A retail milestone
Brian Bell celebrates 60 years
“This year is a real milestone for us. Only a small number of organisations in Papua New Guinea have been around longer than 60 years and we are proud of this achievement,” says Ian Clough, the chairman of the Brian Bell Group.
“What started as a small gun shop on Ela Beach in 1958 has grown, as a result of the hard work of thousands, to be one of PNG’s most recognisable brands and a contributor to the economy,” he says.
Brian Bell is a diversified retail conglomerate that has included department stores, home centres, chemicals, cleaning products, industrial equipment and farm machinery in its portfolio over the decades.
Clough says the company is now making “multi-million kina investments” in warehousing and distribution, and is expanding its portfolio through property development.
“On top of our largest distribution centre being built at Gerehu (in Port Moresby), we are building an executive apartment project in Port Moresby that is designed to provide opportunities not only for our own people, but for the wider market.
“In the last two years and the coming two years, the group will have seen some of our largest infrastructure investments in its history. We are also scoping to expand our Mount Hagen operation in the near future,” Clough says.
“Our enterprise is evolving in how we think, how we operate, and how we connect globally.
“PNG is in the early phase of expanding global recognition. The global investors that will be attracted to PNG via APEC and other key programs will bring international brands and companies to our shores.”
Clough says he sees some positive indicators that the economy is beginning to emerge from the downturn.
“We see some good early signs for activity. It is looking like the next 12 to 18 months are going to be reasonably challenging. The recent earthquake has been devastating for the people in the area affected but we also see some headwinds as a result for the economy.
“However, after we work through this, we are very positive that business in PNG will see the growth that it has been looking forward to for the last four or five years.”
Clough says there are plenty of business opportunities in PNG, but says any acquisitions for the group have to be aligned with the core businesses.
“The last thing we want to do is distract ourselves with non-core activity that will not drive the outcomes that we need – we don’t want to invest a lot of our technical
One of the differentiators with Brian Bell is that customers can come to buy from a wide range of products and know that we will service it after they buy it.
support team’s energy on trying to significantly fix another business or change it.
“We are being very selective in what we do. We are investing in our current core infrastructure.”
Clough says the company continues with its foundation of focusing on providing highquality products and after-sales service.
“One of the differentiators with Brian Bell is that customers can come to buy from a wide range of products and know that we will service it after they buy it.
“We invest in our team’s skills in the technical services area and with product knowledge.
“We are also investing in our leadership teams. We have more than three generations working within our organisation, with some team members being a part of the journey for over 40 years.”
Clough says the company is also increasing its focus on providing value for money.
“One thing that concerns me is that because we sell quality products with warranties, there is a perception that our pricing is out of reach for Papua New Guineans. Our team has worked very hard on sourcing more actively; finding goodquality products at better prices, which shifts that value equation. “We won’t ever compromise on quality, but we will offer a wider choice to our customers. It is important that our customers know that when they leave with a purchase they have received the right advice, with the best value on a quality product.
“Our strategy is to have product ranges that provide our loyal customers a ‘good, better, best’ option.”
Clough says the success of Brian Bell is attributable to the company’s commitment to PNG, as well as its innovation and willingness to support the latest products.
He is cautiously looking at e-commerce, but believes “doing it slowly and smartly” is important. “You have to secure your payment gateway. There is fraud risk that needs to be mitigated. There are a number of things that can go wrong working remotely with customers.
“We are identifying ways to provide our customers with more convenient solutions using e-commerce or visual gateways, but maybe not full online shopping.
“Another consideration for any e-commerce activity is the cost of data. Data is very expensive in PNG. The more that cost lowers, the more actively customers will engage further in the digital space,” Clough says.
“We are looking at more immediate ways that we can improve our customers’ shopping experience, including the introduction of improved gift card programs, and our new Brian Bell rewards program.
“We have customers that have shopped with us for over 30 years. A rewards program is key to providing that extra connection and reward for being loyal.”
A cool hand … the Brian Bell Group is a retail conglomerate that has department stores and home centres in its portfolio.
Ian Clough ... the chairman of the Brian Bell Group.