3 Questions for the CEO: John Williams

This week we hear from John Williams, CEO of Cave Shepherd & Co. Ltd.

1. Where is retail going – both duty-paid and duty-free?

The Duty-paid business is about a quarter of our sales volume and so still important for us. But it’s true we are seeing tremendous changes, with online shopping gaining more and more market share as buyers can get wider selection and easier price comparisons on-line.

I think the market will fragment – people will cherry-pick their purchasing and buy what makes best sense from different sources. Even now locally, consumers are already making separate trips to the large box-stores, discount stores and the supermarkets to fulfill their needs. So local retailers may end up supplying the fast moving commodity items and more bespoke items may be purchased online.

But Duty-Free is somewhat different. Its biggest components – liquor and tobacco – are generally not sold online, nor are the most-desired jewellery and watch brands. In fact, the top end watch brands actively protect themselves by restricting their retail channels. In addition the travel retail customer generally has a different mind-set: people on holiday are less likely to spend time on-line making purchases.

But that’s not to say the sector is untouched: technology is also intruding in peripheral ways, such as promotional messages as well as ‘click and collect’ – and together with our international partners, we are extremely mindful of these trends.

2. How does Cave Shepherd keep delivering for its investors?

As with any business that’s always the challenge. Retail is still the largest portion of our business, and as mentioned earlier it is getting tougher. So in this area our focus continues to be on regional growth in travel retail. We have a new partnership in the Bahamas and another project which I can’t disclose just now. We’re actively pursuing growth opportunities!

Outside of retail, if you look back just a few years ago, you’ll see how much we’ve already evolved, especially in Financial Services. A decade ago our Cave Shepherd Credit Card was quite basic and limited to our own stores. Now it’s a fully-fledged international Visa card that can be used anywhere in the world. And just two weeks ago we launched our new Cave Shepherd Card Mobile Payments App which will allow person-to-person transfers and also opens credit card acceptance to a multitude of micro and small businesses that currently wouldn’t qualify with the commercial banks. In addition we’ve just announced that our associated company, Signia Financial will be merging with Globe Finance, which is a very exciting development. So we’re very much a multi-business group, and of course we keep looking for new business opportunities.

3. From where you sit, what emerging sectors do you see?

I believe Barbados can be a great location for Health Tourism facilities, especially as the cost of health care in North America continues to increase. Of course Renewable Energy is another sector where we should be seeing big investment. Regrettably Barbados dropped the ball on this, with taxation missteps and overly bureaucratic regulation, but I am hopeful we will get back on track soon.

Then there’s the whole Fin-Tech area. It’s exciting, especially in the area of Blockchain technology. We’re seeing a lot of activity and a lot of development in this field, and Barbados must not miss this boat.

Also there’s Gaming. Not so much for persons my age, but for the young generation. People are passionate about gaming, the costs of entry are low, and the potentials returns are high. Geography makes no difference – we can succeed from right here.

In short, we should be selling Barbados as a place to come to and pursue your tech dreams. We have so many other life-style attractions; we need to make it easy for investors, entrepreneurs and talent to base themselves and their businesses in Barbados.

Extra time: Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

The decisiveness and speed of the new Government make me feel very positive. However Barbados’ recovery will take time, and we all have to be involved – we can’t just leave it up to government. But business confidence is coming back quickly, and I believe there are many young Bajans abroad with valuable training, skills and experience who would love to come back if we provide the environment where they could achieve their goals.

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