Women in business: Leading in retail

By Zandile Mavuso
Editor: DIY

With DIY, hardware and construction being male-dominated industries, it is not often that we get to appreciate and to know more about the women who form part of the management and functioning of some of the most successful companies in these industries. In the spirit of women’s month, DIY & Industrial Trade News decided to run a special segment this month that profiles women in the industry that are doing a great job. We met up with Builders Merchandise Manager, Leanne Barron, and asked her about her involvement in the industry. She also provided a few fun facts about herself that we found interesting and would like to share her inspiration with you.  

Massbuild merchandise manager, Leanne Barron
Builders Merchandise Manager, Leanne Barron

Q:Could you please give us a background on how you got involved in this male dominated industry?  Take us through your journey.   

A: My journey into this industry was quite coincidental. While completing my Business Management Degree, I worked part time for a company called Office Mart putting together their Back-to-School packs during the December school holidays, as part of getting the scholars ready for the start of their New Year.  I was then asked by their management if I’d be interested in joining them permanently. I was quite excited as I thought it was such a wonderful opportunity, especially considering how I had just completed my degree and now was being offered a job that fast!  I accepted their offer and immediately got stuck in learning all facets of the business from receiving and dispatch to sales. During that time, I was also asked to relocate to Durban to assist in opening two branches for them.  I was with them for a year and a half when I was approached by Incredible Connection to join them as a merchandise buyer (multimedia department) in 1996 and to assist them in the opening of their first store in Springfield Park, Durban, where I was appointed as a merchandise buyer taking care of their multimedia department. I stayed with them for  four and a half years fulfilling different roles in that time.     

In 2001, I was approached by the Massmart group to join their Game chain where I took  care of their multimedia department as a buyer, and that’s when my journey started with the Massmart group in various roles as a buyer – from purchasing multimedia, textiles, toys, camping and patio products ensuring success in market share gains and growth, to eventually being appointed to a merchandise manager.  

After 16 years with the Game brand, my husband and I moved to Johannesburg and I joined the Builders brand.  

Prior to this appointment, I had been in general merchandise, and I was now entering into the DIY business as a buyer for the lighting category that was desperately in need of a complete overhaul. It took just one year to turn it around to a leading category in the South African retail landscape.     

I was honoured with a citation award for Innovator of the Year for initiating the most innovative product range launches in the lighting category – bringing excitement to consumers and making a significant impact to the bottom line of the business.  

After my second year with Builders, I was appointed merchandise manager, managing the Home Décor division from its infancy to its current status. 

My current position is merchandise manager for the DIY Division.  I have a diverse track record of managing, developing and leading teams in the retail industry with a career spanning 28 years with an in depth understanding of retail buying and negotiating.   

Q:  Can you tell us more of your involvement at Builders, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?     

A: As the merchandise manager of the DIY division, among the departments I oversee are power tools, hand tools, machinery, hardware, security, personal protection equipment, automotive, and sanware. I am responsible for defining and formulating a sound strategy and strategic intent aligned with the overall company strategy. Constantly keeping abreast of competitor and market activity, consumer trends and buying patterns and recommending changes to strategy or product assortments.  Along with this, I oversee all aspects of finance related to running a good business.  Innovation of product is a key part of this and ensuring successful new product launches in the business and to the market.  At times I would be responsible for recruiting, training, coaching, developing and motivating a team in order to ensure that the talent pipeline and succession plans are achieved for the business. I’m also constantly ensuring a sustainable team culture and stakeholder relationships.   

Q: With your level of expertise in this industry, what would you say can be done to accommodate more woman to pursue this as a career path?   

A: I certainly would not say accommodate more woman, rather  women in this space should be the norm because the retail industry is an exciting industry. With regards to women in the DIY category, I would say we need to take up the space and see ourselves as belonging there because we do belong. Then we need businesses to focus on having more initiatives to grow and nurture the female talent in this space.    

Q: If you were to advise any woman who aspire to be like you in this male-dominated industry, what professional advice and guidance would you offer?   

A: I would certainly advise some sort of business management studies, as this will assist you in your working and personal life as a solid foundation, and in time will give you excellent business and commercial acumen.  Always keep yourself relevant by studying, learning and asking questions. It’s amazing how much you learn from others no matter how young or old they are. In retail, 80% of the work is hands on and 20% is theory, so what you put in is what you get out. If you are like me, you will set life goals for yourself, and I have some audacious goals in my personal and business life and I make sure I achieve them. Working hard for something we don’t care about is stressful. Working hard for something we love is passion. You really must enjoy what you do, it’s a choice. As a woman, you need to be courageous, don’t be afraid to be in a male-dominated industry.  Just be confident!   

Business leader profile

Full Name: Leanne Barron   

Position and Company Name: Merchandise manager Builders Warehouse (Massbuild)   

Main Activity of the Company: Retail   

Date of Birth and place: 31 December 1974; Springs East Rand   

School and University Attended: Springs Girls High and Springs Technikon   

What was your first job: Putting back-to-school packs together   

Number of people you lead/manage: 12.   

What would you say is your management style: A visionary and mentoring management style and being hands on.   

Who has been the most influence in your career: Without a doubt, my parents. They set my early childhood foundation and instilled my strong work ethic, the ability to question and challenge conventional thinking and most of all to aspire to great things and to be the woman I am today.  

Which successful businessperson do you admire or are impressed by:  I would not say there is one single person, as I have been very fortunate to work with some really world class leaders in my retail career and have learnt something from each one of them.   

What is your life philosophy? Carpe Diem ‘Seize the day’.   

Name one person that you would like to meet: Michelle Obama   

What would you say has been your biggest opportunity: Relocating to Johannesburg and being able to work with such a wonderful brand as Builders.   

What would you say has been your biggest disappointment: The loss of my father 10 years ago. My father was a technician, entrepreneur, jack-of-all trades, but more importantly a wood worker extraordinaire. He would have loved the conversation around the dinner table at night catching up on my DIY retail days, knowing I work with some of the best brands in the world and one of the best DIY businesses out there. I certainly believe he would be very proud, considering I lived in his workshop every weekend as a young girl, so the conversation today would certainly be very interesting considering I learnt back then from him about the category I know manage, who would have thought!   

Favourite read now: Magda Wierzycka, My Journey, A South African billionaire business woman. Magda is the co-founder and CEO of Sygnia, a financial services company. A great read.   

Favourite TV Programme: Rock the Block on channel 177.  Home Channel is my go-to, I could watch it for hours. I have a passion for interior decorating.    

Favourite food or/and drink: I enjoy a good macaroni and cheese enjoyed by a great glass of wine.   

Favourite music genre: Modern rock, I’m an 80s girl when it comes to music.   

Favourite sport: I don’t have one specific sport, I would say I am well rounded when it comes to sport from watching rugby, cricket, running to F1. I especially enjoy being at live games or matches.   

What are your hobbies: Travel, outdoor and fitness. I spend loads of time home making, including interior decorating, gardening and enjoy cooking and entertaining when I find the time.   

Do you have pets: No, but I have had many in my life. I’m at that stage now where I am trying to get in as much travel as I can, and pets can tie you down a little.   


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