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“We’ll focus like a laser on Australia”: Catch MD

When former House of Fraser CEO John King became Myer’s new boss two years ago, he went on a monthslong “listening tour” to meet the team and learn about the business.

But amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, times have changed.

Pete Sauerborn had his first day as the new managing director of Catch last week, but rather than introducing himself to his new co-workers in person, the former Amazon VP has been forced to make video calls.

“I really want to get out and meet the entire team, shake hands, and get to know everyone but need to resist that urge,” Sauerborn recently told Internet Retailing.

“So I am using a lot of video conferencing and other appropriate socially distant interactions. And I am always sure to keep my COVIDSafe app is on at all times.”

It’s just one of the quirks of starting a new job with social distancing still in force. The other being moving during an international travel ban. Sauerborn has been in Australia since March, but his clothes are still in the US.

“I’m coordinating creative ways to get my clothing over here from Seattle,” he said.

One thing that hasn’t changed despite the unusual circumstances is Sauerborn’s goal of taking the already strong e-commerce business to the next level.

In broad terms, the plan involves leveraging the physical store networks of Catch’s new sister brands, Target and Kmart, to facilitate click-and-collect and other omnichannel initiatives.

“[There are] a number of different areas we can leverage in both directions,” Sauerborn said, adding that there are “great brands” in parent company Wesfarmers’ portfolio.

He is also looking at omnichannel businesses in the US and Tmall in China for inspiration, but ultimately he said the offering needs to be tailored to the Australian consumer and the local market.

“We’ll take inspiration from other competitors and models, but I don’t think we have any ideas to copy paste,” he said.

That includes Amazon, the e-commerce giant where Sauerborn has worked for the past decade primarily in and around the company’s global marketplace business.

“Amazon is a great company and a great business here in Australia. I think Catch is also going to have a great business here in Australia,” Sauerborn said.

“We’re going to come at it from a different perspective. We’ll focus like a laser on Australia. We have a different set of assets and infrastructure, and customers will choose what works for them.”

At the same time, Sauerborn is excited to start working with the selling partners on Catch’s marketplace, which launched in 2017 and has been a key growth factor over the past three years.

“[W]e see many ways we can improve our systems, tools and data for both for our selling partners and our customers,” he said. “As soon as possible I will be speaking with selling partners to listen to their feedback on how we can improve even more.”

Ian Bailey, managing director of Kmart Group, the division under which Catch sits at Wesfarmers, said this is the same strategy that was applied at Kmart, to great success.

“We’ve got a quite clear philosophy on this. Focus really hard on the customer and serve them, and if we get those things right, market share comes,” Bailey told Inside Retail.

“That’s what we did at Kmart. We focused on the fundamentals and tried to get really good at the fundamentals, and what we found was that more customers came through the doors. “That’s what we’re going to be working on at Catch.”

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