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Surviving and Thriving in the retail industry

E-commerce has revolutionised the way retail businesses in Cairns and throughout the world sell their products, giving retailers unlimited opportunities to reach clients across different global markets.

Enhanced by internet access across the various mobile devices, digital commerce has changed the way people shop. “The world is so much smaller now, and there’s no reason why a retail business in Cairns can’t succeed in Australia or anywhere in the world,” says Will Lucas, Managing Director of Cairns’ Allied Auto Online.

“If you can run a successful business in Cairns, you can do it online. It’s just a matter of taking the business philosophy and applying it to the online market.”

Allied Bearings & Tools started in 1982 and has been successful ever since. In 2013, the business started e-commerce transactions and at the beginning of this financial year it expanded to include a dedicated online e-commerce side to the business. “When we started e-commerce in 2013 we already had our niche market in Cairns”, says Will. “How we started was we had some tools that had been sitting on the shelf for a while, and I thought I’d stick them up on eBay and see if we can get anything for them.

“Originally we didn’t see the potential. In the back of my mind, I was wondering who was going to buy car parts on eBay, but it turns out a lot of people do! The home handyman and the guys who are doing the jobs themselves are the majority of our customers today, but we also have a large number of customers who are supplying parts to tradespeople.”

Since then the online component of the business has exploded. So much so that Will says the dedicated online side is on track to earn more money in its first two months than the local shop.

“It’s growing very rapidly,” he says. “There is a lot of work involved, but you virtually see instant results.” He says the benefits far outweigh the added work involved, which includes setting up and refreshing an online shop, photographing and writing descriptions of the product and freighting product.

“I think the biggest benefit for survival in the retail industry is e-commerce,” he says. “Expanding your reach is a huge benefit. Businesses have to be online these days because everyone is online.” While Will is a firm advocate of e-commerce, he warns other businesses to do their homework first to avoid unnecessary headaches. “We learned the hard way,” he says. “We just went gung-ho when we started and just started listing and listing. We went from virtually having nothing online to having 5000 items in three weeks, and because we did it so rapidly and so quickly we took shortcuts. I’m kicking myself because we’re still trying to fix some of those shortcuts.” “If you’re going to do it, do it right the first time, and cross all your t’s and dot all your i’s.”

Learning by doing is how Will and his team have succeeded, and he credits their learning to other e-commerce businesses. “There are so many people out there who are doing this, and everybody I’ve met has always been willing to help,” he says. “So, it’s good to talk to others to learn how they are doing it. It’s even a good idea to browse other websites so you can learn things you can apply to your business.”

Allied Bearing’s dedicated online shop now has a team of 12 and ships between 150-200 parcels a day throughout the Asia Pacific region via Australia Post’s eParcel service. “Originally our warehouse was based in Cairns, but 18 months ago we shifted the warehouse to Brisbane,” says Will. “The main decision behind the move was purely a space factor. We ran out of space here in Cairns. We were literally overflowing. “The brains of the operation are still here in Cairns. We have our technology officer, operation manager and myself up here, and nine others at the Brisbane site. We also have a customer service team based all over the world, so we can service different time zones just about 24/7.”

While Allied has its own online shop on its website, it still uses eBay, and Will suggests other businesses look at starting their e-commerce transactions on eBay. “It’s a great starting point,” he says. “The marketplace is already there, and it gets a huge amount of traffic. It’s the perfect place to test out the waters.”

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