Marianna Papadakis Reporter

Marianna writes for The Australian Financial Review and Business Review Weekly from the Sydney newsroom. She has an interest in legal affairs, technology and business.

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Deals Direct’s Paul Greenberg plays the blues

Published 06 February 2013 07:47, Updated 17 April 2013 10:44

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Deals Direct’s Paul Greenberg plays the blues

Slowhand .... Paul Greenberg cites Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Buddy Guy as influences on his blues guitar style. Photo: Jon Reid

Deals Direct co-founder Paul Greenberg may be best known for being one of the pioneers of Australian online retail but his second great passion is music. Greenberg loves the blues and always takes his Steinberger travel guitar, a pocket amplifier and headphones on long-haul flights.He started playing in his late teens and his influences include Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Buddy Guy.He even rented Sydney jazz club The Basement for his birthday so he and a band of friends could take to its stage.“We sound pretty awful ... There’s no way I would ever get on the stage other than hiring it. To think of all the great players who have played there. Now I can die and go to heaven."“I’m not a yogi or anything like that,” Greenberg says. “Guitar is my meditation. It gives me wonderful, reflective thinking time.”Greenberg remains a non-executive director of Deals Direct and is still heavily involved in the sector. He is now chief executive of the National Online Retailers Association of Australia (NORAA) and spoke to BRW from England, where he is meeting with ecommerce players including UK-based online bike shop Wiggle for a new venture. Greenberg says he is eyeing new horizons and always thinking about “the next big thing”.Letting go of the familiar and taking “risks that real entrepreneurs must take” is key to his business strategy.

“You have to kick down a sand castle and build a new one,”
Greenberg says.It was this philosophy that led him to walk away from an eBay store that had revenue of $20 million a year to start Deals Direct, an online department store selling everything from manchester to wine, in 2004. It was a risk but the South African immigrant who arrived in 1994 saw a new business model emerging and he wanted a piece.

Back then eBay was an online auction business not the online shopping mall it is now.“I wasn’t going to build equity. I was hungry for more. We watched the rise of Amazon and realised the novelty of auctions had worn off. The consumer direct model had expanded. Fixed price, no bidding, no waiting for delivery. We had to move with the times. We had to cut the cord.”

He moved from his Annandale office, conveniently located next door to a guitar shop, to make Deals­Direct into a $100 million business.But it has not been without difficulties. Last year’s results were below forecasts, though the company is expecting revenue of $130 million this year. Greenberg also placed the group’s fledgling daily deal group buying site DealMe into liquidation last October.“Simply put, we should never have been it. It is just not our DNA,” he said. “I think we are starting to see significant cracks in the daily deal group buying model. Perhaps we are all getting a bit tired of buying things we don’t often need, at prices we sometimes just can’t resist.”

Through NORAA, he is trying to garner a unified voice for online retailers to refocus attention on consumers who have been lost sight of as businesses undertake structural shifts from “bricks to clicks”.There were distinct opportunities for Australia in the “borderless world” of online retail to build big markets internationally.“A fight back needs to take place and with that the consumer has to be front and centre.”

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