Face Time: Craig Urquart, CEO, NightOwl

Craig Urquart, CEO, Nightowl Convenience

“I joined Woolworths when I was 14 years and nine months old, and ended up working there for 25 years!”

I have always been involved in convenience in some way or another throughout my career. Truth be known before I started pushing trolleys at Woolworths, I pumped fuel.

I was around 12 or 13 years old, just about to start Year 7, and the service station was owned by a friend of the family. Over the school holidays I would work about 50 hours per week for $2 an hour, filling up cars and checking their oil – especially on a Thursday. Customers would always come on a Thursday after receiving their salary and would want their oil checked.

I was at a crossroads when I finished Year 12 and was actually thinking of going into plumbing at that point. I had done some work experience in plumbing and I had an offer on the table but I didn’t end up taking it. I joined Woolworths when I was 14 and nine months, and ended up working there for 25 years! Instead I was offered a manager traineeship at Woolworths when I was 14 years and nine months, and ended up working there for 25 years and, well, the rest is history!

I worked in a number of areas within the Woolworths business, but predominantly in grocery and supermarkets. I began pushing trolleys and progressed from there – working in the store and then later becoming an Area Manager, Regional Manager and State Manager. I also had a brief stint in Masters when it was in its concept stage.

I did leave Woolworths for a couple of years in between. After about five years I left to go and play Rugby League, and came back later to stay for 20 years. After I had left and I was playing football I managed the Como Hotel in the Sutherland Shire in New South Wales, where I grew up. I did have a run at reserve grade for Cronulla and what would surprise some, especially Queenslanders, is that I also once lived with Arthur Beetson for about 18 months.

I still play Rugby League at 44 and my wife and kids are also very active and into sports. My wife is opening a CrossFit Gym later this year. I try to support her outside of work when I am home on weekends and look after the kids to let her focus on getting ready for when that opens in December. It’s funny how things rub off on your kids. They don’t mind doing the odd push-up or what not. My two boys, Archie, seven, and Jeremy, five, play league, soccer and tennis so they’re pretty busy and very active,  and my little girl, Millie, who is three, does ballet.

Before moving to Queensland in 2007, I was managing a Woolworths store in Sydney’s CBD called Town Hall. It was Woolworths’ busiest store in Australia. It did 180,000 transactions each week, had 65 registers and 455 staff. That store was all about convenience; it was almost like a convenience store on steroids. I loved that experience.

When I moved to Queensland I was responsible for 20 stores on the north side of Brisbane and I had three stores that were Brisbane Metro. Again, those stores were just like convenience stores on steroids. In 1996, I was store manager of Woolworths’ first ever fuel store in Dubbo. Back then the Store Managers looked after the fuel store too and opening that was an experience. There was so much vandalism in our first month because people didn’t want to see a national retailer like Woolworths go into fuel.

It’s just gone two years since I joined NightOwl. I think what appealed to me initially about the role before joining, was the opportunity for growth within the convenience channel and also the potential that NightOwl has. NightOwl already have a brand that has been developed, but what’s great about it is that it’s still growing. Looking back so far, some of the highlights for me have been growing the number of stores, refurbishing more than 30 stores into our Store of the Future Model and being able to have an influence and make a difference on the business on all levels.”

Tips for retailers

What’s old is new again – I am a big believer in that and I think in this industry people too often discredit ideas too early.

Attitude – I am big on attitude. In my view, a positive attitude can be infectious and empowering.

Set clear priorities – All too often we try to do too much and by doing that we fail on the execution and we never see that idea or opportunity mature to where it should. The focus should be on two or three initiatives and doing those well.

Tips for suppliers

Think outside the box – If they’re a true partner they should be driving new business initiatives and getting them off the ground. All too often this seems to sit with the retailer. Suppliers come to the table with new products, but they should also be bringing to the table out-of-the-box type thinking that involves the bigger picture.


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