CSA: You and your brother, Mark, who is now also on the board of LRB, started your careers in the photographic industry. How did the somewhat radical switch from a photo business to Promac paint retail shops come about? Why the interest in coatings?
AR: In the late 1990s, I went to a conference in the US where the transition to digital photography was a major talking point. I was extremely worried about this development because the success of analogue photography was based on ‘surprises’. You never knew what was going to come out on your film. I saw digital photography as a ‘disruption’ to the business of processing photos and was concerned that people would print less. So we sold Foto First to a listed company in the early 2000s.
By 2005, it became evident that it had been the right decision as consumers were printing less and rather storing images on computers. Mark and I had been retired for two years and were bored out of our minds. We decided to look at an industry that would complement our property investment business and reduce the costs of painting and refurbishments. We met a family involved in the hardware business that was eager to partner with us in a franchise. That’s how we got into the paint business.
CSA: As head of major group such as LRB, what are your main objectives for the group – short-term and long-term?
AR: We will continue to grow our brands and footprint so that they remain top of mind for the consumer and satisfy customers’ needs. We are totally focused on giving customers our full attention. In the short term, we are tightening up our business in every area so that we remain agile and decisive. As for the long-term we have big plans, but let’s keep it a surprise for now.
CSA: How important do you regard SAPMA’s role in paint retailing – particularly the training of retail staff?
AR: It is important to have a ‛policing’ body to ensure that paint manufacturers and retailers are complying with regulations to level the playing fields and, most importantly, give consumers peace of mind that they have an organisation that is protecting them. From a training perspective, it is important that staff working with paint understand what they are doing and again ensure peace of mind for customers by offering the right advice.
CSA: After years in paint retailing, do you feel there is an urgent need for upgrading staff skills, and perhaps the mind-set of retailers, both large and small?
AR: There is a constant need to upskill, it never stops. I believe the old ‘apprentice’ structure should be reintroduced. This would give greater opportunity and guidance for young people entering the job market to make an informed decision on their career path. It gives them time to see what trade and skills suits them best so they can become passionate and become an expert at it.
CSA: How do you feel about the lack of support for SAPMA initiatives from paint applicators?
AR: SAPMA needs support from the private sector and government to be successful. SAPMA needs the power and authority to enforce compliance at every level. There are paint applicators that want to support SAPMA but see no recourse for those applicators that are not compliant, so their motivation inevitably drops.
CSA: What qualities should the ideal franchisee possess? Do you think some people rush into it, pour lots of money into it, and then fail because of grandiose expectations or perhaps because of a lack of commitment?
AR: Ideal franchisees follow the initiatives and systems of the franchisor to the letter and are fully supportive of initiatives and live the brand. But as a franchisee, you must be prepared to work hard and be in your business daily, constantly expanding and working your customer base. Often franchisees think that being part of a group exempts them from this and allows them to put in less effort and time in to their business. The franchise name might be well known and its systems in place but the most important factor for success remains the relationship cultivated with your customer.