Elkin Alvarado’s career journey can be put down to a wealth of experience. After working for 30 years in department stores and gaining experience in everything from electrical, appliances, bedding and furniture, Elkin’s career naturally progressed to becoming a Snooze Franchise Partner.
From his humble beginnings of moving stock on the shop floor, to managing teams of up to 250 people and a successful career at Snooze, Elkin made the decision to purchase his own Snooze franchise. We sat down with him to get his tips on how to make the journey from staff member to business owner and creating a successful business.
Elkin’s introduction to retail came when he was fresh out of high school and looking for his first job. He started in the sporting department of Norman Ross and within a few weeks was hooked on the thrill of sales.
“I think I instinctively knew retail was the right thing for me. I just had a real passion to interact with people; to find them solutions and solve their problems. I like to talk and I like to be with people, so that first job really laid the foundation for my future,” Elkin said.
With his love affair in retail well and truly underway, Elkin made the decision to return to school and study a two year Retail Management course at TAFE to enable him to move forward with his dream of climbing the retail ladder. His energy and drive caught the eye of his mentors and Elkin went on to become the youngest store manager in the history of Norman Ross at the age of 22.
After 10 years with the business, Elkin was ready for a new challenge. He made the move to hi-fi chain Brashs to try his hand at electrical sales. Working in the busy Chatswood store was a new experience that introduced Elkin to the demands of KPI’s and high volume sales.
“It was a real challenge – one that taught me a lot about the higher volume level of sales. It was also where I started to work with really structured performance management. After two years I decided it wasn’t necessarily for me and I moved on to my next adventure.”
Elkin’s next steps was his introduction to furniture and bedding; ultimately the move that would shape his future career. Elkin took on a role with Freedom Furniture and made his managerial debut at the Crows Nest store.
“It was a huge shift for me – they had a completely different culture, different processes and a brand new product for me to learn and sell. It gave me a lot of autonomy to really develop the team I was working with and invest energy into cultivating a culture I was happy with. I was with them for a long time - around 15 years.”
A highlight for Elkin was being given the opportunity to manage Freedom’s flagship store in Moore Park. As the flagship store’s manager for over eight years, Elkin developed the skills necessary to operate a business with a high volume of foot-traffic as well as perfecting his knowledge of the furniture and bedding industry.
“There were a significant number of challenges and opportunities presented by running a flagship store. The pressure is always on, as you are consistently setting the benchmark for every other store to operate against. Moreover, new concepts and layouts are trialed in flagship stores, so layouts would change regularly, processes would change, and new ideas would be trialed and implemented. You need to maintain an incredibly high level of customer service that epitomises the company’s values and culture.”
During his tenure at Moore Park, Elkin brought his enthusiasm and experience to the job, bringing success to both himself and Freedom. He received the Store Manager of the Year award, met unparalleled profit margins and joined the Director’s clubs –testament to the of skill, effort and passion Elkin injected into the job.
After his positive stint in management, Elkin set his sights on regional management. “I wanted to be a Regional Manager and saw it as the next step for me. Unfortunately, that wasn’t how companies were really structured at that point though, so there wasn’t room for me to develop that way.”
After searching with no luck, Elkin took his desire for a new challenge in a different direction. “I wanted to push the boundaries of what I could achieve, so I became the Merchandise Manager at Myer in Macquarie Centre, which was by far the biggest challenge I have tackled in regards to people management and store management. I looked after 250 staff so the bulk of my job was ensuring I had a happy, healthy and motivated team that were operating as efficiently as possible. Every department had different processes, schedules, targets and meetings, so versatility in the job was definitely one of the most important elements. In that way, it differed so greatly from anything I’d done before but it taught me some very important lessons.”
After two years as Merchandise Manager, Elkin took up the role of Store Manager at Myer, but within a few months had made the decision to move on. “For me, having a strong relationship with all of my staff is incredibly important. This wasn’t possible when I was looking after so many people, so I realised I wanted to find a retail culture that I could contribute to and build.”
Elkin soon found the culture he was looking for and undertook his first role with Snooze as Store Manager at Moore Park, “I knew almost immediately that Snooze was a great fit for me. Yes, there were challenges – I went from a managing a huge team to a close-knit group of nine people – but that was the perfect situation to start building the kind of culture I wanted to instill in my team.”
During five months at Moore Park, Elkin learned the ropes of the business, how the teams operated and how to manage furniture sales.
“It was very clear that Snooze had a different approach to business. The interactions were about the customer and making sure that we’re asking all the right questions to determine what they needed. This transformed our team members into specialists with thorough product knowledge.”
After demonstrating his strengths at the Moore Park store, Elkin was finally given the chance to take on a Regional Manager role with Snooze in Western Australia. With two young children and a wife in tow, Elkin made the move to Perth to revamp the WA stores in preparation for their transition to a franchise model.
The role was not for the faint of heart.
“The stores were all undergoing a huge transition, and I was responsible for overseeing everything. When you’re taking care of franchise changeovers you’re responsible for sales, merchandising, people management and operations. It wasn’t an easy job, but within two years all five stores had been sold and another two had been opened. It was a great opportunity to become familiar with each store and get to know their strengths and weaknesses.”
Elkin credits this point of his career with when he learned the key strategies to ensuring the success of the retail business.
“It always comes down to a few crucial things. In retail, profit performance is driven by your staff, so having the right team around you, and helping to shape that team by creating an honest and motivated culture is incredibly important. Retail really is the sum of its parts - you need to make sure that all of the parts are working together and for each other. “
“Furniture retail can be tough, especially in a market driven by discount prices. We can’t consistently have sales offers to drive foot traffic, so you need to train your staff to be able to find solutions for customers that suit the individual. This ensures that we continue servicing our customers as best we can and continue to hit our KPI’s, whether it’s sale season or not.”
Elkin’s continued success in WA saw him add the NSW region to his portfolio, which brought the total number of stores under his management to 21. After a move back to NSW and a handover of the WA region, Elkin started thinking about buying into his own store.
“After all this time, and knowing the business as well as I did, it was the natural next step. It became pretty clear that retail was my career and it was really time to begin planning a future for myself and family. It wasn’t a rushed decision – you need to do the research and make a calculated decision when investing in a franchise. I knew Snooze was the business I wanted to be in and as soon as the Castle Hill store became available I jumped at the opportunity - the timing was perfect.”
Elkin took over the Castle Hill store in NSW in June this year. Although Elkin has always put all that he can into his work, he acknowledges that owning your own store ups the ante in a big way.
“As with anything, you only get out as much as you put in. The difference now is that you’re now responsible for sustaining the livelihood of the group of people that work for you. You have to be strong in creating a culture that works for you and your staff, and surrounding yourself with people who are reliable and capable. Most importantly, as a franchise owner, you have to take responsibility for everything that occurs inside the store walls. Sometimes you feel like you’re putting everything on the line.”
Elkin’s admits that the benefits have far outweighed the challenges and, as always, he’s eager for any additional opportunities to continue learning.
“Owning your own franchise gives you an amazing sense of autonomy – you’re given all the support and tools you need and your role is all about gearing the store to be the best it can possibly be for your customer base. It’s something I’d recommend any retail worker to aspire to – once you have those skills, work hard and then you can take that leap. The only thing I wonder is why I didn’t do it sooner!”
With all of this in mind, Elkin acknowledges that there are necessary characteristics for any potential franchisee to ensure that they get the best results from their business. “Once you own the business, the customer service doesn’t stop. When you work in a specialist industry, you are expected to inform a decision for your customer and you have to be sociable and know how ask the right questions. Once you’ve identified a solution for the customer, you’ve earned the right to ask for that sale. That’s how you retain customers and keep staff confidence. At the end of the day, that’s the most important aspect of any business.”