According to Tony Robbins, “People who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed, and the more they find a way to succeed.”
The 57-year-old mogul could have been referring to Mrs Lorraine Sidonie’s success story– a tale packed with grit and willpower. Currently working as Courts’ (Unicomer) OECS Commercial Director and overseer to teams across six Caribbean islands, this powerhouse knows firsthand the rewards of stepping up to challenges. Mrs Sidonie, who shows no signs of slowing down, was gracious enough to share with the STAR Businessweek the details of her 22-year journey with one of the region’s most successful retail companies.
HOW DID YOUR CAREER WITH COURTS (UNICOMER) BEGIN?
Lorraine: I moved to Saint Lucia in 1995 when I got married to a Saint Lucian – Cornelius Sidonie – whom I met at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus. I initially worked for Cimpex, Courts’ biggest competitor at the time, for a short period before I decamped in 1996 and joined the Courts family as the Electrical Range Manager. That inaugural role with Courts saw me managing the company’s electrical and appliance goods which included the purchasing, marketing and branch distribution of these items.
TELL US ABOUT COURTS’ HISTORY.
Lorraine: Courts was first established in England during 1850. The first Caribbean Courts store was opened in Jamaica in 1959 by the then owners – the Cohen family – and a business anecdote that we’ve heard repeatedly is that Courts Jamaica was established as it gave the owners a business reason to frequently visit the beautiful Caribbean region. The Caribbean Courts business became a success and is now present in 11 Caribbean countries: Antigua, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago. The company was acquired by Regal Forest Holdings under the Unicomer Group in December 2006, when Courts Plc unfortunately went into administration. The Courts brand has now expanded to North America with two stores, in Brooklyn and Queens, New York.
HOW WAS THE COMPANY EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
Lorraine: The company has evolved tremendously over the years, to the extent that when persons ask me how I could work for one company for 22 years my easy reply is that I haven’t. Over those years I’ve worked for Courts Plc, which had Courts companies throughout the world including Saint Lucia. When Courts Plc went into administration and we were bought by our present owners , Regal Forest Holdings, based in El Salvador; that change then represented another evolution, created another company with a new culture. The evolution continues; under the Unicomer Group brand diversification is a focus so, in addition to the Courts brand, we also have Courts Optical, Ready Finance, Ashley and Radio Shack brands. The company is extremely dynamic and continues to engage in a very focused and determined growth evolution.
WHAT TYPE OF TEAMS DO YOU MANAGE?
Lorraine: I manage an extremely diverse team, especially since the job is OECS Commercial Director and hence some of my team members and colleagues are based in Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Vincent and of course Saint Lucia. The diversity then comes from not only the vagaries that are brought about by personality differences, but too by the cultural differences that our geographical spread automatically creates. My direct reports comprise five OECS Commercial Managers and an OECS Senior Marketing supervisor. They are all very talented, determined, competent, loyal persons and, though by no means pre-designed, they are all females.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES?
Lorraine: I really don’t think that the challenges are any different to the challenges that are faced in other similarly diverse organizations. So the challenges of keeping team members engaged, time management, having to manage the overwhelming and sometimes conflicting workload demands that are dealt out, and getting the communication right, especially in this matrix structure, are all very real but very common trials. The crux of these though is all about people management and I therefore try to live by two mantras that my dad passed on to me: the first is the simple golden rule that you treat people the way you want to be treated; and the second is the technique of praising persons in public but reprimanding them in private.
TELL US ABOUT THE COURTS BLACK FRIDAY SALE.
Lorraine: The planning for the Courts Black Friday promotion actually incorporated all aspects of the business. There is the consideration of what stock will feature and this has to be planned very early in the year. Of course, our planning and execution is not limited to Saint Lucia but also includes the five other OECS countries. The planning for this event was totally all-encompassing to ensure that we were bringing to consumers the best Black Friday deals in the market in an interactive, fun-filled manner.
Throughout the OECS we believe that about 10,000 customers visited our stores on ‘Black Friday’ and we estimate that to be about 20% more than the previous year, so the event has grown year on year.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT EVOLUTION IN CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR?
Lorraine: Definitely the migration to online shopping and the use of digital and social media in the communication mix.
These two phenomena have created a new set of competitors whilst also creating a new type of consumer behaviour that has to be carefully understood and catered to. Consumers – because of online shopping and digital media – are now ultimate researchers as they have access to a great deal of information regarding products, companies and services; consumer loyalty takes on a new definition and ‘word of mouth’ advertising is even more prevalent given how instantaneous it has become. These are factors we can’t escape and have to be positioned to deal with.
ARE GRADUATES ADEQUATELY EQUIPPED FOR THE WORLD OF WORK?
Lorraine: Yes, definitely. Formal education gets your ‘foot into the employment door’ but the success that ensues has everything to do with what you make of that opportunity and how you position yourself.
WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR BUSINESS IN SAINT LUCIA?
Lorraine: Given that Saint Lucia has recently dropped in its ranking in the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ World Bank index from position 86 in 2016 to 91 in 2017 then this obviously presents an area where improvement is needed. Our parent company has made recent and significant investments in Saint Lucia and I am sure they would like to continue to do so. This, however, has to be facilitated by a regulatory environment that is conducive to business investment. I can say that Unicomer is committed to doing all that we can do to continue to produce a successful business so that the long-term outlook and the well-being for all our stakeholders remain positive.