Shaun is ‘front of house’, liaising with key stakeholders, driving any strategic agendas, communicating the Precision Group mission and being visible and present for all highpriority matters,” Trevor explains.
“I’m the ‘back of house’ player, working behind the curtains in the details to ensure the execution of that mission is realised. Simply put, Shaun looks out and up, and I look down and in.”
However, both are looking forward. As ‘the new normal’ continues to evolve, Shaun and Trevor are busy working out what that will look like for Precision Group. “If the past 12 months taught us anything, it’s that organisations that can be agile and pivot quickly will lead the future growth and direction of our industry,” Trevor says.
“Customers are savvier than ever, and their demands and expectations have increased in the past 12 months, but they still want to feel and smell products and have real-life experiences.” Shaun concurs:
“Shopping centres are the ‘village square’ of the modern age, a place to connect and feel a sense of belonging, partnering with retailers who show shoppers an understanding of their wants and needs, and that they stand for something that cannot be replicated online.” Precision’s understanding of this primal need means the Group is well placed for what comes next.
“Precision has never been about jumping on a certain trend,” Trevor insists. “We always go back to what the local market needs and focus on that in a very strategic and careful way.”
Putting people at the centre of your business is not just about doing right by them; it’s also the most important thing you can do to achieve business success. – Trevor Dill
The latest result of that strategy is the A$50 million redevelopment of Port Adelaide Plaza. Upon completion, the project will be valued at more than A$155 million and is set to attract in excess of 3.5 million shoppers per annum – an exciting prospect for Precision. “That speaks to the demand for experiential retail,” Trevor says.
So do forecasts that retail spending in the Port Adelaide area will grow to a staggering A$1.1 billion by 2022. “The ‘shop local’ movement surged in 2020 and has gone from strength to strength in 2021. With global supply chains still disrupted and a very strong Aussie sentiment for ‘supporting local’, we expect it to be a defining theme for some time.”
Steady leadership and a deep understanding of the property market have helped Precision nimbly navigate this undulating landscape. “What enables Precision Group to succeed is the unique advantage of being ‘boutique’ and streamlined in its decision-making processes compared with larger players,” Shaun shares. “We can be nimble to meet market demand.”
It’s clear that, for Precision Group, when it comes to retail, it’s not just about driving transactions. “It’s all about the customer experience,” he adds. “We aren’t just investing in the now; we’re investing in our future.”