Brent Dowsett is a fixer. He has built a career on coming into ailing businesses and fixing them, making them profitable and able to grow. This was how he came to be the managing director of Australian Geographic Retail (AGR) stores, when he was brought in to turn the business around after a period of stagnating sales and growth. "I think that my whole career has involved problem-solving and fixing businesses," Brent says. "This was a business that required fixing. When I was brought in [!to!], there were many issues that needed to be resolved."
The problems with AGR were significant, but not impossible to fix for someone with Brent's experience. For the first few years, he worked on restructuring the company, getting rid of unprofitable stores and bringing down core costs. Brent also attributes a lot of the success he has had with the company to a new management team he developed, principally by promoting from within. I have now got probably the best small retail team in Australia. I have taken a small retail business and have been able to develop a team that has grown the business, on average, almost 4 per cent like on like per year on the sales line, over 5 per cent on the delivered margin line, and almost 10 per cent on the store contribution line. I would hazard a guess that during the GFC, there are very few other small retailers that could say the same thing without adding significantly to the number of stores. At the start of this process, I had 47 stores; at the end of this process, I have 52.
"We pulled an enormous amount of cost out of the business, and then we started implementing better training for our staff. We implemented a better marketing program for the staff. We started importing product from overseas rather than buying it locally. We are able to increase our margin by doing that, so we are able to increase our sales because we have unique products. We have started refurbishing stores and put new designs into the stores. So really it was a massive makeover. I mean, we basically took an ugly duckling and turned it into a swan."