Papua New Guinea’s Brian Bell retail group ‘bullish’ about 2021


Despite COVID challenges, last year was a ‘fairly extraordinary year’ in terms of growth for Papua New Guinea’s Brian Bell Group. Its CEO, Cameron MacKellar, revealed the group’s ‘bullish’ plans for 2021 during a recent Business Advantage PNG briefing.

‘From a trading perspective, 2020 was one of our best years ever,’ says Cameron MacKellar.

The Papua New Guinea retailer, wholesaler and distributor was able to trade throughout the year, in spite of COVID restrictions.

‘The government made clear what was essential, although there was a bit of a blurred line. We consider ourselves essential and they supported our continued opening through the lockdown periods – and that was important for us and our team members,’ MacKellar tells Business Advantage PNG.

‘We are expecting growth, so we are fairly bullish with our numbers.’

During the Christmas period, the group also exceeded all expectations.

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‘Christmas was spectacular for us in every sense, particularly in the Homecentre side of the business, to the point where we delivered a record profit for the group.’

The CEO said all of Brain Bell’s categories performed ‘reasonably well’ last year, led by the consumer side of the business and a move towards providing greater value for money.

Capital projects

Mackellar said some capital projects also ‘came to fruition’. The company completed its Le Hunte build at Ela Beach and, among other things, upgraded its Homecentre at Gordons in 2020.

Gordons Plaza

Brian Bell’s Gordons Plaza shopping centre in Port Moresby. Credit: Brian Bell

MacKellar says the group complete the first stage of a new Homecentre in Mount Hagen and will move into a new building that should be ready by mid-2022. The group is also looking at rebuilding its Goroka Homecentre within the next 18 months.

Despite the pandemic, the group has looked at new projects and startup operations. One of last year’s startup operations was Mr B’s Green Thumb Garden Centre at Gordons Plaza, and another is a partnership with FoneHaus, which has introduced an in-store concept kiosk in Goroka that has the potential to rollout to other rural centres.

Predictions for 2021

With the introduction of the COVID vaccine around the world, Mackellar is hoping 2021 will be ‘more normal’, or at least closer to what the world looked like in 2019.

‘We are expecting growth, so we are fairly bullish with our numbers,’ says MacKellar.

Establishing markets beyond Port Moresby is part of the group’s strategy.

‘We need to look at the regional footprint. Goroka and Mount Hagen have growth opportunities, particularly for the coffee market and produce and Mount Hagen draws 60 per cent of PNG’s population, which lives in the Highlands.

‘Having a bigger footprint will allow us to invest in the categories that we have – and ultimately the signs are there. We will deliver growth,’ he says.

But the growth will not be without challenges: the COVID pandemic has disrupted shipping and supply chains around the world.

‘We are trying to find products and categories that can reduce our retail price and that is the ambition for 2021.

‘The focus will be on finding projects and categories where we can reduce our retail pricing, from China or other parts of the world.’

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