Brennan’s is a Dubbo institution

Store Name:
Brennan’s Mitre 10, Dubbo, NSW

Store owner:
Michael Brennan

Buying group:
Mitre10

While competition in the hardware sector is fierce, this third generation business relies on customer service and a diverse product offer to flourish

Dubbo is a city that serves a population beyond its 42,000 residents. The Dubbo regional centre. known as the ‘hub of the west’ is home to around 120,000 people and is an emerging centre that could do with more rental accommodation to satisfy demand as mining and government agencies look to expand their presences.

Australian Hardware Journal made the trip to Dubbo with the express purpose of catching up with Michael Brennan, the man in charge of running a 4,000 square metre Mitre 10 store in the town. But it’s not just a hardware store, the garden centre is a big drawcard and power tools galore are under the total 6,000 square metre floor area.

We also met the inspiration for this Dubbo operation, Mr Brennan’s father Frank, who is the second generation Brennan to ply their trade in the segment following the footsteps of his father Bill. According to Michael Brennan, Frank was the first ‘legend’ of the NSW hardware industry.

Brennan’s Mitre 10 Home and Trade, to give it its full title, has been on the current site for 30 years It is a large site on the high side of the road with plenty of parking. The name is shortenned to Brennan’s Mitre 10 or simply Brennan’s by the locals.

The complete package

The complex houses the Mitre 10 hardware offer, a garden and outdoor centre with its own registers, and the jewel in the crown, the tool centre with walk through access from the main hardware store. This is where all the seriously top-of-the-line professional power tools are stocked, and is a tradie’s delight.

The hardware department is close to 4,000 square metres. To keep a diverse retail operation of this size ticking over, there are 30 full time staff on the roster plus half a dozen casuals. The sales split between trade and retail customers is 30 per cent trade, with the lion’s share coming from regular retail hardware customers.

According to Michael Brennan, the eventual opening of a Masters store, at a Dubbo site which has already been confirmed, is of less concern given his trade business. He told the Journal that he supplies a number of local firms with plumbing supplies, and while margins are slimmer on these kinds of deals, it is a regular turnover that puts dollars though the business.

As far as the retail customers are concerned, the store offers an easy to navigate layout, lots of choice, and a large paint department. The floor is shiny and reflects the overhead lighting which gives it a Costco-like feel, rather than the more industrial environment of a Bunnings. Top marks to the Brennans for this approach.

The polished floor in the hardware department is what Brennans is famous for and Michael Brennan said it makes the store friendlier for female shoppers. And, while the tradesmen tend not to like polished floors, those in the trade centre and tool centre are regular concrete.

The top three departments by sales are: power tools, paint, and plumbing/builders’ masonry. The store has nine registers running the Sympac POS system, four entry and exit points, and is famous with its customers for its 21.2 per cent discount sale which runs for one day twice each year. This unusual offer has been running for the past five years and keeps the nine registers busy with around seven times the usual turnover rung up for those days.

The brainchild of Michael Brennan, who is certainly a creative thinker, he said the unusual 21.2 per cent discount figure was designed to stimulate more interest. When customers ask ‘why that amount’ they take more notice of the promotions. It becomes a talking point and talking points with store staff can often lead to a sale.

When it comes to staff, Michael Brennan is a big fan of employing workers with a personality, arguing that it is fairly easy to instil some product knowledge in addition. He said that while ex-tradesman have knowledge they generally don’t relate as well to customers and, being used to their former trade environment they don’t take too easily to five days a week under a retail roof.

Hardware retailing runs in the blood

Frank Brennan is the man that started the Dubbo store, but the ‘hardware in the blood’ calling was originally started by Frank’s father Bill who worked in Maitland as a builder. He moved to a base in Cobar, a few hours’ drive from Dubbo, building shearing sheds but found it hard to get hardware supplies. Due to this frustration, he decided to obtain them directly from manufacturers and soon had a hardware business running. As far as Michael Brennan is concerned, if your grandfather and father are hardware traders it seems natural that you would follow in their footsteps. All up, the Brennans have been in the hardware business for 80 years.

Originally wishing to be a grazier, Michael Brennan joined the family business and now oversees this large scale operation with methodical precision. Yet, he still leaves room for his staff to make decisions on prices or deals, as long as they have justification.

He has grown up with the Brennan motto of ‘be the best you possibly can’, and this shows in the way the team at Brennan’s serves its clientele. This spirit led Frank Brennan to expand his original 1,000 square metre hardware store in Dubbo to the current site 30 years ago, leading the trend into warehouse style stores long before McEwen’s made the concept popular. The store traded up for the last financial year and is performing well currently, particularly around its Father’s Day-focused sales.

Not content with just running a large hardware unit as a strong independent, Michael Brennan has involved himself in Mitre 10 activities through membership of the Mitre 10 Network Standards and Compliance Action Group, which is one of five committees that report back into the Mitre 10 National Advisory Committee.

He has a lot to offer the committee on ideas for the future, including his thoughts on joint loyalty promotion of the Metcash businesses of Mitre 10, and IGA, which he believes would work for the betterment of both brands in the community. And in the Dubbo community there’s no better place to find a successful family business than Brennan’s Mitre 10.