Executive director of the Australian Retailer’s Association (ARA), Russell Zimmerman, has a long history in retail. He chats with ARN about his concerns for the industry, and his goals for the ARA.
What was your first job?
In my first role in life I worked for a wholesaler and proceeded through the ranks to learn the wholesaling business, and became the youngest rep the company ever put out.
How did you end up where you are today?
After working for nine years I bought my own retail business, which I’ve run since 1978. About 1996 I saw that the Australian Retailers Association wanted a councillor. I joined, and was a councillor to the ARA for many years, being both state president in NSW when it was a division, and then the national president.
In about 2004 I resigned from being a councillor as they had too many of us and I thought I’d done my fair share. Then, in late 2008, I was asked if I would rejoin council. I did, and as councillor I was concerned on the direction the organisation was taking. I came into the organisation originally for a short term contract to have a look at it and where it was going, and was subsequently got asked whether I’d remain.
What attracted you to it?
Anything to do with where retailing is concerned I have a great love for, and I have a great love for the industry, a big passion for the industry, and this particular organisation is 105 years old. I have a great passion believing that retailers need to belong to associations for all their advice, because if you don’t, as a retailer you can get very easily caught up and find you’re paying way too much, and industry associations tend to assist you in saving money.
What are some of the frustrations you have with the retail industry?
I think the biggest area of frustration is probably the current difficulties under the employment relations law. At the moment it’s very difficult being a retailer out there understanding all the various different awards that we deal with, because there are more than one, and then the various levels of your awards, and then the steps process coming in on the award modernisation over the five years that’s going to happen. I think you have to be a lawyer, an accountant, a retailer, and a marketer and it is difficult for any retailer.
What is the biggest achievement of your career?
Because I’ve been a retailer myself for 30 years, and a retailer of a SME, I have an understanding of what retailers are really needing from the industry, and being able to put that back into the association, and the association then being able to offer to retailers what is really needed out there.
What are some of the focuses of the ARA for the nest 12 months?
We’ll be giving our members the strongest possible advice, and the best advice possible from the employment relations area, because of the minefield that is going forward. It’s really about providing a general education of members – in all areas, from employment relations, tenancy and a whole range of other things retailers need support in learning and support about the pitfalls of retailing.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
If you’re talking about pure relaxation, I’ve got a 12-month old grandchild, and I’ve got a lot of time getting an opportunity to look after her on weekends.
I also still own, but not intimately involved with, but do a certain amount of support with the business I’ve owned for 30 years. My wife and family are involved with that, so there’s a little bit of advisory role I do in relation to that business.
I’m also a Rotarian, and I’ve been so for 28-30 years, and I have a keen interest in both photography and music – they’re my other relaxation points.
Right now I’m also helping my daughter and son-in-law renovate a house they’ve just bought. I am active and like to keep myself busy.
What kind of camera do you use?
I have a couple, I have a Sony digital movie camera, and I have a Nikon camera I use for still photographs. The other thing I’ve also got is a Cisco Flip, which is great for when I’m about the house to get a couple of quick shots of my granddaughter.
What kind of photography do you do?
It’s more family stuff, I’m not really big into it and looking to take still life portraits, but I like capturing nice family scenes, and that kind of thing.
What was your initial ambition in life?
Sales and marketing. I left school believing I wanted to be in selling and marketing. Being in your own retail business and running your own reseller organisation makes you become a person of multiple skills, and you do a lot of selling and marketing in your own business. So I did achieve that initial ambition.
What’s your biggest ambition going forwards?
When I retire, and I think that’s a good nine or 10 years away yet, I’d like to buy a caravan and tour Australia.
From a work perspective, there are a number of different retailing associations, and long term I’d like to see those various associations being brought under the umbrella of one association, and we become so important to Government – I see Government go on about how important retail is – I’d like to see Government might have a minister looking after retail.