John Winning, the founder of Appliances Online, didn’t get the best result from his first taste of sales after he left school, Scots College in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
He wasn’t interested in university, so he tried his hand at door-to-door selling of discount books for pizzas and videos. He also worked at Doyle’s restaurants and he’d also done the written part of a Coxswain ticket for a commercial boat licence.
“I was working in Newcastle and got attacked by a dog and ended up in hospital,” he told Business Insider.
His father asked him: “Do you really want to be doing this?”
John went home where, after about two weeks, his father asked: “Are you going to get another job?”
He didn’t have one lined up but was starting to think about looking around.
His father, also John, told him he didn’t have to work for the family business, Winning Appliances, as long as he had another job.
John, who had let the job hunting slip, was woken by his father one Monday morning: “Get dressed, you’re coming to work with me.”
And so John went into the family business and never left.
He worked in the freight area and then drove trucks.
But it was back in sales, this time working in the laundry and fridge section of Winning Appliances, that he first started thinking about online.
“I saw a lot of customers coming in with catalogues, either ours or competitors, saying they just need this product,” he told Business Insider.
“And I thought if they’ve already made their mind up on a catalogue why wouldn’t they be able to do that on the internet?”
Then he fielded phone calls from people asking for a specific product and a price.
“They’re not physically touching the product but making their mind up and just buying a replacement item,” he says. “So I thought well that should be able to be done online.”
That was ten years ago. He is now 32.
“When I started it was just me with another mate,” he told Business Insider. “Then three months in I had another mate start with us. And then we quickly grew from there but it was a very small office.”
John is now the group CEO of both businesses, the original stores plus the online. Combined, they turnover about $500 million a year, with about $200 million of that online.
He explains the difference between the online business and the stores this way: Appliances Online has everything and customers narrow down they want via searching; Winning stores have already been curated by hand, the number of appliances reduced to a number easy to understand and compare. What is left is a recommendation from the store.
The office at Danks St in Sydney’s Waterloo looks more like a high tech startup with rows of benches and lines of people sitting together than a retail business.
John doesn’t have an office. He has a space at a bench just like everyone else.
That’s very different from the original Winning Appliances, the one he remembers when growing up, the family business with a history going back to 1906.
“It was always an open door policy but they used to be shoe box offices,” he says
“It wasn’t that they had a big fancy corner desk. There was no windows in their office. It was an internal sort of office and my dad shared it with the general manager at the time.”
At the new Winnings, new starters have a chose of technology, either Apple or PC, one screen or two.
“If you want to work on a laptop you have a laptop,” John says. “If you want stand up desk you can have a stand up desk. We’re pretty flexible. The only things that are non-negotiable is everyone gets the same kind of desk and everyone has the same chair.”
Winning stores are now expanding from New South Wales into Western Australia and Queensland.
“We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing well … continue to look after the customer. So the customers are the forefront of everything we do,” John says.
“We’re doing a Canberra store in October this year and we’ll do a few more Queensland stores probably next year.”
There’s no push to list on the stock exchange. A family run company is the right structure for the moment.
“It works for us. We like being our own boss,” John says.
“I think as long as you can afford the growth that you’re getting and you’ve got to take the opportunities when they come and you’ve got to survive obviously.”
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