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Harvey Norman CEO Talks Up Stock Levels & Coronavirus Impact

While husband Gerry Harvey is banging on about being 70, not scared of Coronavirus, while also scouting for new opportunities, wife and CEO of Harvey Norman retail stores, Katie Page, has told a University Of New South Wales audience how the big retailer survived the GFC crisis and survived and how she is confident that stock levels will return to normal soon.

She told an audience at a ‘Meet The CEO’ event “The GFC was particularly hard for us but we did not lose anything. We worked on our business strategy to enter emerging markets. We have also been through SARS in Asia, so COVID-19 is not new for us,”.

Last week the retailer reported that Australian domestic sales had risen 9% during the Coronavirus epidemic while their European and Asian stores were suffering declines.

As many small retailers are forced to shut up shop and others move to sack staff Page said “it is essential to keep investing in your employees. There is a sameness in the stimulus packages that have been implemented in different countries around the world – the focus is on small businesses and making sure that workers are paid.”

During the GFC, Harvey Norman had 600 people working in Ireland and the company chose to support them throughout the financial crisis.

She also said that it’s important for businesses to have a strong balance sheet.

“Many people are dismissive of a balance sheet when times are great. But we’ve been through a lot with 65% of our stores in country areas – we’ve been through droughts, floods, cyclones and bushfires within a short period of time. However, we feel reassured about the future of our company because we have a strong balance sheet. I am of the opinion that you have to put a similar emphasis on marketing and bank accounts.”

She admitted that stock levels are a problem and that Harvey Norman’s like other retailers are suffering due to temporary factory closures in China following the outbreak of COVID-19. However, Ms Page expects those companies’ supply and manufacturing will resume in a few weeks.

When asked how she was running the big retailer she said “You cannot be in retail and not be hands-on. That’s what makes you successful. You need to be at the customer interface to know where the success of the company lies,” she says.

“I spend a lot of time with global manufacturers and their design teams – not just their CEOs or the boards, but with their thinkers. We have some of the biggest brands in the world in our stores – Microsoft, HP, Apple, Samsung, LG, Electrolux – I’m in their head offices all the time and I insist that their design teams come to those meetings so we can see where they’re going.

“The most important thing in retail is to own your flagship strategy. An example is how our team at Harvey Norman designs the flagship store with the brands that we sell in mind. This takes place after meeting with the brands’ designers and knowing what products they have in the pipeline.”

Known as being strict with Harvey Norman senior management she said “Our goal is to keep growing in each country. We’re traders and technologists by nature. We want to fully understand our consumers’ needs, and this is why each country has its own team looking after the Harvey Norman brand. We are very localised.”

When asked whether all retailers have an online presence? she said, “Many retailers miss the point that customers would not be walking through their stores if they had bought the product, they’re looking for online,” Ms Page says.

“It is important to know what makes your business work for your customers’ advantage. Accessibility to products is key.”

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