Rod Patterson is a loveable larrikin who has been a staple in the Tasmanian retail landscape for more than two decades.
What was your first job, how did you get into it and what did you learn as a young employee?
Like most kids from the country (Deloraine) I had many jobs before and after school.
From 14 I was a milkman starting at 3am and finishing at 8am to get ready for school. I also delivered the Examiner Express on a Saturday night after footy. My first full-time position was at Jessup’s Electrical as a storeman/salesman and basically had to do what everyone else didn’t want to – from mowing the bosses lawns to washing the fleet of cars.
It taught me not to expect to be the boss, as soon as you get the job.
You were a firefighter in Launceston for some years – that must have been an interesting career?
I loved it. But fortunately, or unfortunately, there were not a lot of fires, so I became bored. I am not good when I am bored.
So, unbeknown to my superiors, whilst on my holidays, I offered a Fire Education Program to my childrens’ school, teaching each class a 30 minute message about basic fire safety such as ‘Crawl Low in Smoke’, ‘Stop Drop Rock and Roll’ and also discussed basic First Aid for burns and home fire plans.
The principal was so impressed she wrote to the Education Minister, who shared the letter with the Emergency Services Minister, who contacted the Chief of the Tas Fire Service to congratulate him on the initiative, which he had no idea about!
I received a call to explain myself and thought it was the end of my career but the Chief Officer promoted me to School Fire Ed State Coordinator to roll it out across the state.
The program became so successful, other states embraced it and as a result I was recognised in the Queens’ Honours List in 1996, receiving the highest honour in the Fire Service, the Australian Fire Service Medal. I was the first non-ranked firefighter to receive such an honour.
What made you decide to leave the fire service and move into business with Autobarn?
Due to the success of School Fire Ed, which initiated other programs such as JFLIP (Junior Fire Lighters Intervention Program) and Bush Fire Safety, the Fire Service decided it was time for an education arm to the Service, and it would require a manager, which was offered to me. But the role was to be based in Hobart and I wasn’t prepared to move from Launceston and it was suggested that if I wasn’t prepared to relocate, I should consider going back on the trucks and so I left the service.
How hard are franchises to buy and succeed with?
Franchises are quite easy to buy, if you fit both the financial and personal criteria. To succeed in them is totally up to the Franchisee, but unfortunately so many Franchisees, expect the success to be delivered by the Franchisor.
Whether a franchised business or not, too many people purchase businesses for totally the wrong reasons. It may be to buy a job after being retrenched etc. or purchasing a type of business that you have a passion for such as motor racing or even clothes or shoes. Owning a business is bloody hard work, it is not a 40-hour-a-week job, and too many people don’t understand this before purchase, thus putting instant pressure on them and the business.
What would be your advice for those wanting to go into those sorts of business models?
Franchising is a great starter for a new business owner. It has systems and structures that you don’t have to create for yourself, it has already been done as part of the model you have purchased. After some years, it is easy to become frustrated by your Franchisor, as the need for what they offer is reduced, but you are still paying the same if not more for the Franchise.
What was the best government policy change that impacted retail businesses in a positive manner during your career?
Personally I embraced the over 50’s wages supplement, and we found some great mature people. Once employed they were the more stable and less sick than other employees.
What’s been the biggest challenge over your career?
People. Whether they be customers or staff – the energy, stress and time needed to ensure you look after your people is enormous.
Customers now have been educated to challenge, whether it be price, or other things, such as return of goods etc, and their expectations at times is unrealistic but if you give them the recognition of your time and listen to their concerns, things mostly work out in a positive way.
The amount of red tape and regulations business has to be aware of when employing staff, is now becoming much more difficult, especially for smaller businesses. Mental Health is becoming more prevalent, and I believe business owners will need assistance through education to ensure this is handled correctly for both parties.
What needs to happen into the future to ensure retail survives and thrives?
Tasmanian retail at times truly disappoints me. We are so concerned with issues that we cannot control, we forget to ensure our own backyards are above reproach. Stop giving customers a reason to shop on-line. Most Tasmanians will support local, as long as they get great service and competitive pricing. We fail on both of these too often. Most of our bricks and mortar retailers don’t invest in their business enough.
In my new business, PMA Business Coaching, I am distressed at times at the lack of businesses working on the business as well as in the business. Cash flow is so important to manage in a retail business due to the amount of stock you are required to carry to ensure your offer is strong enough to attract customers. I understand very well the impact of penalty rates, as I couldn’t open the doors safely without 6 staff members being rostered on. But owners need to understand that when purchasing the business, the major sacrifices come from the owner, especially until the business gets to a level where you can afford to staff it without the owner. I encourage all retailers to not become store blind, look at the business as your customers do, not as someone who enters it every day and sees the same thing.
We were all so concerned to hear you had been involved in the Melbourne CBD terror incident in 2018 – how are you coping mentally and physically a year on from the tragedy?
It’s been a bloody tough year. As a firefighter I saw a lot of stuff, but this was different, as it happened to me, not someone else, and when I tried to park this in the bucket with all the other stuff I had experienced, the bucket exploded. The impact it has had on my family, truly saddens me. We are working hard to get back to where we were, but this is now part of who we are, and we are dealing with it the best we can. We were humbled with the outflowing of love and support from the Tasmanian community. We will get better.
You are always such a positive influence, tell us about your new business coaching venture and how you hope to help others?
My passion is to help people, and I believe I have and can through the experiences I gained with my nearly 21 years of business. I was smart enough to surround myself with the best players, the most positive people, and this will always give you the best chance to be great. Anyone can be good but I believe we all should strive to be great. Structure is the key – ensuring everyone knows what role they play, what the expectations of that role are and how they will be measured.
Dependant on what has been requested, I can assist with team training, value statements, business plans, SWOT analysis etc.
How did you feel when you were inducted into the Launceston Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame?
Humbled and a little embarrassed.
I had my family and some of my most precious friends attend, and it was truly a great honour. It is humbling to be honoured by your peers and community. One of the things that Bourke Street has given me, is the overwhelming messages of how people feel about me – comments normally reserved for your funeral.
Let’s all ensure we tell people how we feel whilst they can embrace that love.