Retail as a Destination.
In September of 2018, Kieron Ritchard was appointed as CEO of Fantastic Furniture, a leading omni-channel retailer with 88 owner-operator stores and vertically integrated manufacturing producing an Aussie-made sofa every 60 seconds. Kieron also serves as Chairperson of Dignity, a highly respected and fast-growing homeless services charity. As an industry leader juggling two very prestigious roles, you can imagine how excited we were to speak with him regarding seismic changes occurring in the retail industry. Keep reading to check out our interview below!
FuturePlace: Can you describe the responsibilities of your role as CEO of Fantastic Furniture?
Kieron Ritchard: Fantastic Furniture is an Australian born value furniture retailer. We are proud of humble beginnings almost 35 years ago, operating out of a single market stall at Sydney’s Parklea Markets. Today, we have 88 stores around the country, we perform our own logistics functions and operate our own lounge factory in Sydney. We’re also probably unusual compared to other Australian retailers in that we co-create many of our products in-house in collaboration with our supply partners. As CEO, I work with our talented functional teams to bring well-designed products to market, distributing them further and faster than our competitors through our network of innovative stores and digital channels so our customers to get the look they want for less.
FP: You’ve been a Chairperson for Dignity Homeless Services Australia for a few years now. How does your advocacy eclipse into your leadership at Fantastic Furniture?
KR: Dignity was a charity partner of Fantastic Furniture before I found my way to becoming the Chairperson of the charity. Fantastic Furniture’s values are very much aligned with Dignity’s, believing that everybody deserves a safe and comfortable home. Both businesses challenge the status quo and innovate fast to solve problems. For example, Fantastic Furniture and Dignity have co-developed a first of its kind “Ready for Work” program where Dignity provide subsidised housing, case support, interview coaching, cooked meals and fresh clothes for people who have been experiencing homelessness and Fantastic Furniture provides access to suitable full time roles, supported by training and sense of belonging within a person centered culture. As a result, Dignity and Fantastic working together have brought smiles to the faces of some great people, who only a short time ago were experiencing homelessness and just needed for someone to believe in them again to get back on track. Fantastic gains highly valued employees who contribute every day and are proud to be part of the team, so it is a genuine win/win program. So, given the our values alignment is so strong, the partnership between the two organisations tends to evolve quickly and the two hats I wear helps bring some very talented people together. Our experience tells us that collaboration is the key to ending homelessness in Australia and we are getting on with doing just that one person at a time. It’s wonderful to be involved in.
FP: Were you at all surprised that the brick-and-mortar retail sector withstood the test of the COVID-19 pandemic?
KR: The pandemic certainly challenged brick-and-mortar retailers when the whole mall experience was put on hold. In my view, what we have seen since the malls re-opened is brick-and-mortar retailers starting to disrupt pure play retailers as they accelerate investment in the development of their digital platforms and become more omni-channel.
Ultimately, retail is an experience, it’s entertainment and discovery. It’s a source of joy and even a sport of sorts for many people. Engaging digital retail experiences are absolutely vital to brand success, however, unless you are selling a commodity, the joy of shopping for most products is still more richly activated in the physical context. Retail is a tactile industry and talking to brand ambassadors face to face in stores and touching and feeling products builds a powerful emotional connection and brand loyalty.
Like many retailers, our foot traffic numbers immediately spiked back up when stores reopened post-pandemic as the human desire to engage with people, products and retail store environments to inspire purchase was rekindled. But it’s not a question of digital vs brick-and-mortar any more. Fantastic is a leader in online furniture retailing but we still wouldn’t be without our store network to drive our growth. Every year our online and brick-and-mortar channels are becoming increasingly inter-twined with the majority of our customers engaging with us both digitally and in store throughout their customer journey. Omni wins in the end, at least in our space.
FP: The latest evolution of the shopping mall is a “lifestyle destination” that engages the consumer. What defines that engagement?
KR: For me, it all comes down to a sense of belonging. Great shopping malls service a multitude of needs for the same person across various shopping occasions. Parents with their children, groups of friends, solo mission shopping etc. The mall succeeds in invoking a sense of belonging when customers feel both entertained and at ease across all of these occasions. As we say at Fantastic, “when it feels like home, you feel like you”.
FP: Has the pivot to a “destination” changed shopping mall architecture in any way?
KR: I think it’s becoming more layered across all six senses these days. Malls historically were set up as a real estate play, carving up buildings into different sized boxes available for lease. Architects now appear to be thinking more and more about the layers of customer experience throughout the shopping journey.
Malls of the Future Summit
Kieron will be speaking at the Malls of the Future Summit, taking place on 1st March 2023. It will explore the factors driving investment in innovative new-build and redeveloped shopping precincts that are going beyond the norm to offer a more personalised and sensory customer experience that creates reasons for local communities to visit, stay longer, feel connected and return time and time again.