Cellnet retail general manager, Elaine Schillinger, comes from a marketing and retail background and loves building a brand. She spoke to NADIA CAMERON about transitioning from a boutique memory distributor to a broad-based national IT player and her plans to develop Cellnet's retail business.
What was your first job? I grew up in the US and had two jobs while studying - one was in the junior section at Macys department store to fund my passion for clothes. The other was a night job working at a valet parking garage underneath the Hyatt Hotel as their bookkeeper. My background is marketing - my major at Pittsburg University was communications and public relations. My first job in Australia was working for a little PR in South Yarra. I came out here for the adventure and because I loved INXS. I fell in love with the country, ended up meeting the love of my life and stayed.
How did you progress to where you are today? After the PR job I went to Clemenger Direct and worked there for three years doing account services. I then got a job at Pacific Brands and worked at Holeproof doing advertising, PR and launching products before I was promoted to Pacific's head office to look after clothing, sporting and footwear brands such as Jockey, Clarks and Bonds at a strategic level.
There was a turning point when I realised that regardless of the brand, I was going through the same processes each time and I wanted a career change. I had an opportunity to work with someone running a career recruitment and counselling firm - I did their PR and advertising for three years while learning about career management and development. That helped me understand core competencies and what is required to drive a sales or business team. But I missed the challenge and creativity behind building a brand.
Then an opportunity with VME Systems came up. Founder, Michael Hornsby, came from a B2B, programming background and was able to work with SanDisk in the early days before digital cameras took off. He was building systems using flash memory and had that distribution agreement in place when digital cameras started to drive the retail side of flash memory. But he didn't have the people in place, so about five years ago I came on to build up the marketing side. We were SanDisk's presence in Australia at that time and are still their biggest distributor today. As we grew we realised the infrastructure wasn't there to manage that growth. The time came about two years ago to decide to diversify, sell-out or partner, which was when Cellnet acquired us.
What is your focus this year? Because our model is so different to the way Cellnet is set up we [VME] functioned separately from them until earlier this year. They took over the distribution, warehousing and finance side but our front-end including marketing continued to be ours.
Since coming back on-board, Stephen Harrison [Cellnet managing director] has put an enormous amount of changes in place and his objective is to get back to the roots. He focused a lot on the IT side of the business, which was neglected. He left us alone as we were still doing very well. I became Cellnet's retail manager in January. My job is now to takeover the front-end and look at how we can optimise the current relationships we have with our retailers into other Cellnet product offerings. My first three months was spent pulling the teams together - we have a fantastic team with coverage on the ground in every city.
Cellnet has a mix of IT, telco and accessory products we can offer retailers now, whereas we were just SanDisk before.
What do you like about your current job? The fact that it's a start-up, which means a considerable amount of variety. My role requires team building, establishing business plans and setting appropriate strategies. I enjoy putting together a successful team and positioning Cellnet as a substantial player in retail and watching it grow.
What is the biggest achievement of your career? Over an 18-month period I was instrumental in building up SanDisk in Australia and making it the number one brand in terms of market share in its category.
What's the next big thing in the industry? For us as SanDisk and Cellnet, it's mobile technology. SanDisk's strategy for growth is all around mobile and convergence of mobile handsets and the content. And that's where the opportunity is for us as well. We will continue to see decline in margins. Where the opportunity lies is in telco and with retailers who are now taking on Telstra and selling phones in shops. They are the ones offering opportunities for Cellnet both in terms of cards and in increased attached rates.