Happy to be H Hardware

Not only is it an H Hardware store, as part of an extensive re-brand, but the family business has also just established a new store, which it successfully opened before Christmas. It’s been part of the Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) buying group since 2005.

With its new store and branding, the company can look forward to an exciting future. Co-owner Steve Sanders oversaw the changes, along with store manager Ken Lloyd, senior estimator Jason Hammond and retail manager Tracey Hean. To top it all off – the business recently celebrated 80 years in operation.

A perfect fit

The family had been looking for a new site in addition to its two existing stores, to minimise the lack of efficiency and time wasted spent travelling between both sites. A wine barrel shed was an early contender, but was struck off due to the considerable asbestos and major work needed. However, after looking at many other sites, Sanders returned to the shed and decided to put in an offer. “To our amazement they accepted our offer and the game started,” he laughs.

That was back in February last year, and the plan was to be fully operational by September 2011. “All was going to plan until we hit some planning issues to do with fire ratings in July,” Sanders recalls. Lloyd then suggested opening a week before Christmas: “We all thought he was mad,” Sanders says. But it turned out a clever move.

“As we are very trade based, we advised all our customers to have orders well in advance, as we could not guarantee delivery the following week.”

Store ready

The layout was done by Rick Van Neutegem of TradeSmarts, who organised all the racking to be purchased and constructed. “Rick was brilliant in design and layout, pretty much down to product per bay,” Sanders says. He then liaised with more than 40 suppliers, who visited in store once the racking was complete.

The move took place on the weekend before Christmas. Around 60 staff, family, friends and service clubs battled the rain to help, and by the following Monday morning, the store was ready for trading.

As the week unfolded, everyone was busy creating shelf tickets and revamping a few of the areas. Organising the offices within the store was also a huge job – almost as big as the actual move. Luckily, most trades were on holidays for three weeks, and this afforded staff the opportunity to get a feel for the new store.

“By mid January, the tradies were back into it and our systems were tested. Thus far, with some minor adjustments all has been running well. And our efficiency and customer satisfaction has increased dramatically,” Sanders says. The official opening was held in February 2012 with more than 400 people, staff and 31 suppliers attending. The company supplied food and drinks, as well as entertainment by comedian, Rod Gregory.

“All my staff did a great job in making sure all visitors were welcomed. Without the support of the suppliers, this night would not have been as successful as it was,” Sanders says.

Happy birthday

A highlight of the opening was a five minute talk by Sanders’ father, Roger, in celebration of the company’s 80th year anniversary. Everyone enjoyed hearing about how his grandfather purchased a grain, fodder and fire wood store on Dec 1, 1931 for 120 pounds. He was 18 at the time and called it H.R. Sanders (HRS) and can be found on Main North Road. Roger Sanders joined the business in the 1960s, when bagged grain was converted into bulk, and cement and mesh were a large part of the business. Steve Sanders started in 1995, undertaking his apprenticeship.

“After four years I could see an opportunity to go into pet products and fish, as no one was doing it in the area. With support of Dad and Grandpa this proved to be very successful,” he says. Sanders found another opportunity when building his own in home, also in Clare, with his wife Katrina. At the time, the two major trade hardware businesses were struggling, and the various tradesmen on their job were frustrated.

Eventually he employed two men as tyre fitters, and decided to try selling some plasterboard. “This took off and we were soon being asked for timber, then second fix and so on. We built an extension onto the existing premises in 2006, and it did not take long to fill it.”

Next came tiles, tapware and most recently safety gear. Now, the new store handles the hardware and safety business. It is situated at Archer Place, one street back from the main road. The pets, fodder, fuel and battery business is still at its existing premises.

Both stores are located in Clare (SA), the business centre of the Clare Valley wine country. The local population is made of people who are in the 55-64 year old age group and married. The majority were born in Australia. “Our main competitors are Mitre 10, Home Hardware, an irrigation/hardware store and a frame and truss manufacturer. All in a town of just over 4,000 people. We have a catchment of around 7,000 within a 50km radius,” explains Sanders.

Building relationships

Sanders is proud to be associated with HBT and operate as an H Hardware store. “The continuing theme with HBT is the great relationships and respect between HBT and suppliers. There are many suppliers who are passionate about the independent hardware market, and we align ourselves as much as we can with them,” he says.

“The original reason for joining HBT in the beginning was because the business was missing some major jobs by a few percentages here and there, and we could not work out why. By being fully independent, we just didn’t have the purchasing power. HBT’s buying power assisted us in winning those one per cent-ers.”

Other benefits of working with HBT are the guest speakers and information provided at state and national conferences, as well as the general support that someone is looking after his business.

“The HBT executive is always looking for ways to assist their members to ‘Do Business Better’,” he says. One of these is branding solutions. “When a series of HBT members enquired about a branding solution for their stores about three years ago, this did not really interest me as we had just completed a face lift of our premises,” he recalls. However, he had always intended to use the branding and when the opportunity arose, he signed up.

“The H branding has come up a real treat. It has created much comment in the community and with the assistance of Inkredible art, a Sydney based design agency and Rick from TradeSmarts, the store looks great.” He adds: “I think the H brand just naturally shows strength. Its strong colour and boldness creates a great story, with no real backing required.”

Business approach

After eight decades in business, the family knows its strengths – in trades. The store has been established with the slogan ‘For all your project solutions’ and the layout reflects this.

“We have tried where possible to align product into projects,” Sanders says. “For example, all of the tiling gear is together, including waterproofing, glue, spacers, angles, grouts, silicones and tools. “Our staff is encouraged to ask customers, ‘What project are you working on today?’ This has helped add sales for both trade and retail.”

Since moving to the H brand, retail is increasing too. “The product is much easier to find on the shelves. Because we are trade focused, we have the right product range for all projects. We do not sell inferior or cheap products,” he says.

“Moving forward, we are about to have our first ‘Builders Brekky’ and we are hoping to make this a fairly regular event.”

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