Saturday, August 11th, 2012 - AIRR (Australian Independent Rural Retailers)
Peter Law, managing director and CEO of AIRR, has been named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the southern region, in the ‘industry’ category.


“Ecstatic” was the first word Peter Law uttered when he was announced as the region’s category winner recently.

Mr Law beat several others in the hotly contended section. He now goes to the competition’s national level, to be judged in November. That winner then represents Australia at the global judging.

When interviewed by MC Peter Berner, the humble businessman was true to form, deflecting much of his success to staff, customers and suppliers.

Afterwards he said, “I’m just a little country bloke. I don’t wake up in the morning looking for accolades. I go to work, do a good job and have some fun.

“I’ve often said to people, ‘The greatest enjoyment you’ll get out of life, out of working in business, is seeing the friends you give a job to and watching them grow into something special. We give them the opportunity to do that’.” Mr Law reeled off a string of people integral to the business — many of whom he’s mentored to varying degrees.

“With AIRR, I knew I’d created a great model but, gee…” he trailed off.


Quick success

Mr Law developed the AIRR model in 2005. With more than 35 years of rural-merchandising experience, he wanted to create something “different”, something that exemplified his values of rewarding loyalty and supporting independent country stores.

He launched AIRR (Australian Independent Rural Retailers), a wholesale member-based buying group for independent rural retailers in Shepparton, northern Victoria, on 1 January 2006. Today the nation-wide business has 144 members (operating 250 stores) and services stores across all agricultural sectors.

In October 2011, the group opened its seventh warehouse in Melbourne (Derrimut); other warehouses are in Port Adelaide, Brisbane (Darra), Wagga Wagga (NSW), Tamworth (NSW), Perth (Kewdale) and Shepparton — also the home of its headquarters. The group has plans for an eighth warehouse in Sydney. Last year AIRR launched Apparent, its generic brand of chemicals and fertilisers, and earlier this year it launched Tucker’s Pet & Produce, aimed at semi-rural markets.

“I think what we’ve done is special, but in a typical countrified way,” Mr Law said. “We do what we do for our members, customers and staff, and everyone enjoys the process.

“The awards night was amazing. I’m a little country fellow who just created something to show respect to customers. To achieve an award with the quality of people we were up against, well yes, that shocked me. But I guess it shows that old-fashioned virtues are still recognised aren’t they?

“I didn’t go to the night with any expectations — but by god I was a happy man when I was announced! Someone asked me if I thought we’d win, and I said, “Mate, I’ve already won — just by being here’.”


Enjoyable process

The judging process is expansive yet detailed. Nominees are assessed by an independent panel, comprising industry captains and leaders on broad criteria, including entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, personal integrity and influence, financial performance, strategic direction and national and global impact.

The process involves a filmed interview, sessions with E&Y representatives, submitting comprehensive documentation and a final 20-minute interview with the judging panel.

“At that interview, which is the first time you meet the judges, they ask you a myriad questions — but none are pre-set, you have no idea what they’ll want to cover.”

Mr Law said despite the intense nature of the judging process, he found it enjoyable rather than arduous.

“The whole process of this is what I enjoyed the most. When you’re in a world where you don’t have 12 hours to spare, I suppose someone could say it was arduous but, no, I enjoyed every minute of it. It made me think a lot about what we had done, and probably made me recognise even more that what we had done was unique and exciting.”

Commonwealth Bank executive manager for specialised agribusiness solutions Ewan Laughlin, who nominated Mr Law, agreed AIRR was “unique and exciting”.

“AIRR’s success is built on Peter’s determination, drive and passion, combined with his complete customer focus and his loyalty to AIRR’s members and contributions from his great team.”


Reflections

Mr Law said, “We can look back and know what a great thing it is: great model, great staff, great customers, great suppliers, right warehouse strategy … that’s a given. This award reminds us why the model was put together: to give independent rural stores enough buying power to compete in the dog-eat-dog business world.

“One of the questions the judges asked me was what have I done wrong? And I said, ‘nothing’. The model has done what it set out to do. I haven’t changed it one iota.

“At the time, some people thought I strange. They asked me why would I do all those things, then just give it all away? My reply was that there was no financial upside unless everyone made money and everyone enjoyed it.”

Mr Law said winning the award “helped recognise our mandate of helping country businesses”.

“Personally, it makes me feel very good. I’m as proud as punch to have won it, but it doesn’t change the sort of person I am: I’m just a pretty happy fellow who wants to keep doing what I do well.

“AIRR gives great people a great chance in a great organisation. And I just love watching people grow.”

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AIRR (Australian Independent Rural Retailers)


AIRR is a wholesale member-based buying group for independent rural retailers. It was founded by Peter Law on 1 January, 2006.

AIRR — which stands for Australian Independent Rural Retailers — now has some 144 members (operating 250 stores) nationwide. This is up from 130 members in 2011, and numbers continue to grow. AIRR services businesses across Australia in a host of enterprise types, including broadacre cropping, livestock and horticulture. Innovating into new markets is part of its charter. AIRR launched its pet & produce brand, Tucker’s Pet & Produce, in 2012.

AIRR uniquely wholesales in the farm-supply market — a strategy that has underpinned its success. A large percentage of its members’ business goes through AIRR warehouses.

In October 2011, the group opened its seventh warehouse in Melbourne (Derrimut). Other warehouses are in Port Adelaide, Brisbane (Darra), Wagga Wagga, Tamworth, Perth (Kewdale) and Shepparton — also the home of its headquarters. AIRR has plans for an eighth warehouse in Sydney.

The group has also grown financially. In 2011, AIRR had a 26% growth increase from $198 million to $250m. it has grown at these high rates since it was founded. Increasing turnover is due to both higher member numbers and individual store growth. Better buying has given members improved POS margins, and AIRR has increased SKUs to help members with a more diverse range.

In 2012, AIRR was listed in the BRW Fast 100, with the second-highest sales volume for the 2009-10 financial year out of the top 100 (the first was a superannuation provider). The judging criterion was revenue growth; in the three years to June 30, 2010, AIRR had an average annual revenue growth of 45.03%.
Kane Law, Marketing Manager, AIRR
P: 03 9696 8593
W: www.airr.com.au

Keywords

E&Y entrepreneur industry category wholesaling AIRR farm business Peter Law agribusiness Australian independent rural retailers Shepparton Derrimut Tamworth Wagga Perth Adelaide Brisbane Darra Kewsdale Melbourne

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