“Fail fast” is something of an innovation mantra in business circles, but Joe Bernardi knows that taking risks that don’t pan out is no small thing – even if it can deliver essential learnings and open the door to new opportunities.
Joe and his brothers David and Peter run Bernardi’s, a chain of independent NSW supermarkets under the IGA umbrella with their father Tony, who launched the business 60 years ago selling fruit and veg from the back of a truck.
The supermarket business might seem like a daunting space for independent operators, but the Bernardi's stay ahead of the curve through rigorous attention to product quality, keeping a close eye on pricing and maintaining a large warehouse that allows them to make strategic bulk purchase decisions.
Today the family runs five independent supermarkets in central-west NSW, with more than 400 staff. This includes a newly launched store in Wagga Wagga, the third to be opened in a regional centre. The first was in Bathurst, which is the largest trading store in the network. The second, in Dubbo, was opened and closed in the space of a few years, bringing with it the painful lessons of the “fail fast” approach.
“It took us a couple of years to regroup. It was a very steep learning curve and led us to a major reflection on where we sit in the market,” Joe says.
They learned that their stores do better in a standalone location and that it was time to step away from their existing operating model to an entirely independent model. These lessons have been implemented in the business and while it’s early days, the signs are positive for the new store and for the business.
But learning from their mistakes is nothing new to the Bernardis. As patriarch Tony puts it: “You don’t buy knowledge - you learn by making mistakes and you don’t make them twice!”