The smell of a sizzling barbecue accompanied by the comforting background noise of a cricket match playing on the television inside – few things are more synonymous with the Australian summer.
“Gathered in the backyard with family and friends, exchanging stories and enjoying a meal together around the barbecue is an iconic and special part of Australian culture,” Angus McDonald, CEO of Barbeques Galore, tells The CEO Magazine.
“The products that we sell in many cases act like a social hub in people’s homes – whether that’s the fireplace in winter or the barbecue in summer, it’s almost like a very primal human thing to congregate around the flame together. And we love helping customers bring this experience to life!”
When Angus joined the company in mid-2019, he brought with him a wealth of knowledge acquired over his 20 years in the retail industry.
From humble beginnings on the shop floor of a Safeway supermarket in Victoria, he worked his way up, moving into various operational roles before relocating to Big W discount department stores, and then finally joining Super Retail Group in 2008 as Area Manager.
Over the nearly 11 years he spent there, Angus progressed through a number of positions, ending up as General Manager of Customer Solutions for the two years prior to making the switch to Barbeques Galore. “I’m fortunate that a number of the roles I’ve had throughout my career have been really cross-functional,” he says.
“They’ve provided me with hands-on experience in running different areas of a retail organisation, which has really helped me in moving quite quickly with the team here to reshape our strategic plan and ensure that we bring together the different areas of expertise across the organisation together around a single shared goal.”
[Customers are] now looking for a more engaging and inspiring experience.
Angus reveals it was actually an on-the-ground, undercover research exercise that served as the deciding factor for him to make the move to Barbeques Galore. “When I was thinking about joining, the first thing I did was go out and visit some stores,” he recalls.
“It was a Sunday morning and I’ll never forget, because the guy that I spoke to took me through the range of products, and his passion was just oozing through. It was that moment where I thought, ‘Gee, if I’m wanting to buy a barbecue, I want to buy it from this guy!’
“And then I drove to the next store and had almost the same experience with another salesperson. So there’s not only this expertise but also an intense passion about the products which exists within the business – and that’s something we really treasure and hope to develop and grow.”
Bigger and better
Since its inception in 1977, Barbeques Galore established itself as the industry leader for all things barbecue, heating and outdoor furniture. However, when Angus came on board, he identified a few key areas that could be improved; in particular, noting that it was time to reinvigorate the brand’s image and expand its offerings.
“While we have a great history and legacy, our store formats haven’t changed very much for some time. At the same time, our customers’ expectations are increasing at an accelerating rate,” Angus explains.
“We’re now operating in a borderless world of retail and by the time the customer walks into one of our 90 stores across the country, they’ve likely already done quite a lot of research online. And rather than simply coming in to gather more information, they’re now looking for a more engaging and inspiring experience. Our newest stores have a lot more experiential elements, helping people to investigate different styles of cooking, new innovations and talk to experts who share their passion.”
In addition, Angus set to work formulating a new strategic plan, redefining a new purpose statement and mission and setting out a roadmap for the business that would allow it to continue growing while adapting to the rapidly evolving industry. “We established some pillars across several key areas,” he says.
“The first was around how we would address our stores, team and brand to make sure that we had a really relevant, meaningful connection in that changing retail environment.
“The second was about accelerating the development of our range so that we could bring in more innovative and exclusive products. And then we also focused on how we could ensure that our online and physical experiences fit together seamlessly.
“Lastly, it was about disciplined execution, which we did by looking internally at our systems and processes. We’ve completed the implementation of the new ERP system and are working on processes to help us make better decisions faster.”
Adapting to change
The execution of these new models, coupled with an unforeseen pandemic, meant that Angus’s first 18 months at the company have been a baptism of fire in many ways. “Twenty-twenty has been a huge roller-coaster,” he sighs.
“And the pandemic came at a time when we were already making some pretty big changes to the business. Earlier in 2020 we started downsizing and closing a number of our stores that were no longer right for our network, while at the same time planning our new format stores.
“We have also accelerated the introduction of new products, bringing in more new offerings this year than we have in the past 10. On top of all this, we’ve had the pandemic to deal with.”
However, Angus believes the lockdown actually forced the business to rethink some of its key strategies while ensuring that both its employees and customers weren’t struggling.
“We quickly determined that for our team members and business, the best option was to actually lean in and continue to trade wherever it was safe, and we were permitted to do so,” he reveals.
“If we couldn’t operate, then we would continue to do click and collect. If we couldn’t do click and collect, we’d do online delivery. “We’ve managed to continue a strong connection with our customers in spite of everything. It actually presented us with some good opportunities to reconnect with customers.”
Cpmmunication is key
A fundamental aspect of the company’s strength is the partnerships that assist in its quest to always offer customers the most impressive products and experiences. “Our relationships with suppliers are incredibly important,” Angus says.
There’s not only this expertise but also an intense passion about the products which exists within the business.
“Often, retailers can find themselves in quite transactional relationships, which really limits the opportunity for shared creation of value. We’ve been continuing a lot of those conversations with each of our key trading partners to look at where we could explore some shared opportunities.”
A big believer in the value of feedback, Angus gathers data obtained through NPS surveys for customers, as well as a team engagement survey platform called TINYpulse for employees, to gain a broad understanding of all aspects of the company.
“They’re both really powerful feedback mechanisms,” Angus explains. “They help us to hone our focus into what the biggest opportunities are for our organisation in terms of improving customer experience. And it’s also so important for team members to have a means of providing comments, suggestions and recommendations to the employers, as well as recognising their peers. It’s all about an open dialogue.”
He maintains that regardless of how successful a business is, there’s always room for improvement, a mentality that extends into his hands-on approach to leadership, whereby he ensures that all staff feel heard and valued.
“You’ve got to be willing to roll your sleeves up and get close to what’s happening,” Angus says. “One of the things that leaders can find, as they get further and further away from the coalface of the business, is that they lose touch with what’s really happening. So you’ve got to be willing to actually get in and talk to the team on the front lines, and take a really deep level of interest in what’s happening.
“Learning about some of the challenges that the team are trying to address really helps to then hone your thinking and appreciation of the impact of the decisions you’re making.”
In fact, Angus goes above and beyond to ensure he is aware of everything going on in all facets of the business, even admitting that he “reads every email that comes into my inbox”, to the frustration of his Executive Assistant.
“It’s to make sure I’ve always got a close handle on what’s going on, even if it doesn’t directly involve me,” he says. “I think it’s so important to make sure you’re connected to the information that’s transferring through your organisation. And you’ve got to have that fascination with your customers and the things they’re interested in.”
Looking to the future
With plans to continue evolving Barbeques Galore’s online offerings and fine-tuning the amalgamation of digital and in-store sales, Angus hopes that irrespective of how they’re choosing to shop, customers will be impressed by the process from start to finish.
“We want to make sure we’re keeping pace with the rapidly changing expectations of our customers – a rich experience in store, seamless in how we connect our online and physical experiences, and how we support our customers post-purchase. We’ve got some big plans over the coming years to continue developing in that space.”
Angus has no doubt that the future looks bright. And with summer now in full swing, there’s no doubt it’s only a matter of time before all Aussies have made the pilgrimage to a Barbeques Galore store.
“We’ve got a team of people who are really passionate about our brand and passionate about the success of the business, which is really exciting,” Angus smiles. “And I think now that we’ve got a really clear roadmap about how we want to reassert our position of leadership within this category in Australia, and developing our store experience, our range and our capability within the organisation, it’s a really exciting time to be part of Barbeques Galore.”
Speaking with Angus, it’s undeniable that the same passion he witnessed “oozing” out of those employees on his reconnaissance mission back in 2019 now also runs through his veins. “I love retailing,” he says.
“And even when it’s tough, I still love it. It’s a great industry to be part of. One where things can move really quickly, where you’ve got to have a very strategic mindset and think about where you want to take the organisation long-term, at the same time, making sure you never take your finger off the pulse.
“The reason I joined Barbeques Galore was really all about the expertise and passion of our team. We’ve got people who are incredibly passionate about the product that we sell.”
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