Posted by: peterhact | June 13, 2012

Open Letter to Gerry Harvey

Dear Mr Harvey,

I understand the belief that you have that the internet is taking your retail trade away from you. It is an unknown area of retail, the one where you have no control on what users do or see or buy. You can join the online market, but it won’t change the position of the retail stores.

Harvey Norman has changed over the years. Just before the internet was around, I worked for you. I was with your company to see the internet come in and saw the excitement on the faces of people who had never had such a great option before. Those were indeed the boom years. The one thing that was different was that I worked with a range of ages – there weren’t many youngsters, we were all around the same ages or older. We had continual improvement sessions with concepts like Nordstrom sales, we had vendor beer and pizza nights, where we learned about the products we were selling, we even had Apple on the shelves. Apple went away, it was still too prosumer for most people, considering the iMac hadn’t been released.

I like to think that we were a lean selling machine, we knew our products, we knew our margins and we knew how to help customers. We sold to their needs, and they came back to see us. We offered alternatives to high priced items, they came back to us. We bundled cables, paper and extra ink into printer sales, and when the paper and ink ran out, they came back to us.

The lessons I learned at Harvey Norman saw me get poached by another company. Many others did too. Some have gone on to great things, running companies, heading departments or sections, managing large business relationships. We all started with your company. Many of us came back to buy things from people we knew. These dwindled over time as the other companies saw their potential and scooped them up from you.

The last time I was at one of your stores, I had to wait 15 minutes before someone approached me. I was fine to wander and browse, after all, I do understand how busy you can be in retail. The thing is that the store was empty. The sales person was far too busy on a mobile phone call. I even tried the “pick up the item I want to get some attention” trick. nothing.

I thought about how excited I was to get a mobile phone, and to have to keep it switched off when on the selling floor, well, that was pretty painful. But I did it because the Computer Proprietor made it a rule. We didn’t answer personal calls, we took messages when serving someone else, we worked hard and we were paid well. Maybe that is the change in your stores. Maybe the reason that this kid didn’t need to assist me was that he had done his numbers, and was coasting happily along. Somehow, I doubt it.

If you want to save your retail stores, make them relevant in the world of online, perhaps it is time to go back to basics. Teach your staff that the customer is the most important thing in your stores. If they leave without buying anything, because the sales staff couldn’t be bothered to help, it won’t be too long till the store goes. After all, why run a loss leader when the future is looking so bleak?

The future is looking fantastic. Every day is a new selling day. Every day new technology is released. So why is it that your staff don’t seem to see it?







  1. Hi Peter,

    I read your letter with interest. I was a computer franchisee in Canberra in mid 90’s. I had a Peter working for me but don’t your full name so can’t tell if it was you. Did you ever work for me??



    • Hi Steve, yes,I was that Peter.
      Funny thing, I was talking to an old fyshwick staffer about you only yesterday.

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