July 11, 2020

Transcript: Interview with Katie Page on Sounds of the Mountains

In the news

Kevin Turner, host Sounds of the Mountains: It's 8:24 and we are going to speak to Katie Page, CEO of Harvey Norman and Katie is going to be in Tumut later on this morning. But at the moment she's on the way towards Tumut and she's going to be speaking to us about the BizRebuild this weekend in Tumut plus a lot of other things, so we're going to say a very good morning to Katie Page. Good morning, Katie.

Katie Page, Harvey Norman CEO and BizRebuild Advisory Committee Member: Good morning. Hey, don't worry be happy, what a great song you put on for me.

Kevin: Well, it's one of those mornings. The sun's shining here. There's a bit of cloud about and we're expecting some rain and snow in the hills of course later on today. But at the moment it's quite a bright Saturday morning. So you're coming to town along with Gerry a bit later on this morning.

Katie: So I'm dragging my husband Gerry along. I'm not exactly dragging because we love these country trips and we're particularly excited about Tumut. I said, I don't think I've been to Tumut since I was 15 and Gerry can't remember the last time he was there, so we're so happy to be there. And this morning we're in Goulburn. So we've got a store in Goulburn. We've stayed in Goulburn overnight and I think it's a very easy two hour trip, isn't it, to Tumut?

Kevin: Yeah, from Goulburn it would be at least two hours, yeah.

Katie: Anyway, so we're on our way and we can't wait to see our Harvey Norman pop-up store that we did in April there.

Kevin: Yeah, well it's been pretty popular since it started because we, unfortunately, hadn't had a store that sold any of those items for quite a while now.

Katie: It was a great story. I don't know if you know the background, but I sit on an advisory board called the Business Council's BizRebuild and the chair is Sir Peter Cosgrove, the wonderful Sir Peter Cosgrove.

Kevin: Yes.

Katie: We're all doing different things with the fires to make sure that our businesses are doing whatever they can. One of the women, Lisa Paul, who you probably know who's done fantastic work for BizRebuild, phoned me and said, "listen, we've had contact with Natalie Randall who's your president of the chamber of commerce and what they really need is a Harvey Norman store. If you were to do anything, would you consider doing a pop-up store?" And so I said, "absolutely not a problem." So I think a lot of people in that area will travel to Wagga to the Harvey Norman store there. Where would you go to, to get our sort of product?

Kevin: The only alternative really was any of the stores in Wagga, yeah.

Katie: Yep. So we've got a very big store in Wagga. And on the other side, we've got a very big store in Canberra. So we spoke to our franchisees in Canberra and said, can you get over to Tumut talk to Natalie. They can't be travelling this long after what they've been through for basic essentials. And those are essentials as you know are technology, fridges, washing machines, all those things that day-to-day you shouldn't have to drive that long to get to. So we sent Grant Knight and Max Paver, the two of our franchisees, over. And I think we opened maybe the second week of April and it's been a great success and it's just a great joy to Gerry and I that we're able to do something like this for the community.

Kevin: Yeah, well that's certainly you know ... especially older people like myself you can't go to Wagga and get a refrigerator and bring it home in the boot of your car, so you got to ... it's very handy to be able to buy the bigger items like the washing machines and refrigerators and things here in town and get them put in your home for you so you don't have to handle them yourself. It certainly saves a lot.

Katie: Yeah, so we've been looking at how we can do some smaller stores in communities that just can't get to those bigger areas. You and I were talking before 65 per cent of our stores are actually in country areas. Gerry and I, I'm country Queensland, he's country New South Wales. So compared to most retailers, we truly feel that we understand country. And that investment in country is so important. Most investments go into the city, but we want to make sure that it's in the country that our customers are able to get as good as they can get in those bigger populated areas. So we love country. We understand and when all of this happened in January, we'd actually started, Harvey Norman had started... in November we had big fires in Queensland if you remember so it was early as late November and a lot of the communities we work in had already been through horrific drought. So then with the fires starting in November and then really getting out of control and it was so horrific for you all in January. It was with BizRebuild and Business Council. I think what you do as business people and when you've got businesses in these communities, you've got to work out the best way to help people. Everyone wants to help, but it's got to be how can it really make a difference? And what I love about BizRebuild is there's money there to be given to people. And we've got this ... part of what we do is vouchers for people so it's direct assistance. Those vouchers, we decided as an advisory board, would either go into a voucher for retooling, you know people lost their equipment or for services. What a lot of people don't remember, or don't think about I should say, is when you go through this and when businesses have lost everything, you really need services. Mental health is a really big thing. And the other thing is accountancy. Financial assistance on how do I access all these grants from the government? How do I get my business back happening? So we've been involved with that side of it with the donation of money going into a fund for BizRebuild for the voucher program. We've also obviously been involved with doing things like the pop-up. Today we're going to catch up with Natalie this afternoon and some of the other people from the chamber of commerce and just hear first-hand if that's been helpful, is there something else that we should be doing? One of the other great things that's been done by this advisory committee was Mogo. Mogo was particularly hard hit. So in Mogo, when you go there now they lost their whole main street. So we've done this pop-up mall. Everyone's now operating their businesses out of ... if you could think about mining camp demountables, we call them dongers. So they built a community and a main street out of these dongers and everyone's got their shops and cafes there. I think it's been just fantastic how we can help communities like this, but in really powerful ways led by the community. So this was your chamber of commerce with Natalie that said this is what we need as a community.

Kevin: Oh, that's very good. And of course these systems you give, you're reaching a milestone with that amount of money issued out too by the look of it here to 770 business up today.

Katie: A lot of work is done and then you've got the voucher program. So that voucher program, that direct assistance is now up to a million dollars being given out. When that helps 770 small business owners or people help rebuild, it's a fantastic thing, isn't it?

Kevin: It certainly is.

Katie: We're not saying that there isn't other assistance. Governments have done fantastic work as well, but sometimes people just need it now without filling in paperwork, et cetera. So hopefully that's what the voucher system is doing.

Kevin: So they're ongoing, Katie, those vouchers still?

Katie: Yep, so we continue to raise money actually and as long as that's needed, it's going to be there. We didn't want this to be something that only happened for one, two or three months. I think the really extraordinary thing that's happened here, that you and I were talking about, so we've gone from drought, we've gone into fires, but now we've got COVID as well. So those same businesses have now been hit because of COVID. It's just even more important that we keep doing this work in these communities and have this direct assistance with the voucher program I think.

Kevin: Yeah, well, this number that Dee's given me here this 1800 number is the number to ring if you think you're eligible for some of this assistance that the deal is it?

Katie: No, absolutely. And we want it to be as easy as possible. We don't want this to be a challenging process. It's important with everything that people have been through in areas like Tumut. When I read about Batlow and what happened there, there are just so many communities that were hit so badly. I would imagine if I'm in that situation, you just want people to help because you've got so much you have to think about. So this is a really practical helping hand and we want people to contact us so that we can do things.

Kevin: Yeah, well that number is 1800 497 121.

Katie: I haven't got it in front of me. You've got it in front of you.

Kevin: There's also an email address bizrebuild@bca.com.au.

Katie: Yes, that's the one.

Kevin: Okay, so you'll be in the Tumut store around about lunchtime, Katie?

Katie: Yep, so we're going to be there with bells on in this pop-up and I'll probably walk in and go, oh my goodness, we need to do a better job of this fit-out.

Kevin: Oh, it looks pretty good.

Katie: It looks pretty good?

Kevin: Yeah, I've been in there.

Katie: I can't wait to see the building that we're in.

Kevin: Well, it's an old building. It's been there for many years. It's all part of what used to be the Tumut Co-op. It's part of that building, only part of it, but it's a pretty big store compared with some of the other areas around.

Katie: Did you tell me it was originally a wonderful department store, this building?

Kevin: Yeah, well that's what it was, it used to sell groceries and menswear and clothing and alcohol. You name it you could buy it there. It was sort of like a ... well it was the Tumut Co-op. It employed a fair few people in its day but now it's split up into two or three different buildings involved there now.

Katie: How old would the building be?

Kevin: It's written on the top of it and I'm just trying to think what it is. It's got the date written right on top of the awning up on the top of the building but I can't remember, but you'll see that when you come.

Katie: Yeah, because the old building we're in Goulburn was built in the early 1800s.

Kevin: Oh yeah, I don't think it's that old this one.

Katie: Again, it was originally built as a store which became a department store and the building is just exquisite. Last night Gerry and I with the owners were walking through the top levels that are now sealed off and the beautiful pressed ceilings and the cedar staircases, it's just amazing. It seems to be that this is what Gerry and I in these country stores and the country areas need to do. We love those old buildings and maybe they become Harvey Norman stores. You never know.

Kevin: Of course when they build one nowadays they use these prefab concrete and slabs and put them up.

Katie: It's so different, right. It's so different.

Kevin: I know what you mean.

Katie: You've got to love the buildings. Gerry and I just love those old buildings and the history around them. So we look at an old building like that and say, Oh my gosh, what could it be? Others might look at it and say, oh my gosh, this is a headache, imagine fixing this up. Anyway, everyone's different.

Kevin: That's for sure. Okay Katie, well, anything else that you want to tell us about this morning?

Katie: No, we're just looking really looking forward to getting to Tumut and meeting everyone. I'm going to be interested as to what song you've chosen to end this interview because you started with a really good one.

Kevin: Now, you've put the pressure on me. I hadn't really given that a lot of thought. I'm looking.

Katie: I'll be listening.

Kevin: Okay, we might try and catch up with you and Gerry there at lunchtime.

Katie: Yeah, please. We'll be there.

Kevin: Okay. Well thanks very much for your time this morning and we'll keep mentioning it.

Katie: Thanks for talking ... I love country radio stations. You and I were talking about Macca.

Kevin: Macca, yeah everyone knows Macca.

Katie: Sunday morning. So thank you for having me on.

Kevin: That's all very good and of course we can keep mentioning this phone number and if anyone wants some more details we've got the phone number here if they need to get part of these grants that are available towards retooling, or just help you with accountancy or legal fees or whatever.

Katie: Yep, that's great.

Kevin: Okay, good to talk with you.

Katie: And catch up later in the day.

Kevin: And have a safe trip and give some good sites to those grandkids as you're bringing them along with you.

Katie: I think it's a great thing to do, isn't it?

Kevin: You'll enjoy the trip over the mountains anyway, from here to Cooma this afternoon or tomorrow I think you said you're going that way?

Katie: Yes, we are.

Kevin: It would be an interesting trip for the kids going up that way for sure.

Katie: It will be when the grandkids grow up, they'll say we only ever saw grandma and grandad, when we were going to Harvey Norman stores, but they took us to some pretty good places.

Kevin: They'll see some pretty good places. I see Blowering Dam is nearly 60 per cent full at the moment so it looks a picture for sure.

Katie: Yep, I can't wait to do that drive across.

Kevin: Okay then Katie, well thanks very much and we might try and catch up with you later on this morning down at the store.

Katie: Okay, see you then.

Kevin: Thank you.

Katie: Bye.

Kevin: Bye. There we go, that was Katie Page, CEO of Harvey Norman and she was speaking about the Business Council organising this BizRebuild and also about the pop-up store which they started in Tumut on the 12th of April. Very interesting lady there.

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