Retailing is a University

Published in 2007, ‘Retail is a University’ is based on insightful interviews, delving into the success factors and philosophies behind ten leading Australian and New Zealand retailers. The retailers are –

• Lesley and Roger Gillespie, Bakers Delight (known as COBS in North America)
• Bernie Brooks, Myer Department Stores.
• Janine Alice, Boost Juice.
• Stephen Tindall, The Warehouse.
• Gerry Harvey, Harvey Norman.
• John Ilhan, Crazy John's
• Jonathan Penshaw, Barbeques Galore, and the Just Group.
• Carla Zampatti, Carla Zampatti
• Peter Ritchie, McDonald's.

The interviewing technique used by authors Peter James Ryan and Gerald Manion really works well. I've interviewed a lot of people in retail over the years. Therefore, I appreciate what a great job they've done in keeping their subjects focussed, and in extracting useful and interesting anecdotes and examples.

Tasters from the book
For example, Lesley Gillespie relates how at a recent Bakers Delight state conference they needed to make the attendees sit up and think about their business. They had seen a franchise owner arrive in his brand new red Porsche. Roger said to him, “Would you lend your car to one of your 17 year old staff?” He went quite pale. The answer was obviously, “No way.”

Then Roger Gillespie said, “You know your $130,000 car. You’re shocked at the thought of lending it to your 17 year old staff member, yet you trust your $600,000 business to them. Why is it any less irresponsible to trust an equally ill prepared 17 year old with a $600,000 business than a $130,000 car?” They all got the message!

I love this observation from Peter Ritchie:
“I think retail can take you from nowhere to anywhere. Charlie Bell became worldwide CEO of McDonalds at 42. The skills you learn in retail prepare you to run any business. I was on the Westpac Board for 10 years and I tried to bring to Westpac the benefits of what McDonalds had taught me about customers and staff.”

And from Carla Zampatti:
“Learning on the job is so powerful. It happens on many levels. On both the conscious and sub-conscious level. You feel it. You experience it. You really understand it. You learn in such a way that just at the right time you can make a decision. You may not be able to articulate why but you know that it’s the right decision and just do it. You develop an understanding and you could call it an instinct but it isn’t. It’s the experience you have and are drawing upon.

‘Retail is a University’ is an easy and a fascinating read. The main part of the book 'The Interviews' is 138 pages. The next section of the book they've titled, 'The Learning'. This is the part where the author's attempt to draw conclusions from the interviews. It's full of long waffly sentences, with lots of repetitive parts from the first-half of the book. I wish they'd left this section out and included two more interviews. Their interviewing style is great, but they would have been better served by leaving the reader to come to their own conclusions.

This is a great book to get as a gift for any up-and-coming young people in retailing and a useful addition to any good retail library. There is much that retailers and aspiring retail managers can learn from it and it will be an inspiration to them.

Jurek Leon is a storyteller, trainer and coach who presents courses and addresses seminars on word of mouth marketing, motivation, customer focussed selling and managing the customer experience. Subscribe to Jurek's FREE monthly ‘Terrific Tips’ e-newsletter at Alternatively, email

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Jurek Leon is a storyteller, speaker and trainer. Subscribe to Jurek's FREE monthly 'Terrific Tips' e-newsletter at Alternatively, email