Retail Podcast 406: Jacyn Heavens on Regional Differences in Retail

Bob Phibbs interviewed Jacyn Heavens, founder and CEO of Epos Now. In this episode Bob and Jacyn talked about diversifying and curating a unique focus.

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Tell me something good about retail

Jacyn Heavens on Regional Differences in Retail



Bob: So how did you start in retail?

Jacyn: Yeah, it's a good question. So, I came up with the business in retail and kind of when I saw the opportunity to jump on this podcast, it's quite interesting because a lot of brilliant businesses obviously are born in retail and my sort of background was, my first kind of ever job was on like a sweet counter and then my second job was in retail.

Bob: How old were you with your sweet counter?

Jacyn: About 15, 16, sweet counter job. Quite stressful. Cakes going off, ice cream, loads of screaming kids, getting it right. I think it was a really good grounding. You know, learning how to interface with customers, learning how to get things right.

Yeah. That was a really great grounding. And then my next job was in retail, where I worked at, it's like a Costco, but in the UK PC world, and I was working on the tills and dealing with the POS systems. It’s what we do now, but that was my first exposure to kind of retail and, yeah, I remember in the PC world, so the job was really sitting on the tills.

And I remember some guy came in, he bought - PCs were expensive back then - I'm 36 now, so it's like 18 then. And I remember some guy by coming in, with his girlfriend, he bought a PC for cash. I thought, “Wow, that guy is loaded. He's got so much money. It's unbelievable.” I couldn't really believe, you know, how someone could have so much money.

So I thought, "Right, that's kind of the interaction of customers in retail and that tangible sort of physical presence." You really learn lots from customers and at that stage, I thought it would be pretty sweet one day to be able to buy a computer, you know, with cash. They said, “Hey, do you want to learn how to sort of sell the computers?”

I was like, “Yeah, brilliant.” Okay. So, the next kind of job on that was selling the computers in the store and that got me into kind of a sales background. And from then, I went into more commercial sales away from retail, for a number of years. And I thought, “I want to get back onto the High Street.”

So that's when I bought kind of a lease hold bar and set up a little bar in a bistro on the High Street. I started the business and it was going okay, but I wanted to get a bit of time between myself and the business and step away from it and decide whether I wanted to scale it or anything. And that's when I came up with the idea of the POS.

Because actually when I had that business, I phoned up a POS company and tried to Google it. There was no one on Google, right, selling this system that I needed to free myself from the day to day and to protect the business. And that's when I kinda came up the idea of Epos Now.

There were other retailers or hospitality businesses just like me that didn't have the money at that point to buy them. I mean, the technology was so expensive back then. We're talking about nine years where the idea for Epos Now kind of birthed.

Bob: So, tell me, let's go back to the bar. Had you ever run a bar before?

Jacyn: No, never ran a bar before at all.

Bob: Yeah. So just curious. The mindset there.“I've never done it before. I want to be up till what, two or three in the morning mixing drinks in a retail establishment where profits often are free pours and everything else going down the drain.” So, was this something that you took a lot of time to decide, or was it more of an emotion and then what was the learning curve when you got to that, Jacyn?

Jacyn: So, what we know now, right, is hospitality businesses like that are very risky and they come up with a lot of startup costs. But at the time it was very much, just to kind of pivot - I knew some friends. They were promoted as they were doing promotions in other people's bars. So, we had a way to acquire customers and we had a route in with these promotions.

It was like a live music kind of bar as well. So I thought, “Why not give it a crack?” As simple as that, really. Why not give it a go?

Bob: You know, we were talking about the High Street and the High Street has changed in the UK. Is that correct? I mean, has it become more of the franchise and quick serve restaurants and name brands and the little guys are out or what's going on over there?

Jacyn: Yeah, good question. So, I've got the kind of low down in all three regions, Australia, U.S. and UK. So, UK is mostly completely all chains now. Now the UK is unique because it's so small and big chains can dominate quite quickly.

There's very little regional differences. So, if you take a walk around the High Street, you'll have Starbucks, McDonald's, Burger King, Topshop, Zara, so almost all the chains along the main front and only the strong independents. They only really exist off the main drag. They can only really afford it outside the shopping centers and High Street, so it’s almost exclusively driven by High Street chains.

Now the U.S. is a little bit different where the malls are all chains and big businesses. But the high streets, which not many people use anymore because of these malls, they're mostly independents, but they've got big regional differences because you know, some people in Texas might have different hopes and wants and demands to someone in say, you know, Florida or Alaska or somewhere like that.

Right? So it's different and regional.

Bob: Now, you're still able to get that difference, whereas it's kind of a monoculture in the UK.

Jacyn: UK is more monoculture. It's much more big businesses, much, much more. But Australia, I mean, if any of your listeners have ever been there, Starbucks couldn’t make it work in Australia, right?

Yeah. And then Amazon, right? So, I went there and started a business and bought a business there, and I tried to buy a table tennis table in Orlando, right. I can get that stuff same day, UK next day. Yeah. Off Amazon is five days in Australia. In near Brisbane. Right. So Amazon and all the big chains, they just don't exist down the High Street.

It's crazy. It's totally different.

Bob: Now, is that just a matter of they don't exist yet? Because, you know, the thing that makes it so, I think so hard for Australia to compete in New Zealand, right, is that everything has to pretty much be shipped there. So, in some ways it's kind of like Hawaii. It's not native to most of these brands.

But everybody's afraid of online, aren't they? I mean, that it's just a matter of time in Australia.

Jacyn: Well, you'd think that, right? So, we did think that, and that's what we did. So, from, remember this is my game now in retail, whereas before I was a retailer, now I’m supplying retailers.

So, my kind of job when I was over there is kind of to understand that and think, you know, why is this, UK and U.S. are very culturally similar when it comes to retail. Why are these guys so different? So the first night I got there I went out for a meal at 7 pm, right? And everyone's stacking chairs and you're like, “What's going on?”

Right? Because the thing with Australia is, especially on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, everyone gets up at like 6 am or 5 am and they go to bed at like eight or nine. So, the retailers, they kind of just have one shift, right? And then the restaurants are packed out at 6 am before work, it’s really weird, right?

Like cafe culture. And then even the chains, like you've got Coffee Club over there. It's a chain. They have a chef, so they don't really have pre-prepared foods. You get like vitality bowls. Just where we go there on the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast, it's a much healthier lifestyle, whereas you hold that to the UK or the U.S. where they're culturally quite similar.

Where everyone kind of gets up later at a weekend and stays up much later. Right? And, the food's much more on the go kind of quick service. “Give it to me now,” and Uber Eats is kind of available everywhere. There is some definite cultural change in Australia where they're more interested in fresh food.

So, I mentioned like, you know, do you guys ever get like Nando's, McDonald's. You know, or Burger King and they were like, “Nah, not really, and Starbucks can’t make it here. We're only interested in like fresh ingredients, freshly cooked.” I was like, “Wow, it's a brilliant place.”

Bob: That is interesting. And then as far as the online shopping, they don't know about it as much, or they don't care?

I mean, I think that's the challenge certainly in the U.S. that adoption is quick. It's certainly not nearly as quick as it has been in Asia, but, that it's still building momentum in being picked off by little niche players. But it doesn't sound like in Australia, that's the case.

Jacyn: No, it's not the case.

I mean, most people in Australia are shopping. The odd thing is what's slowing down the online eCommerce and giving the bricks and mortar and the retail much more strength is the internet as well, right? So, the internet is not great.

I know this sounds bizarre, coming from the UK, the U.S. first thing, you know, it's not a hotel. You can't access your CRMs and your emails very easy. So, you know, internet connections, they aren't very good out there at all. I mean, they're working on that right now and the government failed something where they were going to do Wi-Fi units, linking everywhere.

But it's become too expensive. So good quality internet is really hard to get around. So, the level of adoption of the internet is much lower. And obviously the space between towns and cities is higher as well. So, delivery cost is higher. So, population is more densely spread out in a larger area.

You have internet, which is problematic. So, because of that, it's been very, very hard for Amazon to penetrate that region. So, what you have there is you have really regionalized shops. So, I met a bar owner over there that had six or seven bars in the same sort of region. So, you don't really see that, you know, in the UK, the U.S., where you see your really strong kind of a family-owned regional chains.

And even in retail as well. You go to a restaurant, they also have gaming and gambling in the restaurant, which is weird too. So yeah, the old poker machines, like slot machines, where you have to be a member, and in the restaurants and bars over there, 60-75 percent of the bars’ takings will be gambling, right?

Bob: Wow. That sounds like Vegas.

Jacyn: Well, it's not quite as fun as Vegas cause the slot machines. But I suppose that can give you a little bit of a thrill. I guess that's the idea.

Bob: I mean, that's kind of amazing. If our listeners, how many of you, if you could add gambling that would give you 75 percent of your revenue, would do it in a heartbeat?

I mean, wow, that's it. You know, in the U.S. we see so many big retailers now adding restaurants and bars and things like that, kinda like, you know, get them drunk and hope they'll buy more. And that seems to be a big trend that everyone is still looking at, where that's going and you know, as simple a concept as Ikea with their food or whatever their funny names were, 30 years ago and everybody seems to be catching on.

But even then, that's the story of retail, right? Because that's what department stores did back in the ’30s, then everything old is new again. Right? Like, “Oh, it's cutting edge. We're allowing people to sit down on couches and seating in the store.” It's like, well, that's not cutting edge. Yeah. But we're saying it's cutting edge. It's like, Oh, okay.

So, where do you see retail going in those three markets? You know, I think Brexit has got to be a big kick in the pants to UK, one way or the other. The U.S., we still have an idea of political confusion, we're in election year. And then of course you've got the fires in Australia and everybody's going to be talking and dealing with this whole coronavirus thing.

Jacyn: So, exactly. And the thing is, I guess when you start building a global business, you know those geopolitical events, you know, they massively affect you. You talk about the Trump administration, that Chinese trade deal and the Asian trade deal, or some of our equipment comes from over there.

So, all of a sudden you've got 25 percent more, you know, on the imports, and that really hurts, you know, Brexit hurt medium term, but now you're looking at all those contracts now need to be renegotiated. So, I guess you’re kind of looking now, actually, will you get a better deal coming out of that. And then there's obviously coronavirus, just a dreadful event.

It's really hit everyone. But I think you hit the nail on the head earlier, right? You're talking about experiences. So, you think about people having multiple service for revenue streams, right? And that's kind of the crux of the issue. So, one thing we're seeing, so say for example, got 30,000, your bricks and mortar customers, more locations, what's the kind of common theme we're seeing for retailers across that, right?

And it's basically this. There was a time where you could sell the same thing as Amazon and expect different results. So, if you're selling the same things as someone can get same day. Yeah. From Amazon. That's where you're going to see massive disruption.

You know previously, everyone was talking about big companies being disruptive, but now we're seeing all of the retailers become disruptive now, right? And what we see in people who are bucking that trend is, like you mentioned earlier, is yes, people offering experiences, but people offering different things that you can’t potentially buy.

So, talk about maybe if you had a shop right, and you source local meats and rare breed sausages and, and vegetarian options that are locally grown and sourced. Yeah. It can't be bought online or through the big chains. We see those shops thriving because they're offering something unique that can only be purchased or bought there.

And we also see experience led places, like you mentioned earlier about adding bars, but we see, you know, trampoline parks, adding bars, adding bowling, adding cinemas, and we see the malls being filled up with cinemas and experiences. You're adding unique experience that can only be experienced there and adding unique products and services that can only be bought there.

That's where people are going to win now. It's not just offering convenience anymore. So, the big points, people are failing at selling the same stuff when there’s more convenient options. So, I think it's up to us to go back to the board and have a rethink about what, you know, how we integrate our customers.

Bob: Well, that's the challenge, isn't it? That 80 percent of your customers can buy 80 percent of your merchandise through somebody else, whether it's online or retail. And there's always somebody cheaper. So, if all those levels don't work anymore, which used to work in the ’50s and ’60s and there is no scarcity, cause that used to be another level, we'd say, “Oh, you can only get this product here.”

That's just not working in 2020. And I think we're, you know, I've said it before on this program. I think we are going back. It's a little U.S.-centric, my idea, but I think we're going back to the time of the pilgrims where every shop owner just wants to take care of their local customer. We saw it with the craft beers in the U.S. that, you know, they just want to open this one place and they don't have to say, “Oh, and we're going to end up being the Chili's of craft beers.”

They just want to do a really good job. They want to have a work/ life balance, and then they want to be super curated on whoever is in charge. So, if you're looking for home products, that's a really tight idea of what this brand offers versus, “We've got everything.”

You know, it's that difference between walking into a menu that's got 16 pages. There's seafood and there's chicken, and there's sushi versus one page where the chef has done the hard work and said, “These are the 10 I can do really well and I'm going to really give you 10 that are done really well,” and I think that's going to be the future for smart retailers is understanding that the mass idea of we have to compete with everybody else is actually a recipe for disaster. Would you agree?

Jacyn: Absolutely. Couldn’t have said it better myself, you’re talking complete sense there, the idea of sacking him high and selling him it, you can't compete with Amazon. They've gone away and wiped everyone else. If you're selling the same things as a Walmart, as an Amazon, you're absolutely in trouble and you're explaining the concept of being able to offer something completely unique. What they can't offer it is absolutely the right move. Slimming down that menu and having a real, you know, niche that you focus on, that's key to success. And no one else can compete, like craft beer is having an explosion, you know, they’re locally produced, locally sourced.

And you know they're not Budweiser, the sellers that everyone else can offer. You know that's why you're going to sell something unique and people are going to come to you specifically for that.

Bob: Absolutely. What's the best or worst advice that you've ever received? You could start all the way back to the sweet shop all the way up.

I'll let you choose.

Jacyn: The worst advice in retail I've ever experienced was when I first started, someone said, “Right, you've got to be open all the time. Because if you're open, someone might walk in and have a meal.” So, when I first started in retail, I just tried to be open all the time.

Now, that was the biggest mistake that we kind of done. What we should have done is really understood our customer. You know, understood when our busy points were and really try to focus on those areas that were most convenient to the customer. So I think trying to be available the time, you know, again, trying to compete with larger companies, you don't need to be that way because your customers will trust you.

That was the worst advice that I probably took. And that caused a little bit of burnout. And that will probably resonate on the listeners. And I think the best thing we kind of did is one thing we haven't touched on, where we see a lot of success. And what I did early on is implement a technology system.

I know I'm biased because I run the company, but what we see is businesses, like now, have to think like a technology business. And that segues into what you said before. If you can build a loyalty platform and really communicate with those customers. So, let's say you're doing the craft brewery, as a good example.

If you can build a following and collect the details of people that are interested in the products you sell so you can engage with them on another level, bring them to your tasting events and build a community around the products and services you sell and keep them engaged. And make them feel part of something.

That's what technology is great at doing. You know, it's great at making your business really streamlined, but it's also building a community and you've gotta be thinking like a technology business. We've all had that text from Amazon, you know, where we've said we want a different item and it tells us what we want.

You know, they're trying to build data on us and build a community and a great technology system can really build that ecosystem for your customers too. I wouldn't overlook trying to think like a technology business in that regard.

Bob: Yeah. I think it's about building your tribe around you. That's certainly it. So tell me something good about retail. What do you like about retail?

Jacyn: Do you know what I really like? I really like now, I honestly really like this movement that we've been talking about on this call. I like the fact that, hey, I can't just open up a corner shop and sell the same bacon eggs Walmart does 10 feet down the street and expect people to just come and see me.

I like the diversity you're building now where people know that to be a business, you've got to do something completely different. So, when you walk into, you know, when you walk into that business now you can get a completely different look and feel.

You mentioned earlier about curating your unique meal and focus on what the chef does really well. Now people are having to think differently to be successful and they will be successful, but they'll just have to be successful in a unique way. So why I like the idea now of going to these unique places and these unique experiences, retailers have created and I think technology is enabling that in more ways that it has before.

And that's what I'm really loving about retail at the moment. I'm loving these concepts.

Bob: Yeah. I love that idea that, you know, when you are creative, you go into the game thinking, “All right, I have to be more creative,” that it's not a given. Then the battle is what makes it fun, not the, “Oh well I'll just open a shop and I'll be just like Costco, except I'll be cheaper,” which frankly isn't going to work and you're not going to be able to have the money to be able to do that.

So why not be yourself, which is always good. So how do we find out more about you and your company?

Jacyn: Well. Great. You can head onto the website. It's or you can chuck Epos Now in Google and then go from there.

Bob: Very good. Well, I appreciate your time today and safe travels around the world as you're talking to your vendors and partners.

Jacyn: Brilliant. Bob, thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

Bob: Thank you.

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