Travelling north

Store Name:
Trade Building Supplies

Co-owners:
Darren Truemer and family

Buying group:
Hardware & Building Traders

Starting from a backyard shed just eight years ago, Darwin’s Trade Building Supplies has grown to be a stand-out, trade-focused hardware retailer in its own right

Things can always seem exaggerated at the Top End. The Northern Territory has a way of making even everyday activities feel bigger or more dangerous than it otherwise might be. But there’s no way to overstate the growth and success that Trade Building Supplies (TBS) has had since starting up in 2004.

Located in the eastern suburb of Berrimah, TBS has quickly built up a customer base that extends throughout the city and the remote communities in the north of the territory. Director Darren Truemer says it has been an exciting history, with hopefully more to come in the near future. “From humble beginnings to what we have achieved today, we are a very proud locally owned family business,” he says.

The store began out of a back shed behind the Alltools power tool company. Owners Bob and Jenny Truemer (Darren’s parents) saw a need for a business that could supply hardware and building products specifically to remote area builders. Both had previously run Bob Jay Builders and been frustrated by the poor supply chains and customer service of suppliers at that time. “Quickly, TBS outgrew its premises and so saw the need for a new building in Berrimah to house our growing product range and customer base,” Truemer says. The business also began a truss manufacturing operation at that point.

Over the next few years, demand grew even stronger, and that original truss plant had to make way for onsite timber storage. Its truss and roofing business has been a key part of TBS’ success. “We were the first company in Australia to use LOSP / H2-treated Hychord LVL timber in roof trusses, utilising Pryda build software,” Truemer says. “Our roof trusses are constructed out of Hychord LVL, which is an engineered pine timber harvested from sustainable forestry.” This engineering process creates a stronger product compared with hardwood of the same size, which enables TBS to construct a super-strength, termite and water resistant, but still light weight roof truss for its customers. “In only eight years, (we) have grown to have over 30 staff members employed in various roles in administration, sales, and manufacturing divisions; with an annual turnover between $15 and 18 million.”

Trade-focused training

Truemer says the company’s staff are another important element behind TBS’ growth: “We have great staff who care about what they do”. Given the significant focus on trade customers – about 80 per cent of the business is directed to the trade sector – it’s important to have staff that are knowledgeable and appreciative of the unique demands that construction businesses have, and to keep a customer-centric focus in mind at all times.

For this reason, staff training has been a “pivotal” part of the ongoing business plan. “All our staff initially spend a good portion of their induction period in the timber yard learning what products we sell, as well as understanding implicitly all our customer service procedures,” Truemer explains. “Further to this, twice a year we either send our sales staff to customer service seminars or hold in house seminars between our two companies – Alltools and TBS.” As well as the dividend of increased business, Truemer says the top-flight customer service has also helped the company win several Master Builder and Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) awards.

Industry obstacles
Still, not everything has gone TBS’ way since it first began trading. Truemer says there are some factors unique to the Top End and the local industry that has stifled some potential business. The relatively late impact of the global financial crisis (GFC), the annual threat of monsoonal rains, and slow development approvals have all been a thorn in the business’ side in recent years.

In particular, Truemer says the last 12 to 18 months have been tougher than most. “Darwin was the last city to feel the effects of the GFC – we did not suffer the effects as quickly as the rest of the country. But eventually it did hit us, and housing finance basically halted over night and commercial projects couldn’t get off the ground for the same reason.” With building approvals unfinanced TBS’ customers faced a long and difficult time with little or no work, and timber and hardware orders dwindled comparatively.

That economic downturn coincided with a severe meteorological downturn of sorts. Truemer says two longer and wetter than usual rainy seasons also slowed the reduced number of building works taking place in and around Darwin over the last 18 months. When the monsoonal rains hit, building sites are forced to close, often for several days or weeks at a time. “Darwin has experienced two of the biggest ‘wets’ in the last two years, which has exacerbated the lack of suburban and rural land development,” Truemer says.

Truemer also lays some blame at the foot of the Northern Territory government and its approval processes. He says there was a “lack of foresight” with regard to labour availability that saw housing and rental prices soar during the early part of TBS’ history. At the time, these were higher than in Australia’s biggest urban centres of Sydney and Melbourne.

However Tremeur cites the recently announced Inpex offshore gas project as one that has given Darwin a much-needed boost of economic confidence. The new Homestart NT package, assisting first-home buyers in the territory has also been a factor in kick-starting the local construction industry since the post-GFC slump.

Rebate incentive

TBS acknowledges that it’s not all a solo effort. Part of the company’s quick success can also be contributed to its membership of the HBT buying group. With 351 member stores throughout all states and territories of Australia, this collection of retailers works to reduce buying prices and build margins, as well as improving the volume of sales for suppliers. It restricts itself to these basic functions, leaving marketing and other activities like networking up to the individual member.

Truemer says TBS has been a part of the HBT group for four years now. “Our main motivation for joining the group was to take advantage of better buying power through a group collective,” he tells the Hardware Journal. “Receiving rebates is also a powerful reason to be a member of the HBT group.” The local team is happy to take on the marketing and promotion duties itself, giving them a distinctive Territorian flavor wherever possible. “We are constantly running supplier promotions from Stanley tools, Lockwood locks (and others),” he says. “Our (annual) golf day, whilst not in store, is a great success with numbers growing every year. This year we may have to book out the entire golf course – we have that many entries.”

Story by Paul Howell

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