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Business across borders: Tony Barrington on navigating COVID-19 at Anna Thomas

4-minute read

After 17 years in retail, the Anna Thomas brand faced the challenge of navigating COVID-19 restrictions across three different states. Here’s how they did it.

 

Key take-outs
  • Being flexible in how you do business can give you an advantage in a fast-changing environment
  • Taking advantage of support measures can ease financial strain when times are tough
  • Using the right tools and technologies helps provide a good customer experience.

After 17 years in retail, the Anna Thomas brand faced the challenge of navigating COVID-19 restrictions in three states: New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. Tony Barrington, General Manager of Operations, shares how they did it with help from Westpac.

Managing COVID-19 across state borders

2020 marks Anna Thomas’ seventeenth year in the Australian fashion landscape. Firmly established as a label underpinned by quality craftsmanship, the business has a dedicated customer base across its stores in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

 

So loyal, in fact, that Anna Thomas’ return customers make up the vast majority of sales. “We don’t tend to have a customer come once and never see them again,” Barrington explains. “The majority of our clientele are repeat customers.”

 

In normal times, Anna Thomas’ in-store staff are on hand to manage relationships with local customers. But the spate of forced store closures and COVID-19 restrictions in NSW, VIC and WA led to some operational headaches.

 

“There were some restrictions that were consistent between states,” Barrington says. “But then there was a layer of state-specific regulations as well. There are different compliance requirements for each state, which complicated things further.”

Shifting behaviour calls for new ways of doing business

Aside from dealing with restrictions across three states, Barrington and the team faced the challenge – and cost – of rethinking operations to fit their customers’ changing shopping behaviours.

 

“We found that customers moved away from our city stores as more people started working from home,” Barrington explains. 

 

“Customers started buying online and picking up from suburban stores closer to their home. So the first thing we had to do was move the stock to where it could be easily accessed, which was a logistical challenge and costly.”

 

To help ease the financial burden, Westpac automatically refunded their terminal rental and merchant fees for three months across all Anna Thomas stores.

 

Fortunately, sales have remained relatively strong despite the temporary dip while some stores were closed.

 

“We felt an initial impact from store closures in Sydney and Melbourne,” Barrington says. “But when we reopened some stores, we made good ground. While we didn’t recover what we’d lost for the period, our total sales for the business were acceptable and our online sales have grown exponentially.”

Onwards and upwards

With Anna Thomas stores now open in Sydney and Perth, the team is looking forward to doing what they do best: maintaining great relationships with their customers. Barrington says Westpac Presto Smart has been integral in helping provide a better customer experience.

 

“The number one thing I’d say about Presto Smart is it just works. Prior to using it, I’d receive a phone call at least once a day to say a terminal had failed. Our point of sale software provider was one of the first to integrate with Presto Smart, and as soon as we switched, the phone calls stopped.”

 

Nowadays, if there’s an issue with a transaction, Barrington says solving the problem is quick and easy. 

 

“Our staff love it because you can see the receipt on the screen and if there’s an issue with the transaction, it can be fixed straight away,” he explains. “On the rare occasion something goes wrong, we can see that in the system and refund them on the same day.” 

 

And when it comes to reconciliations, the team can view and track transactions in real time.

 

“Recently, we had an issue with a transaction not going through,” Barrington says. “I was able to log-in to the Presto dashboard and see straight away that the error was due to insufficient funds. The customer realised she’d used the wrong card and we were able to resolve the problem on the spot.” 

 

“We used to have to wait for our accounts team to reconcile our receipts against sales before we could fix any issues. From a customer relationship perspective, Presto Smart is far better than other systems.”

 

Whether it’s business as usual or you’re still facing challenges due to COVID-19, smart planning and the right technology can help position your business for long-term growth.


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Things you should know

This article is a general overview and should be used as a guide only. We recommend that you seek independent professional advice about your specific circumstances before acting.