Anthony Grice, CEO, Clark Rubber 

Anthony Grice: Upholding the Legacy of Australia’s Favorite Retail Chain

As the retail industry continues to evolve in an ever-changing world, businesses must adapt quickly to keep up with changing consumer needs. For retail business owners, the goal is no more just staying afloat amidst competitors but also making sure that the company’s products are what people want and need. To do this, it is important to stay on top of trends to keep up with changing consumer demands.

A prime example of such companies is Clark Rubber, a successful Australian retailer with a history dating back to 1946. With 60 stores nationally, the company’s stores are specialists in pools, foam, and rubber providing it with a unique place in the Australian retail market.

In the following interview with Insights Success, Anthony Grice, CEO of Clark Rubber, talks about how he became a part of the brand’s legacy and how he climbed the ladder to leading it today.

Anthony also speaks about the brand’s 75+ years of history, its vision going forward, the development of the company’s proprietary supply chain and the future of the retail sector post the pandemic.

Here are the excerpts from the interview.

Give us a brief overview of your 7+ years’ journey at Clark Rubber and also tell us what inspired you to venture into retail space: 

I have a background rich in all facets of retailing with previous posts at Woolworths, Target Australia, and Toys R Us & Babies R Us. I’m a retailer through and through.

I’ve been at Clark Rubber for seven years now, three of which I’ve been CEO. Prior to this appointment, I was the General Manager of Merchandise with Clark Rubber, which held me in great stead to take on the CEO role.

Back in the late 90s, after completing University studies in Business, I was offered a traineeship role with Woolworths Supermarkets in Queensland. I was seeking the opportunity to put into practice the skills gained from my formal education with a very large and reputable business that could provide a solid career path and Woolies provided me with exactly that opportunity. Over my 16-year career with Woolworths, I worked in a variety of roles from retail operations, buying, marketing, brand management and international sourcing.

Over that time, I was fortunate enough to work with and learn from a number of exceptional retail business leaders, many of whom have gone on to run some of the largest companies in Australia and globally. It was in this environment that I gained the skills to operate the business I currently lead today.

Retail is an amazing industry to work in. Dynamic, fast-paced, sometimes challenging (particularly at the moment with COVID), however very rewarding. I get to work with people and develop people, which I love.

Tell us more about Clark Rubber, its vision, and the key aspects of its stronghold in the retail niche.

Clark Rubber is an iconic retailer with a rich 75-year history. It is one of the longest continually operating retail brands in Australia, operating under a franchise model for over 25 years. Clark Rubber holds a unique position in the market, offering a complete range of pool/spa, foam, and rubber products – all under one roof.

In min-2020, Clark Rubber came under new ownership with ambitious plans to grow the network and revitalize the customer experience in-store, online and in the home. There is an ongoing challenge to nurture the iconic 75-year-old brand, while also transforming the customer experience through digital marketing, customer life cycle comms and new shopping touchpoints such as endless aisle and drop shipping etc.

From a leadership perspective, what is your opinion on the impact of the pandemic on the global retail sector and how did you overcome the challenges rooting from the pandemic?

Supply and demand have largely been affected by the pandemic. As a result, Clark Rubber is developing its own supply chain. A business of our size needs its own independent supply chain to import directly from overseas markets. That will be quite transformational for the business and allow us the scope to participate efficiently and effectively in big business-to-business (B2B) contracts.

The pandemic has highlighted the risks and impacts of sourcing internationally and how quickly sourcing can be impacted by global events, leading to challenges in securing products. Aligning with increased customer expectation, greater importance has been placed on online shopping and contactless services.

What is your opinion on the necessity for retail companies to align their offerings with newer technological developments, especially when it comes to catering to the ever-evolving customer preferences?

  • It’s critical we do this. As the market evolves, it’s imperative we continue to develop our product/service offering, and the customer experience, to reflect ever-changing customer needs and wants.
  • Particularly across pool/spa tech, we continue to offer the most high-tech solutions for pool operation, servicing and maintenance.
  • The business today is very much focused on its digital appearance, the way in which we act and interact with customers.
  • Strong online presence: flexibility, variety, accessibility.

What efforts did you and your team at Clark Rubber take during the pandemic to sustain operations and ensure safety of your employees at the same time?

From a Franchise Support Office perspective, employees were fully enabled and supported in working from home and have been provided with the equipment they need to efficiently operate on a remote basis.

Stores have transitioned team members into operating in an entirely click-and-collect/home delivery capacity, enhancing the online customer experience for those who would otherwise visit the bricks and mortar store.

The company’s digital presence enabled it to pivot very quickly into providing online services through click and collect and home delivery services.

Very rapid operational responses to the constantly shifting ‘restrictions’ environments on a state-by-state basis. With stores opening/closing, there was a great need to quickly deploy and communicate an expanded contactless services offering, ensuring store teams were adequately prepared to manage and adhere to government-mandated restrictions.

If given a chance, what is the one thing that you would change about the retail business ecosystem in Australia?

As a leader of an iconic but relatively small retail brand in the Australian marketplace, I would like to see more of a level playing field across the Australian retail marketplace. We need a rich cross-section of retail brands in our market to ensure that all consumer needs are catered for. As such, I would like to see the majors have less dominance.

As an established leader, what would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs aspiring to venture into the retail space?

Be exactly that…. “Be entrepreneurial”. There are many examples across the Australian retail sector of entrepreneurial mindsets building wildly successful businesses, particularly in the online retail space.

Don’t be in a hurry to get to the top. A successful leader needs to understand their business and in retail, that means knowing who your customer is and how to serve them. I would never trade the time I spent working on the shop floor. 

In your opinion, what could be the future of the retail sector post the pandemic? And how are you strategizing your organization’s operations for that future?

Through the pandemic, we have seen a seismic shift in consumers switching to shop online. This is set to grow further as Aussies catch up to consumers in other markets that made the shift to online a number of years before us.

Brick and mortar stores will still remain highly relevant, as consumers seek to “shop local” at a store that they get in and out of with relative ease, without encountering crowds of people. Clark Rubber stores offer exactly that, and it is for this reason that we intend on maintaining and optimizing our brick-and-mortar store footprint, whilst simultaneously improving our online/contactless services landscape.

We intend on expanding our full-service store footprint from 60 to 120 locations. Growing a network of dedicated smaller footprint Pools & Spas stores to better serve this highly profitable segment at a local level.

Establishing a large network of Pools & Spas mobile service vans, to efficiently serve our pool/spa customers in the convenience of their own homes.

Establishing our own supply chain so that we have a much higher degree of control over supply, and our ability to service a bigger push into B2B markets.