Leading questions: Michael Hill boss Daniel Bracken on 2021’s big challenges

Daniel Bracken is chief executive of jewellery retailer Michael Hill, which operates in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

How would you describe 2020 for your business?

I’d describe 2020 as an incredible year, with so many challenges, but also one that highlighted a team and business at Michael Hill that showed courage, resilience and that we care for our people and our customers.

We started 2020 with great momentum, growth in both sales and margin, as our strategies really started to deliver. When the pandemic hit, we closed all of our 300 stores worldwide well ahead of the wider retail market, as our model in fine jewellery is a very close-quarter intimate sales process, and we couldn’t protect our teams or our customers appropriately.

During the closures we super-charged our digital businesses, and I’m particularly proud of our teams and what they achieved in that short period – three years of digital expansion in just three months! We then reopened our business across May, June and July depending on state and country, and I’ve been extremely pleased by our performance since then. With further temporary closures this financial year in Auckland, Melbourne and now Toronto, our business has remained positive to the extremely challenging environments we operate in. All in all, a year to forget on many levels, but that’s out-weighed by the positives and the great omni-channel business we now have for the future.

How do you think the Government has handled the Covid-19 crisis?

At Michael Hill, we operate across three countries – New Zealand, Australia and Canada. While each country’s government implemented different approaches to both business and individual support, I have to say that the support we received was both swift and much needed. Thank you to all three federal governments for supporting employees and businesses in the way you did.

What are two key things the Government should do for economic recovery?

While Michael Hill broadly ceased participating in government support in all countries by August/September, the ongoing support to other businesses and individuals is a necessary focus to help deliver a sustainable economic future.

How is your business planning to tackle 2021?

We have strong momentum in our business heading into Christmas 2020, and we believe we have a strong plan to successfully navigate what could be another tricky year for both retailers and the wider economy. We have continued to invest in digital, brand marketing and our people, and we believe we are well placed for 2021.

What will be the major challenges and/or opportunities for your industry?

Ongoing economic recovery will be key for retail, and that will present both challenges and opportunities. Our business foundations are strong, and that may well help us against some of our competitors. We will strive to improve and grow our omni-channel capabilities, grow our loyalty program, and invest in our new start-up brand Medley.

What was the most interesting non-Covid story of 2020?

That’s a tough question – it feels like everything in 2020 was dominated by the pandemic, and this is how we will all remember the year! However, from a Michael Hill perspective, we launched our Brilliance loyalty programme at the end of 2019, and as we head into Christmas 2020 we have now attracted over 400,000 members! Whoever said that you can’t generate great outcomes in times of adversity – the power of a great brand!

Where are you holidaying this summer?

Locally in Queensland, across Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.

What are your predictions for 2021?

It’s going to be another year of great change and challenges, but the strongest will go on to be even stronger!

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