How I Got Here: Country Road Group’s retail facilities and maintenance manager Fred McGregor

by Sophie Berrill
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Fred McGregor

“You can come from anywhere and it can lead to anything.”

Some people think facilities managers just make sure the lifts are running and lights are on. In reality, an FM wears many hats. From space management to sustainability and security in the built environment, responsibilities can vary from FM to FM. It’s a career full of opportunity that takes people down different paths.

Facility Management’s ‘How I Got Here’ series chats to impressive people who have worked in the field to map out some of the paths taken, and demystify this often-misunderstood yet essential profession.

This week, we speak to Fred McGregor, the group retail facilities and maintenance manager at Country Road Group. A chance encounter led McGregor into the field of facility management. Once a retail assistant, he now works on the other side making sure Country Road Group’s facilities run optimally across five iconic brands.  

Facility Management: What sort of work had you done prior to becoming a facilities manager, and how do you think it prepared you to work in FM?

Fred McGregor: Throughout uni, I worked in retail at Kmart. After I finished my degree, I worked for the government, starting in defence and later moving into immigration for a couple of years up in Canberra. Then I got married and moved back down to Melbourne – where I’m originally from – and that’s where I started my FM career. 

I was actually hoping to stay within the government in Melbourne, but it was one of those lucky incidents where my then-fiance was giving my resume a once-over before I sent it out to prospective employers. Her cousin, an operations manager, was with her. He was like, “I want this guy working for me.”

So I got a job with the company that he was working for, which looked after high-rise residential buildings in the CBD. I started as a building manager, and then worked my way up into more of an operations role, helping the directors of the company with staffing, business development and things like that. 

Then I moved over to Country Road Group (CRG) to run its facilities and maintenance across Australia and New Zealand. 

FM: It’s really interesting that your partner’s cousin saw that potential in you, given your work background.

McGregor: Yeah. I’m good at writing, I’m a fairly good communicator with people, and people feel comfortable with me. FM requires such a diverse range of skills, so I think that translated.

Obviously, being an FM you’re responsible for potentially tens to hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of assets – if not more. People need to have faith that you can effectively manage that for them.

FM: Communication seems to be such a big part of the role. People think it’s all about the trades, but actually you have to have strong people skills as well.

McGregor: Definitely. And I mean, I’m very protective of my trades because we’ve built that relationship with them – that is part of that communication process. If you can communicate effectively, then you will get the most out of not only your team reporting to you, but also the trades you have coming in to complete whatever job it may be. 

My customers are our stores and our brands, but it was previously the owners of the buildings. So if you can communicate well with all of the different stakeholders, then you’re set.

FM: When you tell people now that you’re in FM, do they generally know what that is?

McGregor: Not really. Facilities management is one of those things where people only think about it if it’s going wrong. So I almost take it as a compliment if people don’t really know what I do, because then everything’s working really well. 

FM: Can you tell us a bit about your current role?

McGregor: I look after all facilities and maintenance for CRG, including Country Road, Trenery, Witchery, Mimco, and Politix. I look after all of our retail sites across Australia and New Zealand, plus our head office here in Melbourne, which comprises two buildings. 

I have a team of about 15 people who report to me and essentially we look after everything, including the kitchen sink. That might be repairing or maintaining broken items within stores, but also looking after HVAC, fire safety, scent, music and everything that goes into a physical store. 

It keeps us very busy. We have about 550 sites across Australia and New Zealand, including concessions within Myer and David Jones.

FM: Retail is often busy on the weekend, does that mean you work on weekends as well?

McGregor: No, we are very fortunate that we have an after hours team that will look after urgent issues that may pop up. But ultimately I’m still responsible, so I do get calls, and I think that’s just the life of an FM. You’re always on call. Thankfully most of my weekends are pretty free.

“Facilities management is one of those things where people only think about it if it’s going wrong. So I almost take it as a compliment if people don’t really know what I do, because then everything’s working really well.” 

FM: What might an average workday look like for you?

McGregor: Because my team and I are international in nature, most of our workday is on a computer. We have a computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) system wherein all of the stores log their issues. We then triage them and action accordingly. 

I don’t really do the day-to-day from that perspective, but I’m obviously responsible for it and managing the team, their workloads and workflows. I’m fortunate to have an incredible team that looks after that side of things, and I don’t generally have to get involved unless something’s gone completely wrong. 

My day-to-day is more about ensuring my team has everything they need. I do a lot of the invoicing and budgets, maintaining those relationships with contractors, doing the procurement for our function, and being involved in any broader business initiatives.

A lot of my day is spent liaising with different functions within the business: landlords, property managers, and store teams. For example, we have a sustainability team that I work closely with to make sure that we’re aligned and we assist with their projects. They might be looking at how we can better recycle soft plastics or something like that. We also work very closely with store design to make sure that what they’re wanting is practical and we’re not having any issues. 

FM: Country Road is famous for its signature scent. How important is scent to the customer or tenant experience in retail?

McGregor: I think retailers are waking up to this idea a lot more. You’ll go into certain stores and they have that very identifiable, long-standing smell. I certainly know when I’m almost at a Country Road store because you can smell it wafting through the centre. 

We have so many customers asking, “What is the scent? How can I get it? Do you sell it?” Scent gives the brand another facet of identity and adds another avenue for your customers to really relate to you as a business. Country Road has certainly been the brand that has spearheaded that for our group, but we’re rolling it out into Mimcos and Witcherys now as well.

The actual scent is designed by the brands, so it generally sits within our merchandising team. But the agreement with the company sits with my team, and we look after the deployment of the actual machines and the installation. 

FM: Facility managers have such an important role to play in maintaining those brand decisions.

McGregor: Definitely. As an FM, you get to be involved in so many different facets of projects that it keeps it interesting.

FM: What are some of the current trends that you see in the retail space?

McGregor: The space is seeing two trends almost coincide with each other. 

Firstly, as bricks and mortar retailers, we’re really having to redefine what it means for customers to come into the store and shop. We’re seeing brands, ourselves included, elevating their in-store experience. Part of that process are these really beautifully designed spaces where customers want to spend time, rather than just shop a rack of clothes.

Deploying experiences is important. For example, customers can go into our styling suites where a sales assistant helps them curate an outfit or a wardrobe. Politix is very good at that. We’re definitely seeing a need for retailers to have that really personalised, but beautiful experience in stores. 

Secondly, in our FM store design space, creating more of a partnership between the landlord and tenant is becoming more common. Previously, you used to rent a tenancy in a shopping centre, and yes, you needed to get your construction drawings approved, but ultimately the landlord was just happy to collect the rent. I think landlords are starting to understand that if a retailer is doing well, they’re doing well, and they really want to curate that customer experience in their centres. 

FM: What important skills do you think you need to be a facilities manager?

McGregor: I think FM is one of those industries where you can take a whole range of different skills and implement them. I don’t think that you necessarily need to have any education behind it. Certainly that would help, but ultimately our business is a people business. We very rarely manage an asset that doesn’t involve occupancy.

I think as long as you can communicate well, are organised, are a go-getter and you’re happy to learn on the job, then it certainly is a good industry to be in because really you can make your way in it no matter what. 

FM: What aspirations do you have for your career? Will you be an FM forever?

McGregor: Prior to starting with CRG, I probably would’ve said yes, I would like to stay within the FM space. But being the FM in such a large organisation has actually exposed me to the organisation more broadly, which is a great thing about FM. I certainly wouldn’t be upset about staying in FM, but I’m happy as long as I’ve got those growth potentials, and am involved in exciting things. 

I like to be able to build things and leave them in a better spot than where I found them. Maybe that’s in FM, maybe it’s not, but I certainly know that the skills I have as an FM are very transferable to other kinds of roles and job opportunities. So I’m thankful for that.

FM: It seems that FM is a career that gives you options.

McGregor: You can come from anywhere and it can lead to anything.

For more How I Got Here, read about how Kristy Megaw became a senior account director at Cushman and Wakefield.

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