Muir bids farewell to Centro Dubbo

SHOPPING centres will always exist in Dubbo despite the fast growth of the online world.

That's the opinion of Centro Dubbo centre manager Chris Muir who, after almost two decades at the helm, packed his bags in search of a new challenge.

Mr Muir said his 18 years of experience were "never dull and hectic" and he loved every minute of his job.

It all started when he was a radio announcer and manager at 2DU then he stepped into the retail world as an advertising manager at Myer.

"It was an interesting time creating manual layouts for ads before the computers arrived, it bought creativity to life," he said.

Seeking a new challenge he owned an AMP insurance agency in the city for 16 years and then sold it.

Mr Muir said he saw the position of centre manager at Dubbo City Centre advertised and believed he had the marketing ability to "fire up" the shopping precinct.

The employer (Dubbo City Centre) rang and said he was down to two people and he was not one.

"What do you mean I'm not one of them? I'm the best person for you," he said.

He then told him the centre needed certain promotions to boost sales and increase revenue and he was instantly offered the job.

It was a challenge at first to move from the insurance world to retail but he loved working with people.

"The very first thing I did was meet with the movers and shakers of the place and said tell me what's your problem in 60 seconds," he said.

A week later he gathered the retailers and discussed with them solutions to the problems which affected their sales.

He asked they leave the marketing to him while they worked to improve their business.

The solution was simple, get back to basics and to cater the market to the demographics.

At times the retailer was busy behind the counter and working in the business and not on the business, he said.

Storekeepers needed to be open to new ideas and see their business from the outside.

"Look and analyse it consistently seeing what your weaknesses and strength are," he said.

"You've got to have an exciting shop as many stores look the same."

Mr Muir was optimistic about the future of brick and mortar stores and shopping centres in the community.

"Shopping centres will always continue to have a presence, the model may change but the purpose is the same - a gathering place," he said.

His experience has proven that people want a special shopping experience and enjoy being outdoors.

There were no doubts some people would still continue to buy online and retail stores had to get savvy and give the customer a reason to shop in store, like a cup of coffee at pick-up.

Residents should be wary of heavy discounts which online stores offered as it was either old or surplus stock which had little value.

Mr Muir predicted a revolutionary future for shopping centres.

"You can go buy a golf club and try your skills at a net to determine which one best suits you," he said.

Retailers should do cross-marketing which would give them a unique edge over online stores.

For example, a customer shops at Myer and receives a Mitre10 voucher as a bonus, he said.

The "biggest buzz" he received during his time in the top job was watching sales figures go up.

One of the challenges he faced was dealing with stubborn retailers who blamed the government, customers and the centre for falling sales.

An important part of his role was being empathetic with retailers and assisting them to be successful.

"I'm not just there to collect the rent, I need to help them make money," he said.

"It is no good telling them to pay their rent or out they go. I will invest in getting a consultant to help them build sales because when they do well, everyone benefits."

The December 2010 floods were an unpredictable obstacle the centre had faced, he said.

Mr Muir said he was proud of the teamwork among retailers and emergency services who cleaned up the mess without complaining.

The success of his work could be seen when people felt a sense of ownership and belonging to the shopping centre.

"The phone was on fire with people ringing and asking, 'My centre is closed when is it going to open?'" he said.

After two days the centre reopened and people flooded in to finish their Christmas shopping.

Mr Muir said he would greatly miss the hustle and bustle of managing Centro Dubbo.

"I will greatly miss the people but I plan to buy a business and maybe embark on other projects," he said.

The best part would be spending time with family and visiting the rest of his family and friends in the lead-up to Christmas.

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