Gerry Harvey: a great marketing tool?
Poor Gerry Harvey is having a rough time lately. Well, Forbes says he still has over a billion dollars to his name, so he won’t be getting sympathy from homeless Australians, who he called “a whole heap of no-hopers”, but his massive retail chain Harvey Norman appears to be on the downward spiral, and Harvey seems just a little desperate to pop up anywhere and anytime to fight for himself and the bricks and mortar retail industry at large.
First there was JB Hi-Fi taking his crown as the electronics king, then there was the fisticuffs with Ruslan Kogan, whose products he called “unbranded shit” and online retail as a whole a “dead end”, then there was all that hoopla surrounding Harvey’s calls for a GST on lower–end online purchases, and now, the poor fella has been called out on his forestry policy for the furniture he stocks.
The changing face of retail and the way Australians shop all seems to be overwhelming the great man. Freelance writer and marketing strategist, James Schloeffel [and author of this great retail blog piece] thinks that the internet is catching up with Harvey and he needs to get wise to better branding.
“Gerry Harvey has, for some time, been the poster boy for a type of retailing common in this country where yelling about mega sales, crazy discounts and never-ending interest-free finance isn’t just a sales tactic, but the entire marketing strategy,” Scloeffel says.
“It’s worked for Harvey Norman for a long time. But as consumers get savvier and gain access to more retail options, they’ll soon tire of being shouted at.As the company is finding, when a low price is your primary marketing tool, loyalty is hard to achieve – consumers will switch to the best deal available, whether that’s another bricks-and-mortar retailer or online."
Harvey Norman did once stand for big sales and savings, but JB Hi-Fi’s brilliant low budget branding and the savings of shipping direct from online merchants have possibly put the Harvey Norman monolith in a precarious position, wondering what it can really offer consumers. If nothing else, it is certainly offering personality; the personality of Harvey. But is it a personality consumers are still attracted to? Harvey seems ready to appear on just about any forum spouting his views loudly, and has become a natural villain to consumers chasing the cheapest price for goods, especially with the online retail GST debate. No matter his ubiquity as a mouth piece, he seems to have struggled to develop a compelling story on why we should listen to him and continue to shop with him.
Marketing mag spoke with a PR director of a large Sydney agency, who did not want to named, about Harvey’s use of himself as the brand’s major marketing tool.
“He’s been so successful for so long, and deservedly. And it’s always been a hard industry, you’ve got to give him his credit,” they said.
“His schtick is to always do his own ads, but things have moved on a bit, I’m sure he’s wondering what has happened to the world. My gut feeling is that he’s surprised by how things have turned out. Metaphorically speaking, he’s a fella who realises the sexist jokes no longer plays, he doesn’t get it, because everyone laughed at it last time.”
Harvey’s latest headache may not have been caused by a sexist gibe, but some would consider mistreating the environment just as bad. Earlier this week, Harvey came under attack from advocacy group GetUp!
Here is the TVC that was refused airing during the State of Origin Rugby Union game for fear of legal action against Channel 9.
Harvey didn’t enjoy the attacks, and like most times his name comes up in the news, he addressed it head–on instead of letting it die.
I'm an environmentalist," Harvey told ABC Radio. "I'm doing my best to use recycled timber or timber from plantations, but every now and then [timber from native forests] will slip through. [Often it's] timber the government has told sawmills they can take. We are trying really hard to change and also to keep an industry going in Australia … it's difficult for [the sawmills] to survive, and without us they just wouldn't."
But Market For Change chief executive Tim Birch, who has worked with the GetUp! campaign, says Harvey Norman is guilty.
"As one of the largest retailers in the country, Harvey Norman has a unique opportunity and responsibility to ensure Australia's native forests are protected," Birch said. "They currently have no publicly available procurement policy that ensures they are not selling furniture products coming from native forest destruction."
Yep, Harvey has had some hard times lately, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to get easier. But Harvey has been told retail is dead in the past. Allan Bond acquired Norman Ross in the early 80s, sacked Harvey from the board, and sent the company into liquidation under a decade later. Harvey picked himself up by his bootstraps and foundered Harvey Norman with Ian Norman. Can this Australian personification of the classic great American Dream do it again, or is he finally out of his depth? Please drop a comment below giving us your thoughts.