Your Business: Hard grind of retail demands X-factor

By Gill South

Mike Mead, owner of Just Hockey/Cricket Express, is passionate about the two sports and his business. Photo / Natalie Slade
Mike Mead, owner of Just Hockey/Cricket Express, is passionate about the two sports and his business. Photo / Natalie Slade

The advice from Just Hockey/Cricket Express co-owner, Mike Mead, to anyone thinking of going into retail, is only sell what you are actually interested in.

For the former British eurobond trader who met his wife playing hockey here, hockey was an obvious one.

And as someone who played cricket growing up in England, this was another natural area of expansion.

"They are the two sports I'm enthused about," Mead says.

Retail's such a hard grind, you need the "X factor" to keep you going, he says.

With big chains out there like Rebel Sports, specialist sports retailing is a battle. Champs Sports, a competitor in Auckland, has recently closed its doors, Mead says.

"It just shows how tough the market is."

He prefers a healthy system of competitors.

The hockey and cricket gear retailer has a proven method of survival.

"We have just based our businesss on having the product, price and customer service," he says.

Just Hockey first came on the scene in 1989 and Mead joined the business in 1994 when it moved to Enfield St in Mt Eden.

He took a stake in the business in 1996. He and wife Robyn Taylor now have a 47.5 per cent shareholding.

The Cricket Express brand came into being in August 1996.

At the time, the go-to cricket store in Auckland was Wallace and Webb in Newmarket but it closed in 1997.

These days Just Hockey/Cricket Express has a $5 million turnover with stores in Albany, Mt Eden, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin plus an online business.

Cricket Express represents around 65 per cent of the retail business, cricketers buying more gear than hockey players.

Just Hockey/Cricket Express has become a key sponsor in its chosen sports.

"When Cricket Express set up, the first thing we did was negotiate a sponsorship deal with Auckland Cricket and we are still involved," Mead says.

The retailer has a lot to do with the top hockey and cricket teams who are called on often to do promotions.

The retailer's biggest challenge is staffing.

"It's very hard to find the right people.

"It's a major stumbling block, the quality of staff," Mead says.

"We tend to pick our staff from customers.

"We see kids coming through, we get the same customers who come in every year.

"I'll think these kids in a couple of years' time could work here.

"We spend an awful lot of time training the staff to make sure they have got knowledge and expertise to communicate with the customers on the right level," Mead says.

At one point Mead had Black Cap Lou Vincent working in the shop.

Just Hockey/Cricket Express has 10 full-time and 20 part-time staff.

You don't have to be an expert cricketer to sell cricket gear. Mums, who are 50 per cent of the customers, want to know about the durability of products, he says.

The busiest times for the retailer are October/November for Cricket Express and March/April for Just Hockey.

The co-owner has already thought of succession issues.

"I'm not getting any younger," Mead says.

"I would love it if we had more staff to put their hand up and say I really want to buy into this," he says.

"We've just done that with Gareth Greenfield, manager of the Christchurch store.

"He's been with us for five years, we've just allowed him to buy into the business."

It's not just a matter of letting them buy into the business, they have got to contribute, Mead says.

"Gareth fitted the bill, he's very positive in what he does."

- NZ Herald

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