Hardware Retailing: Benefits of a New Product

The recent release of a new magnesium cement-based, multipurpose building product has highlighted the importance of retail hardware channels in bringing new products to market. JOHN POWER reports

puohWhile some hardware retailers supply materials on demand, others ‘create demand’ by alerting customers to new ideas, non-traditional or newly released products, unusual applications and inventive designs.

In this article we’ll examine the example of a standout new building product – the INEX> range of magnesium cement-based, internal-external reinforced

boards from UBIQ – and consider how a handful of far-sighted hardware retailers have not only helped establish this product, but also reaped rewards for their efforts.

About the product

According to Steven Taylor, UBIQ’s business development manager, the INEX> suite of magnesium cement boards is unique. “We’re the first company who have come to market in 60 years to offer a true revolution in building materials: a lightweight magnesium-based cement board that can be used either externally or internally for floors, walls or roof applications, which is fire-retardant [BAL-FZ], high-impact, as well as water-resistant – all these features in a single product,” he says. “It’s easier, faster and it’s competitive.”

The technology underpinning this multipurpose, lightweight and super-strong board is a proprietary magnesium oxide (MgO) cement, which features up to six interlayers of fiberglass in a 5mm crosshatch mesh configuration. Once cured, each flat board is an all-in-one solution for a full range of domestic and commercial building projects, including wall, floor and roof applications. It can be used either as a substrate or as a finished panel, inside or outside, and can be polished, painted or rendered. Given its capacity to be molded, it can be presented in a number of different configurations, including weatherboard.

While forms of MgO cement date back millennia – it was used as mortar in the Great Wall of China – the UBIQ product was developed in-house over a 10-year period, based on a more modern system first developed in 1985. UBIQ is an Australian company manufacturing INEX>BOARDS at their owned and operated production facility in China.

Bringing the product to market over the last couple of years, Taylor says, has been an invigorating exercise. Whereas many new building products with generalist applications spring onto the market on the shoulders of existing ranges, or with substantial marketing fanfare aimed at either trade or consumer bases (or both), the INEX> range had a softer birth via a handful of NSW hardware outlets.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” Taylor says. “We first introduced the product to North Shore Timber & Hardware (they have six outlets in Sydney); it seems they had been looking for alternate materials for quite some time. I went around to all the stores and planted some samples, and within a day the CEO rang me and said, ‘Steve, I’ve been looking for this product for so long.’”

Since then, the INEX> range has gained a presence in a variety of hardware and building supply groups like Bowens, Hudsons and Stratco, as well as a mixture of independent hardware stores. In addition, Taylor says Home Timber & Hardware, Mitre 10, and others are interested in embracing the INEX> range. UBIQ has also struck agreements with major partners to help streamline the use of accompanying materials and finishes.

“We’ve got the major coating companies in Australia providing us with their specifications,” he says. “We have specifications from Adhesive companies, Fastener and Waterproofing specialists, as well as coatings companies including, Wattyl, Taubmans, Dulux and Rock-Cote. They have all given UBIQ their paint and render system specifications. It’s fantastic for a young Australian company like UBIQ to have such wonderful support from such iconic companies, who are supporting us with quality materials and specification to provide our customers with a ‘ONE STOP SYSTEM’. They all see that the future is lightweight boards, which will reduce the cost of housing and increase the speed of manufacture.

“In the next six months there’s a lot of work happening: we’ve got the Bowen’s Trade show in March, and the Danks Trade Show in May, which will be the first time we’re exhibited with hardware retailers. But we’ve controlled our growth; we haven’t gone scattergun.”

Importance of retail

Taylor reiterates that the support of hardware retailers has been crucial to the growing success of the INEX>BOARDS product range; retailers have stocked product based on its merits, rather than holding off and waiting for an overwhelming swell in demand.

Hardware outlets account for approximately 80% of all UBIQ sales.

“What we’ve got is unique,” Taylor says. “With flooring, for example, we have a single INEX>FLOOR16mm board which is lighter, stronger at @22MpA, and cheaper than competing CFC T&G wet area boards. Furthermore, he says the fire-retardant qualities (BAL-FZ and/or FRL 60/60/60 without the need for any fire-rated plasterboard) of some INEX> products make them particularly suitable – and affordable – for customers working in bushfire-prone areas that are subject to rigorous building regulations.

Having already enjoyed tremendous support from hardware retailers, the next phase of the rollout is to tackle the customer base so builders might gain a better understanding of the product. To this end, Taylor says he will seek more exposure at trade events.

“We’ve been doing a significant campaign through the Master Builders Association, HIA, and looking at trade exhibitions like DesignEX and DesignBUILD so we can get out there and start seeding the market,” he explains. “But the best things have been the MBA and HIA shows, where we have had a frenzy of 50–60 builders asking questions.”

Benefits for sellers

There are some powerful lessons to be learned from the rollout (to date) of UBIQ’s products into the Australian market. The salient points may be summarised as follows:

1. Hardware retailers have played – and continue to play – a key role in the distribution of UBIQ’s range of INEX>BOARDS.

2. Those retailers who have supported the product initially have already benefited from more than two years of sales.

3. As a new magnesium cement board system, there are myriad opportunities for add-on sales in coatings and fixings categories.

4. Retailers who help introduce new products to traditional markets inevitably experience enhanced respect and loyalty from clients.

5. Stocking a single, multipurpose product simplifies ordering procedures, freeing up storage and display spaces and streamlining stocktakes.

6. If customer demand suddenly escalates, retailers who have ‘got in early’ will have stock ready and waiting, with staff who have familiarity with the product.

7. Retailers with innovative stock selections are more empowered to help customers find cutting-edge solutions to problems.

Retail power

It is reassuring to observe that hardware retailers who are willing to experiment with new products can help not only emerging companies like UBIQ, but also themselves. Experimentation with new ranges takes a bit of a leap of faith, as previously unknown products may require extra time and effort to sell. However, the building materials supply chain should always be on the lookout for innovation. As frontline salespeople and advisers to clients, hardware retailers who participate from scratch in success stories are putting their powers to the best possible use. For a complete range of their products and case studies, go to

www.ubiq.com.au