Bowen Evans Pty Ltd was established in Bowen, QLD in 1929 by Welsh draper Thomas Bowen Evans.

four generations of retailing

Bowen Evans store, circa 1938

Four generations have now shared Thomas’ ambition, and today the business is owned and operated by Thomas’ grandson, David Bowen Evans. The company has seen many changes, economic fluctuations, it has survived the unrest of World Wars, the Great Depression and countless other challenging factors.

Like all independents, to survive, the business has had to adapt – whilst the current operation retains one of the original Bricks and mortar retail locations in Collinsville QLD, a considerable portion of the business is generated through its online store.  Whilst the format has changed, one thing has not – Bowen Evans’ commitment to its customers, suppliers and employees.


The following are some insights provided by David Evans as an Independent Retailer in Regional Australia:

  1. What do you see as the biggest changes to your market in the last 5 years?

As a country retailer the use of fly-in-fly-out and contractor work forces in the mining and agricultural sectors is a huge issue.  This is because these business’ take jobs from local people and have minimal economic benefit on the communities in which they work due to wages being shipped back to their normal place of residence, which is generally in major capital cities or overseas.

Two other major Impacts are the growth of the chain stores in major regional centres with 7 day trading and the impact of online trading, which is not only affecting country retailers but also having a fairly significant effect on the major bricks and mortar retailers.

  1. What issues do you feel you face as a country retailer that is not faced by those in a metropolitan location?

The towns get no assistance in the financial sector when mines close, as all unemployment benefits get paid to their place of residence in the capital cities and the regional communities are left without any employment – unfortunately no compensation by government has been offered to date to support the downturn in the local economy – Today, the region in which our Bricks-and mortar-stores began is experiencing 18% unemployment.  These are very tough times.

  1. Your daughter began her career in retail with you. She has since worked for a number of large retail companies in Australia.  What skills and knowledge do you feel she now brings to your business?

Catherine’s experience with larger retailers provides a more rounded global view of retail and sourcing, and of course she has a significant list of trade contacts.  Having worked in the business for many years, Catherine can effectively identify new opportunities or areas for profit improvement within our current business.   As an independent retailer you are so heavily involved working “in” the business on a daily basis that at time you do find it difficult to work “on” the business.  This is where Catherine’s contribution is incredibly beneficial to our business.

  1. What advice would you give to anyone looking to open a country retail store today.

Don’t. (Chuckle)…BUT if you do, go in with your eyes wide open, and remember that joining the family business should be a privilege, not a right.  I have seen in many business’ like mine where too often family employees become more entrenched in their positions than non-family employees.  This can stymie the pace of business activity and the development of new opportunities for your business.  It is critical for the success of your business that the family member should have the right skills or experience for the job or they shouldn’t be offered it in the first place.

Catherine English

Senior Consultant, Numensa Retail Consulting

Catherine is a 4th generation Australian retailer with over 25 years buying, product development, account management and international sourcing experience across a wide range of retail categories including; FMCG, Hardware, Garden, Homewares, Manchester, Fabric, Haberdashery, Apparel and Footwear.

Having started her career at an early age in her family’s independent retail business, Catherine is a passionate advocate for the Independent business sector who has experienced first-hand the competitive advantage that can be achieved by strategic, professional and adaptable companies working to improve planning, strategy and negotiation to maximise their company’s position and profitability.

In addition to her extensive experience with Independent retail operations at local and national levels, Catherine has also had senior management experience with various ASX listed companies including David Jones Ltd, Coles Supermarkets Ltd and Dulux Group Ltd.

Catherine will be heading up the Retail Success Series…