Expansion is still a core strategy for major retailer Brian Bell after 59 years of operations in Papua New Guinea. This year will mark the company’s 60th anniversary of catering for the demand for quality goods. Brian Bell group chief executive Cameron Mackellar speaks to Business reporter Mark Haihuie on the company’s plans for the year and retail business.

Q: How was trading last year and what are your thoughts on this year’s operations?
MACKELLAR: Our latest Homecentres store in Lae, which opened in Nov 2016, had a full-year of trading in 2017 and an outstanding year. We also opened a new agriculture business in Lae in April 2017, which also performed very well for us.
Agriculture is an industry we want to support and see grow significantly in years to come. We plan further investments in our business in 2018 to ensure we continue to provide great shopping experiences across all of our businesses, with improved levels of service as well. Value is not just about being the cheapest – everything you buy from Brian Bell should represent value and quality. We stand behind our products which is why our warranty and service is second to none. One of the key reasons why our customers have remained with us for the last 60 years. We have a new 16,000-square-metre warehouse which will be built and completed this year in Gerehu around this year. This will help with our supply chain and house more products for our business and create future growth opportunities. We’ll continue to look at a capital works programme with our regional stores to ensure we invest in those facilities and improve the shopping experience for our customers.
We would also like to expand our dealer network and further support businesses in locations where there is not a Brian Bell store currently. We already have a large number of dealers across the country and this really provides customers more access to our products. Our dealer network is a very important part of Brian Bell and do a great job with our products. We also want to provide more development and training programmes for our team members.
This helps to provide an improved level of service for our customers as well as career opportunities for our team members.

Q: This being the 60th anniversary of Brian Bell operation, are there any plans to commemorate that this year?
MACKELLAR: Our 60th anniversary celebration: A huge milestone for our group this year as we turn 60.
We’re all exceptionally proud of that fact. To trade for 60 years in PNG is something very special and worthy of an enormous celebration all year. We’ve grown from one small store on Ela Beach – started by Sir Brian himself, with only a few team members back then – to now having 17 retailing sites, a number of other operational locations and most importantly, over 1200 supportive and determined team members working for us now – which is just an enormous feat for a business with such humble beginnings.
We are very proud of our heritage and what’s been achieved in 60 years. We certainly look forward to the next 60 years and beyond. We’ve established a wonderful brand in PNG which is recognised wherever you go throughout the country.
We have an exceptional large and growing customer base and we have great partnerships in place with our suppliers and corporate customers. As a business we deeply value those relationships, which is why we have so many long-serving team members in our group and business relations that stretch back to our start, some 60 years ago. The Sir Brian Bell Foundation has been established in recent years to support education and health projects. It has provided much-needed support to a great number of health and education programmes over the past few years and will continue to do so. The Brian Bell group also supports a number of community-based projects, as we operate in so many different regions and those communities are important to us.
We look forward to a strong 2018 and beyond.

Q: Brian Bell is a leading retailer of quality and genuine goods. What are your views about the influx of low quality goods into the PNG market and what it will mean for consumers?
MACKELLAR: The great thing about living, working and running a business in PNG, is that we know people have choices here and it’s an informed market. In most countries, there is the choice to purchase low, mid or high-quality goods and services. Normally, appropriate and competitive pricing helps determine that value along with the consumer choice to buy it. I’m not sure PNG has any more or less “low quality” goods than any other country. However, every retailer should certainly stand behind their products and present value for money. At Brian Bell, we established a loyal customer base over the past 60 years of retailing in PNG because we provide our customers with quality and value.
Completion is important in every market as it provides options for consumers and should certainly drive businesses to improve quality of products and the service they provide. We’ll continue to challenge ourselves to provide great quality products which represent the right value to our customers.

Q: As a leading importer, what has been your experiences for sourcing goods, considering the foreign exchange shortage and congestion fee charges by authorities?
MACKELLAR: Foreign exchange remains a challenge for our business as it does for most other businesses in PNG. It’s a genuine issue and whilst we would prefer not to have an FX challenge, it’s been part of the business fabric here for some time. We have strong relationships with our banks and greatly appreciate the level of support they provide.
Although much of our products are sourced from overseas, we also look to purchase as much as possible from local providers and manufactures, which has certainly helped us in the past 12 months.
We look forward to the day where this is no foreign currency issue in PNG.

Q: Could you give an overview of the K60 million clearance promotion by Brian Bell?
MACKELLAR: We’ve just come off the back of a very strong trading period over Christmas and experienced our biggest ever cash-and-prize giveaway competition in our history. Some K320,000 in cash and prizes were given away to a number of lucky customers.

In total, here were 26 winners across six different regions and separate Brian Bell locations. Over 250,000 entries in the competition – a fantastic response from our customers.
Our latest K60 million clearance is a significant event for the start of this year, and a way to reward customers with great savings and discounts as they return to work and start the New Year. It’s a way to give back to our customers who have been extremely supportive of us for such a long time. In fact, many customers and families have been with us for 60 years and new generations are coming through.
The K60 million clearance is a month-long sale which covers the whole of our group – Homecentres, trade electrical and chemicals businesses. It would one of our largest sales ever.
There are three things that are very important to us:
– Always having stock available for our customers – or being able to provide suitable options and alternatives across a range of categories. We never want to turn away a customer from Brian Bell;
– providing the highest quality products which meet the different budgets and needs of our customers across the country; and,
– Also providing our customers the highest levels of service in every aspect of our business
We set ourselves high standards and know we can improve on each of these priority initiatives for this year and in future.
Our customers and team members are the two most important assets we have as a business.
Much of our focus in centered on these two important groups for ongoing improvement. We learn things every day from our customers in order to adjust and tweak our business.
Marketing and promoting the right items and categories is very important and often seasonal.
We always look for and encourage feedback for our customers where we can – it helps us to provide a better customer experience.