Saturday, 4 May 2013

Bernie Brookes: Forget taxes, you need more staff

This article originally appeared online at The Age.

Bernie Brookes, Myer CEO. Lucky that's not a wheelchair.

Bernie Brookes, chief executive of Myer, has called it: DisabilityCare will divert millions from Myer’s coffers, because we’ll be coughing up extra at tax time for the levy to fund some of it. And as Bernie told the investor market, the loss of revenue from sales puts a big black mark in the ‘‘negative impact’’ column in next year’s forecasts.  
This of course prompted a militant and frenzied backlash, which caused Mr Brookes to declare DEFCON 1 as he watched the Myer share price start to blink red.

Cue apology and a declaration of support for the NDIS. He was just being ‘‘sensitive to imposts on the consumer by the government” and would like the funding to come out of existing revenue streams, rather than new taxes.

I must admit, my first thought when Julia Gillard announced the levy (“Less than a dollar a day on an average wage!”™) was “Damn it! There goes my Country Road turtleneck with the matching pants for $350!” I was comforted that Bernie and I were on the same page.

Myer seemed to be getting its profits back in the swing after a dismal couple of years, and then Gillard comes along and takes more money from the punters’ pockets, just as the store’s gearing up for the pre/mid/post/all season sale period. Doesn’t this government understand a thing about business?

It doesn’t matter that you still can’t get served in ‘‘My Store’’, or that three out of the four female change rooms are barricaded closed. Or that when you try to buy something, you stand in a queue long enough to overhear who’s going on their break now, next or never.

I really admire Bernie’s style though, because none of the so-called service assistants in Myer actually work for Myer, so you know, you can’t really complain about MYER’s service. Approaching an ironically named Service Desk clutching an item and asking if it can be found in another size, a customer can expect the following exchange: “Hi. Do you have this in a size X?” Exasperated sigh. “I don’t work for Myer. You’ll have to find a Myer Person. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to refold some jumpers..."

The mystical Myer People are somewhat difficult to come by. And when you do find one and want to return something, they speak in a new language. “That’s a Concession Item.”
“I don’t work for [Brand]. You’ll have to find a [Brand] Person to put it through.”

Bernie has developed a service strategy that is so convoluted and ineffective he really should get into gaming, because anyone who can design a sales approach where the ‘‘outcome’’ (i.e. a sale) is so elusive would make a killing. Can you imagine? “Holy heck! I just made it to Level 4 (Menswear and luggage) and I’ve picked up 64 Myer One points in the Champagne Bar! The attitude at the merchandise counters nearly killed me, bro!”

I’ve often marvelled at Bernie’s training program, which obviously features a strong emphasis on resilience, because I’ve never come across staff so immune to the irritations of an incessantly ringing phone.

And by the way, what the hell is going to happen to my Myer One Rewards points? Has the government even factored this aspect of the foregone ‘‘reinvestment’’ of my diverted purchase into the equation? I, like so many other Australians, rely on this little piece of plastic money arriving periodically in my mailbox to offset the frustration I have at buying from Myer.

I call it Bernie’s Direct Action response to shockingly underesourced service. If I’m holding that little baby in my hand, it makes it that much easier to stand in a queue with 10 other women clutching clothes that I wait to try on in change rooms strewn with other people’s discarded items.

On current calculations, I would have netted about 245,000 Myer One points for my $350 pants suit, plus a free copy of Emporium magazine. And if the government gets its way and Gillard obtains some ‘‘legacy’’ for her administration, I’m expected to divert this hard-earned into… what, exactly? A scheme designed to help people who are in wheelchairs, who got there because they were born that way or suffered some terrible, non-compensable injury or illness? Give me a break!

Bernie, I’m with you all the way. The sooner we knock down this pesky blip on your profit projections, the better. And we can all get back to doing what we love – shopping in your (My) magnificent store.