“A new way of thinking”

Inverell Building Supplies began operations a short time ago, so the word “new” applies to most elements of the business – even the thinking behind it!

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Store: Inverell Building Supplies Pty Ltd, NSW
Principals: L. Muggleton, D. Rolfe, I. Paton and R. Cameron
Group: Hardware and Building Traders (HBT)

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A great deal of bravery is required when starting a new business. There are so many major decisions: How big should the outlet be? Is group membership appropriate? How should the advertising be handled? What sort of computer system should be installed? Is an online ordering facility necessary? Should the store be modelled on other premises or granted its own identity?

Situated on the western slopes of the New England Tablelands in NSW, the store is largely rural by nature.

These are all questions that confronted the four principals of Inverell Building Supplies (200kms north of Tamworth in NSW) before it started trading in December last year. Situated on the western slopes of the New England Tablelands, the local district’s 25,000 inhabitants are involved in rural service industries like stock food production and an abattoir works. Not surprisingly, the business is largely rural by nature.

The hardware store was born with a head start; the building had been built six years earlier as a vermin-proof, 1,260m2 furniture warehouse, and now features sealed parking for 20 vehicles and a loading bay to the rear of the building for large trucks. The owners, with backgrounds ranging from school teaching to building supply services and business administration, decided to leave this broad infrastructure in place while creating specialised additions to make the store as user-friendly s possible. A third of the warehouse was earmarked for retail sales and the remainder utilised as a “purpose-designed, drive-through trade supplies area”.

The biggest selling ranges are timber, gyprock and paint.

“The store opened while the (final) infrastructure was still incomplete,” says store manager Leigh Muggleton. “Demand from consumers and tradesmen became too great.” So far the store has developed a base of 80% trade clients, but the aim is to boost consumer sales to about 25% of total sales before long.

The biggest selling ranges are timber, gyprock and paint. Given the nature of the clientele, membership of a group was deemed necessary to streamline stock provision while safeguarding store individuality. “The HBT group gives us the opportunity to run our own store, buy at the right prices and retain our independence while still having the support of a large and powerful buying network,” he says.

As a progressive and established community, Inverell needs a wide range of services from a hardware store, and Inverell Building Supplies (IBS) has taken steps to make sure the store is equipped with modern and practical facilities including access for disabled people, extra wide aisles and toilets. Never underestimate the power of toilets to draw customers to a store and keep them there!

Seek help
Rather than acting alone, the principals sought the assistance of another local hardware store owner to help set up the business. “In the lead-up to opening we had the support of Graham Gardner (Gardner’s Hardware) who had been running a hardware store in Inverell for many years,” explains Muggleton. “He was closing his doors to retire and passed the baton on to IBS. Since then the team has worked to establish routines, set up the store, establish a customer base and install and make operational the computer system which will help drive the business in the future.”

Staff will be trained to think “service first”.

“As a new business there was a real opportunity to select our computer system carefully,” he says. “A lot of research was done leaving us with a choice of three. We were able to look at these in depth and study them at a number of locations.

“Ease of use, reliability, versatility and support led us to select Computakey’s Hardware Shoptalk. POS is very user-friendly, the support and training are excellent and the program has the flexibility and depth to allow for major expansion into the long-term future. The program is tailored to suit our needs and is regularly upgraded.” In addition, Muggleton hopes to have a website ordering system for trade clients up and running within 12 months.

So far business has expanded thanks to newspaper and radio exposure, however the best advertisements are successful dealings with customers. “We have considered a TV campaign but have found that word of mouth has reached more people than any other medium,” says Muggleton. “An emphasis on real service and care seems to have had an impact on the community and surrounding area.”

Plans for expansion are being made. Activities are being considered include framing and trussing, amongst others.

The challenge is to promote the store while allowing it to develop and evolve to suit customers’ needs. “Being very new means plans need to be kept flexible,” he says. “From the start expansion on site was planned. A number of possible activities are being considered (framing and trussing and others).

“As a new business we have all the usual challenges. Setting up a sales/ordering website will require a new way of thinking, and we will need to have a very tight infrastructure for deliveries, ordering and stock control to support it,” he adds. “Training staff to think ‘service first’ and feel that the company belongs to them will require a very focused attitude from the team leaders.”

Story by John Power