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Helping consumer businesses better serve their customers

The first rule of any consumer or tourism business: It pays to know your customer

Providing business solutions across a wide array of practices demands broad strategic thinking. Fortunately, solving the problems of a diverse range of consumer businesses is one of Ryan Brain’s specialties. Whether the business is a retailer, an airline, a consumer products company or a hotel chain, there’s one common variable that Ryan always has his eye on: the fast-evolving, highly demanding consumer.

“Consumer preferences continue to change,” he says, “and consumer expectations continue to rise.” That’s where Ryan’s thorough understanding of the ever-demanding consumer comes in. Knowing the consumer enables him to predict, prepare and harness the opportunities that help grow the bottom line for many consumer businesses.

Ryan points out that a few key demographic trends could have significant consequences for many industries in the years ahead. Consider the tourism, hospitality, and leisure sector.  In 10 years’ time, 40 percent of Canadians will be 55 and older. At the other end of the age spectrum, young adults living at home well into their 20s — many with their pockets bulging with disposable income — have jumped to 42 percent in recent years. And the big-spending traveller who will become Canada’s fastest-growing visitor by 2010? The Chinese. Such consumer insights serve as valuable ammunition for developing highly successful business strategies — something Ryan has had plenty of practice in through his extensive project experience with Deloitte’s consumer business clients.

Good retailing demands great ideas
When solving problems, Ryan tries to avoid the linear approach. He strives to think beyond the obvious answers, seeking brand new solutions where possible; he’ll even turn to other industries in search of hidden opportunities. His knack for creative thinking recently helped a large consumer products company which, after several acquisitions, had a lot of number one brands and a market leadership position. But despite its impressive product portfolio, the company was losing market share.

Ryan observed that the company was trying to deal with all retailers equally. “This fair and equitable approach means no one is thrilled — and no one is disappointed,” he says. Instead, Ryan advised the company to focus on the winning retailers. His argument: “Hitch your horse to the high-potential customers. Grow with the big players.”

Keeping an eye on the sky
It’s a good thing Ryan loves to travel. He spends a lot of time getting know the airline industry in Canada as part of his Tourism, Hospitality & Leisure, and Aviation & Transportation Services practice. Ryan has developed a start-up strategy for a proposed low-cost airline carrier and, more recently, he provided guidance to the federal government on Air Canada’s formal restructuring. His team was in a virtual state of 24/7 preparedness, calculating possible scenarios and providing viable solutions for any number of crises that could have occurred during the carrier’s tumultuous times.

Canada’s largest airline plays a huge role in the country’s transportation sector, shuttling loads of travellers and employees across the nation. It’s critical for the government to be prepared for all possible scenarios. At one point, when the airline’s negotiations with its pilots were not going well, Ryan’s team was asked to ascertain how quickly competitive carriers could be ramped up to serve the Canadian public — no simple task. “I like to call it an intensive, thorough education in the entire airline industry,” he jokes.

Zeroing in on the details
Ryan’s eye for detail and his propensity for creativity help deliver solid bottom-line results. One client, a major casino, had played its best cards, so to speak, and business was good. But Ryan saw an opportunity to improve profitability. The casino had been growing its top line at the expense of the bottom line. With Ryan’s help, the casino overhauled its processes, policies and procedures — right down to who buys a stapler and when — and ultimately cashed in on additional profits of several million a year.

Consumer businesses are continuously facing change because consumer preferences and habits are always in flux. The tourism, hospitality and leisure industry, as an example, is rebounding after a slump, and Ryan is tapped into the trends and demographic changes that can help companies compete in today’s climate. As businesses serving this sector ramp up, Ryan Brain is poised to help them soar to new heights.