Building small-business muscle
Author: James Eyers
Date: 22/09/2003
Words: 734
Publication: Financial Review
Section: Enterprise
Page: 49
Source: AFRBreaking

Tony Gattari, who flourished as a computer retailer in the 1990s but failed as an online entrepreneur, has resurfaced - as a motivational speaker and business adviser.

He said his internet misfortune made him better-placed to give advice.

"You cannot help a small business until you have been through fire," said Mr Gattari, best known as the computer and communications general manager of retailer Harvey Norman in the 1990s.

Computers made up just 5 per cent of Harvey Norman's sales when Mr Gattari joined in 1991. When he stepped down nine years later, the division was turning over $565 million a year, or 30 per cent of the franchise's total sales.

But his results were not so spectacular in the e-commerce arena. After attracting $10 million of venture capital for Smartbuy, his dream to create an online retail superstore fell apart two weeks before its launch in 2000, when its parent, Dataflow, went into administration - a victim of the dotcom crash.

Mr Gattari managed the web developer that took over Smartbuy for 18 months but said he was not suited to the role of consultant.

"I was bored out of my mind," he said. So he set up Retail Achievers (now Achievers Group) last year.

Greg Albert was also driven away from consultancy.

"I just hated it," he said. "You go in and talk to different levels of people, you do a report, but you don't change the culture."

Mr Albert is the master franchisee in NSW for Icon Business Solutions, founded last year by Nic Clark. Icon has developed products, such as the SuccessModel planning system, to give advisers the skills and systems to teach businesses how to improve performance.

Mr Albert set up his own business coaching company in 1997, which hosted seminars and workshops for small companies, but soon realised small business owners wanted more.

"I wanted to turn coaching from the intangible to the tangible," he said.

Icon looks for franchisees who can take its systems and assist small business owners with writing plans and executing strategies that will assist their growth.

Mr Gattari seemed to fit the bill.

"We recruit fairly special people," Mr Albert said. "We don't just sell a franchise to anybody. In this business, you can't be the plumber with the leaky tap."

Mr Gattari is one of four Icon franchisees in Australia (there are another four about to begin training). Icon has also begun operations in the UK and NZ, and expects to sell master franchises in the US and Canada soon.

All franchisees attend a boot camp to familiarise themselves with Icon's products, then a training course each month. But instead of paying a fixed monthly fee, franchisees are left to set their own training fees and Icon takes 30 per cent of their take. It offers franchisees consulting office back-end services from its headquarters in Adelaide.

"I ask small business owners to answer questions they have never had to consider before and think differently about their business," Mr Gattari said. "A lot of clients have said to me after, 'I didn't know I didn't know'. I want to help small business by working on their business, not in it. I don't want to be the guru. I want to help them develop their own muscle."

He works with each business for an average of seven months, spending about seven hours a month with the business owner and providing workshops to train staff. For this, he receives an average of $1500 per month, depending on the size of the client. (Larger businesses can pay up to $24,000 for a six-month program.)

Mr Gattari has 14 clients and said he was operating at full capacity. He is looking to expand his operations in the form of associate franchisees, a request being considered by Icon.

"I provide hope, direction, clarity, vision," Mr Gattari said.

"But my job is not to become a parasite. I have succeeded if a business says, 'I love the plan and I don't need you anymore.' "