by Colin Jowell

What might a bunch of (bloody) South Africans add to the world of Australian retail?  

Well, as far as this ex-bloody South African is concerned, quite a lot.

Those who know the brand, know it has won an envied place in its local market. Despite the economic constraints of a country where the average income is considerably lower than Australia’s, they have carved out an unmatched niche in the mass-aspirational market across food, clothing and home-wares.

Working on a project for them more than a decade ago, I had the opportunity to visit some of their suppliers. I’ve never forgotten their dairy supplier - a woman who became misty-eyed when talking about cows and quality, proudly showing us where new products were being innovated and tested.

Innovation in dairy?  Yes, it’s totally possible.

And when it comes to retail, these guys know how to engage and tell a story. Take a look at this, released two years ago before any of our locals had started doing their pilot stores (and arguably still not as well). Woolworths (SA) know their job is to sell, not to protect a legacy - maybe that’s why their online offering is simple and intuitive. It does its job connecting people to products they already know and love. Their branded rewards programme is well established, and smartly aligned to causes like the environment or education.  So much expertise that could and should be immediately applied to David Jones.

In the name of “premium” the DJ’s offering has become more than a little aloof and hesitant. Their tagline: “Is, Was, Always” hardly speaks to a progressive, in-touch and exciting offering that has customers queuing up for other brands like H&M.

The missing “P” that the South African Woolworths might bring to this market isn’t “Process” - good grief, we have plenty of that - squashing more ideas than it nurtures. What they will bring is “Passion”. Read any interview with boss Ian Moir and his passion for the brand literally leaps off the page.  And where there’s that kind of energy, results are bound to follow.