Having joined BAPCOR Retail as Executive General Manager – Retail only 18 months ago, Tim Cockayne is new to the Automotive Industry. However, his extensive retail experience is already paying dividends for the suite of brands under his watch

Tim Cockayne

Melbourne born and bred, Tim grew up in Keysborough near Noble Park, sharing the house with four siblings, which undoubtedly helped him develop his highly competitive nature.
“When you’re sharing a three-bedroom house with four other kids, all vying for attention, you learn to be competitive pretty quickly,” Tim said.
“That competitive nature has stayed with me for my entire life and has had a big impact on my career path.”
Tim’s role as Executive General Manager of Retail at BAPCOR Retail encompasses an interesting mix of retail and service businesses, including Autobarn, Autopro, Sprint, Midas, and ABS.
But before we jump head-first into his current job, it would be remiss to gloss over what is certainly an exciting and varied career and one that is different from many in the automotive aftermarket.
“As soon as I turned 18, I left school and just thought that I wanted to be a chef for some reason. Looking back, I don’t even know why as I don’t even enjoy food that much,” Tim explained.
“But my skills in the kitchen helped me travel all around Australia. I packed up my knives, jumped in the car and lived in weird and wonderful places like Norseman, which is right at the end of the Nullarbor, a town of 2000 people – I lived there and played a whole footy season there and learnt a lot about life.”
Tim’s time in the kitchen did not last long, and at the tender age of 21, he found his true passion, retail. After pounding the pavement as a door-to-door salesperson, Tim landed on his feet when he joined a large jewellery company.
“I scored a role as an Assistant Category Manager and built my way up through the business,” Tim described.
“It was here that I learnt the value of merchandising, but when I moved into a marketing role, I just fell in love with it, and I’ve never left retail since. I just love retail. It’s the thing that drives me nonstop every single day.”
Tim went from a kid who was learning how to cook to travelling to Hong Kong when he was just 22 years old, purchasing and buying products for the jewellery company – certainly, a massive change from living in a small town in outback Australia.

The recently refurbished Bayswater, Victoria Autobarn store.

Having launched his career in retailing, Tim was ready for a new challenge.
“I never wanted to be compartmentalised. I never wanted to be known as just a category manager, just a buyer, a jewellery retailer, or a specialty shop store retailer,” Tim explained.
By the time Tim decided it was time to move out of jewellery retailing, he had ticked many boxes from merchandising to marketing and operations to IT.
“I’d pretty much covered every spectrum of the jewellery business, so I went hunting for a new challenge,” said Tim.
That hunt for new experiences, combined with his healthy appetite for competition, saw Tim take on a position as Chief Executive Officer of a large consumer electronics business before moving into the tool industry, where he enjoyed six and a half years as the Chief Executive Officer of Total Tools.
“When I joined Total Tools, it was just a small business losing money, so I knew I had a big job ahead,” Tim explained.
“But during my time there, we grew it into a business turning over 500 million and positing it as the premier destination for trade professionals.”
Following his successful tenure at Total Tools, Tim jumped into his first role in the automotive aftermarket, signing on at BAPCOR Retail.
“I know that many people who work in the automotive aftermarket started their career in the industry and have worked in it their whole life,” Tim commented.
“But that didn’t concern me at all. In my mind, the product really is secondary.”
Tim believes that success in any retail environment is actually about a customer rather than a product.
“It’s about understanding the customer, the customer journey, and identifying the different types of customers you need to attract to make any retail business a success,” Tim explained.
“It’s critical to understand where you want to target, who you want to focus on, and how you connect with them. That’s the key to building a robust and profitable retail business.”
Of course, managing five retail entities for the group has its challenges.
“To start with, you have different customer bases on which to focus. There are some complexities, but it’s probably less difficult than people think,” said Tim.
“It’s about time allocation and making sure that you have the right support structure in place and making sure that you don’t just have an ugly sister, that one business that gets only five percent of your time.”

The recently refurbished Bayswater, Victoria Autobarn store.

On the plus side, Tim believes there are some serious advantages to managing five businesses that all operate in a similar market segment.
“It enables you to work out a target customer base for each business, allowing them to play in some free air,” Tim explained.
Much of the initial work Tim focused on when he joined BAPCOR Retail was focused on clearing that air so that each business had room to breathe and grow.
“If you look at Autobarn and Autopro and Sprint, it’s critical to make sure that they actually don’t play in the same area exactly,” said Tim.
“In fact, there’s plenty of space, so managing multiple brands in the same industry does have benefits.”
Tim also highlighted just how critical it is to have a different strategy for each business to avoid them going head-to-head and admits that he has made a few mistakes over the journey.
“I’m going to be really honest here and say that I get things wrong often,” Tim revealed.
“I get things wrong often because I have a policy that I need and expect my people to be extremely decisive and make decisions for themselves.
“I’m okay if they get it wrong as long as they have a go. I do not believe that I get everything right. We get things wrong all the time. It’s how we adapt the actions we take, and how we then move to the next thing that drives the success for individuals and businesses alike.”
Tim also places a significant value on accurate and relevant market research and has invested heavily in this area.
“I’m a big believer in market research,” Tim said. “You’re hearing from your customer, and you don’t have to like what you hear, but you’ve got to listen to what you hear.”
Having just reviewed the findings after a research project that included responses from more than 1000 people just before we caught up with him, Tim was forthcoming with some great insights.

The recently refurbished Bayswater, Victoria Autobarn store.

“We don’t just interview our existing customers. We also get insights from people that aren’t our customers, people that shop with our competitors, people that hate our competitors, people that hate us, and everyone in between,” Tim explained.
“This level of detail provides so many insights, what they like about you, what don’t they like about you, what they like about your competitor that they don’t see you stocking.
“It’s amazing just how much these results help drive the strategy for each individual business.”
Autobarn is one of the businesses that has benefited from the extensive retail experience Tim brings to the group.
“Anyone who knows Autobarn understands that it basically started out as a cooperative,” said Tim.
“It was a group of members who came together to improve their buying power and share knowledge to the groups’ mutual benefit.”
Over time, Autobarn eventually moved to a franchise model, but like many cooperative businesses that become franchises, the company continued to act like a cooperative.
“Basically, there was a lack of governance, and members continued to do their own thing,” Tim explained.
“The retail experience just lacked a bit of consistency, but over the last 18 months, we’ve started to make significant changes.
“We launched a new livery format that’s cutting edge and well ahead of our competitors. It is something that will last the next ten years.
“We’re increasing our store size and expanding our range, and there is a renewed focus on consistency and discipline.”
From the time we spent with Tim, there is little doubt that he will leave a marked impression at BAPCOR Retail, considering the already impressive outcomes he has delivered in his first 18 months with the business.

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