This time, the retailer is hoping for a much better outcome.
“As we’ve grown again, we’ve continued to evolve and refine our business model and our offer. We’re now at a stage where we’re very confident in what we’ve got to offer and how that is different to what else is out there in the markets and the customers really love it,” Tristan Harris, co-CEO of Harris Farm Markets told Inside Retail.
Harris, one of three sons and co-CEOs leading the business since parents David and Cathy retired, said expansion has been a goal for some time.
“We’ve recognised that there are only so many appropriate locations in each city, and that as you start to fill them, you get more and more cannibalisation of your existing stores or you get longer lead time between new stores. Going interstate was kind of an inevitability at some point,” he said.
The Queensland move has been made much easier, thanks to a trusted family connection – a couple who had previously worked at Harris Farm Markets in Sydney’s Ashfield and later went on to run the retailer’s Clayfield store before buying it from David Harris in 1991.
Now the store has changed hands once again, with Harris Farm Markets using the Clayfield store as its springboard into the state.
“We’ve been talking to Carlo and Susan up in the Clayfield store for decades basically, but talking about buying the store for a number of years now, and then the timing just became right for both parties,” Harris said.
The right people in the right place at the right time
At a time when travel across the state border between NSW and Queensland is under tight restrictions, the Harris family needs to lean on the Queensland-based couple to get the Clayfield store ready for reopening in November.
“One of the biggest challenges for growth in a business like ours is finding the right people; finding talent is crucial for any business. However, when you’ve got quite a differentiated style in retail, you need some different types of people that aren’t necessarily out there being trained by other businesses,” Harris explained.
“One of the things that we find incredibly valuable is people who’ve owned and run their own food shops and then even more valuable is somebody who’s worked for Harris Farm and run their own food shop.”
Carlo and Susan have been given the task of running the store entirely on behalf of Harris Farm Markets with support from the business.
“We’re hoping that within the next couple of weeks and certainly by the time we finish the renovation and relaunch of the store, that we’ll be able to get up there and ensure that it’s in line with how we run a store, as well as having Carla and Susan feeling like they’re bring supported to achieve that.”
A flagship store at West Village in West End will also follow in May next year. The two Brisbane stores will offer produce from more than 300 Queensland growers, and will employ over 200 staff.
Queensland is just the first step in a broader Australian expansion plan for Harris Farm Markets. Harris told Inside Retail that Victoria is likely the next stop in that journey.
“Inevitably, there is quite a lot involved in moving into a second state. You have to rethink what parts of your centralised infrastructure are still capable and valuable for running [in a new state]. What can I run out of Sydney that’s going to serve Queensland?” explained Harris.
“And what do I need to replace with something central in Queensland as I get more stores up there? Once we get that part figured out then we’ll be looking into doing the same thing probably in Victoria.”
While the Covid-19 pandemic brought numerous challenges for the retailer, it has also boosted business.
“We have noticed an increase in foot traffic, we’ve also noticed an increase in basket [size]. There’s plenty of data around now to support this view that people have gone more local, people feel more comfortable in slightly smaller formats, where they can duck in and out and there’s not long queues.
“They’re also shifting to quality. If you’re going to be eating at home twice as much as you usually do, typically speaking, I think people are going to make sure that they get the right stuff. So, a lot of those things are working in our favour, and a lot of it’s stabilised now, so we’re in a good position to continue to provide that.”
Competing against supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths, discount retailer Aldi and the smaller IGA stores, Harris Farm Markets’ focus on fresh, local and natural produce has always been at the heart of its proposition.
Each retailer, with the exception of Aldi, is also ramping up their online presence in order to better serve their customers. Any online retailer will know that delivery in full and on time is absolutely crucial to the shopping experience, and while Covid-19 caused major disruption to online deliveries at Harris Farm Markets, the business is now in a better position than ever.
“I don’t think that competing with [Coles and Woolworths] online is any different than competing with them in a shopping centre or anything like that. You’ve got to be nimble. You’ve got to be better. You’ve got to offer something that’s different, and that the customers appreciate,” Harris said.
“Now, because of the increased volume, we’ve been able to invest pretty significantly in putting in better systems, more people etc. And so our online store is running better than it ever has before. It’s growing at an absolute rate of knots and has grown far in excess of the retail business.”