A united IHG is ‘Stronger Together’ at 2024 Expo

by | Mar 22, 2024

The Independent Hardware Group (IHG) united once again at their 2024 IHG Expo, held on the Gold Coast from February 12 to 14. The ‘Stronger Together’ theme not only reiterated the strong unity of the group evident at this year’s event, but also celebrated the group’s commitment to ‘Building Successful Independents’.  

IHG Expo

With just under 2000 delegates in attendance, including 400 stores representing over 82 per cent of IHG’s total sales volume, the IHG Expo brought plenty of buying power to the event, ready to deal with the 225 suppliers in attendance. 

The theme ‘Stronger Together’ was shared with members and suppliers who had gathered to understand how IHG’s strategy and key business objectives would be executed over the next 12 months and beyond.

 

Transforming great houses into family homes

Describing the IHG Expo as “the best week of the year”,  IHG Chief Executive Officer Annette Welsh said the initial business sessions were all about celebrating the group’s journey so far, its achievements and plans for 2024, while also reiterating the power of all of the people sitting before her.

“Being ‘Stronger Together’ is the driving force behind our success. We deliver unbeatable value through our ability to leverage our size and scale,” Ms Welsh said.

Looking to the year ahead, while Ms Welsh says IHG’s strategy remains unchanged, the group will continue to develop its ‘Whole of House’ strategy and deliver, “real meaning and purpose to the work that we do and what we try to deliver.”

“Fundamentally, what we are trying to do is help Australians build great houses. But ‘Build Trade’ and ‘Whole of House’ is only one side of our story. What about the DIY side?”

Ms Welsh then introduced a new internal strategy that has been tested with IHG’s National Advisory Council and key suppliers, and welcomed on-going feedback from members throughout the Expo.

“While we are already helping Australians build great houses, what we need to do, through the service offer that only you as independents can provide, is help Australians turn those great houses into family homes. We hope this will allow your team to build that connection to what they do every day, and what they are actually trying to do from a purpose perspective.”

“Turning great houses into family homes is not a new go-to-market strategy. I do want to stress this. This is an internal strategy which will connect our teams to the purpose of what we are trying to do. Feedback this week will be very welcome,” she said.

To bring to life some of the strategies the IHG team have already implemented, Ms Welsh presented video presentations to the audience to showcase what has worked so far. Case studies included the story of Fiona Rosalia, owner of the co-located Port Lincoln Mitre 10 and Total Tools store in South Australia, which has grown its sales substantially while trading directly opposite a Bunnings Warehouse.

In the video, Ms Rosalia clearly articulated her ‘Stronger Together’ approach, from her deep community involvement to her investment with IHG in the Sapphire transformation program and the accommodation of the Total Tools offer next to her Mitre 10.  In addition, she shared with the room her approach to succession planning and staff incentive program to ensure that everyone was moving in the same direction.

The inspirational stories continued as Ms Welsh reminded delegates that this year IHG celebrates 65 years of Mitre 10. The iconic banner traces its roots back to 1959 when a group of hardware independents recognised there was a real power in collaborating together, while also retaining their independence.

Just some of the major milestones achieved in the past 13 years include the acquisition of Home Hardware in 2016 and the formation of IHG, along with the relaunch of Home Hardware and Mitre 10 last year. Ms Welsh pointed out that the key to the businesses’ ongoing success all comes down to the numbers on the page.

“There are not too many businesses that can say in 13 years they have more than tripled the network sales. The significant size of the group enables us to deliver better solutions, better initiatives and help each other grow. Under the IHG banner there is the largest network of hardware stores with 690 bannered and 950 unbannered independents who we also support.”

“Although we have store diversity, we also have diversity in the professional experience members bring to the group. This includes Barry and Keith from Faggs Mitre 10 in Geelong, Victoria who this year will celebrate 170 years of hardware heritage,” Ms Welsh said.

For now, IHG’s ongoing strategy is to build two strong brands, while celebrating the group’s strength in trade which is currently 65 per cent of the business. IHG also now has the largest network of 24 frame and truss facilities nationally, which Ms Welsh says allows the group to continually develop its ‘whole of house strategy’.

“Our current strategy is to remain consistent and consumer-driven because it is working. Our mission is to build successful independents. This is underpinned by making sure we have great people on board as well as ensuring we invest in technology that future-proofs us and enables us to be here in 10-, 20- and 50-years’ time.”

Ms Welsh went on to say that current activity within the Australian hardware market, whether it is new builds, renovations or DIY, is absolutely one of remarkable resilience. 

“New builds are always impacted by cyclical swings of the building market, and 2024 will see that cycle is in the down rather than the up. The economy is still uncertain and the costs of doing business are going up. IHG may not be an expert in these things but if you recall how we worked collectively together throughout COVID, our job at IHG is to listen to your needs and give you guidance or point you in the direction where other experts may be. I guarantee you someone in the broader team will probably know where the answer is.”

“While 2024 may be softer than previous years there are still, without question, not enough roofs over people’s heads in this country. We are very confident that there are more houses that need to be built. We just need to get ourselves through the next 12 months,” Ms Welsh said.

 

Metcash prioritises logistics, brands and services.

Initially kicking off the business sessions, Metcash Chief Executive Officer Doug Jones pointed out the three most important aspects of the business, “which are at the centre of everything we do”.

“There are three elements to our flywheel. The first is our logistics capability in the centre, the banners and the brands that we create around this, and thirdly the services and the support that we provide to independent businesses so they can compete with national chains. Our purpose is ‘championing successful independents’”.

“I often say we are very lucky because our purpose is also our strategy, and there are not a lot of businesses that can say this. Our strategies are built around championing successful independents. The flywheel not only focuses on how we service independents but also how we service our suppliers on the other side,” Mr Jones said.

Describing the Metcash group as transformed, resilient and more diverse than ever before, the group’s sales reached $18 billion at the last reporting period and following the recent announcement of the group’s acquisition of Superior Foods, a $1.3 billion food service business, as well as two hardware businesses, Bianco and Alpine.

“I am telling you at this conference because I want you to know your partners in Metcash are strong, healthy and diverse. Bianco is a 10-store hardware business based in South Australia, including a frame and truss plant which is at the core of our whole-of-house strategy. Alpine is a highly successful frame and truss operation based in Victoria. Together these businesses have almost $200 million turnover, and we are excited to welcome them to the family.”

“Metcash is earning a strong reputation for sensible and strong allocation of capital, meaning we spend wisely, generate the returns that we said we would generate, and look for opportunities to build shareholder value and invest in ways that make our network stronger so that we can better serve our independent customers and suppliers,” Mr Jones concluded.

 

Standing strong in a competitive market

Reiterating the importance of IHG’s purpose continued as General Manager of Merchandise Geoff Harris, took to the stage reminding members that building successful independents remains at the group’s core.

“We do this by leveraging our combined volumes to benefit the independent sector. This sounds simple but our purpose is only as good as the things that enable this. Critical to our purpose is quite simply the fact we have an engaged member network that drives our value, along with aligned supply partners that also champion value in the market.”

“We get those partners to utilise the strengths of our warehouse and distribution model which we have invested heavily in. How we service our customers and suppliers remains the core of our business and this will put us in a very strong position in the coming years,” Mr Harris said.

Looking to the year ahead, Mr Harris said while members can expect some short-term pain, he also reiterated that the residential and DIY market will remain extremely buoyant over the next five years. Now with three distribution centres with about 90,000 square metres of warehouse space, 370 suppliers going through the distribution centres, and 48 million individual single-item picks per year, Mr Harris said these numbers are important in ensuring that IHG members can access the products they need instore when required.

Looking at the ‘Whole of House’ strategy, Mr Harris said IHG now sells over $1.5 billion in products across the five stages of the house build via the trade market nationally.

“Our vision is to be the number one supplier for small to medium-sized builders. We have a very strong representation in the renovation market, but we cannot take our eye off that volume builder either with this being about five per cent of our business.”

“Critical to the success of the ‘Whole of House’ is what members do with their trade sales team. We are well represented with suppliers in all five stages of the house build, but critical to this is the capability of our trade sales teams to sell across all five stages. This is why we need to make sure they have a plan, identify products they want to sell to builders, target those opportunities and engage with supplies to convert and measure accordingly,” he said.

As part of this strategy, IHG is currently tracking 700 builders and their spend across 3000 house builds with impressive results. The group set a target of 50 per cent of the house build across the five stages of the build and has achieved 48 per cent of the 3000 builds being tracked.

In the frame and truss sector, and with 24 frame and truss plants within its independent and owned network, Mr Harris pointed out that IHG is now primed for a better representation of the frame and truss market in this country which remains a critical component of the house build.

In the DIY space, IHG will continually evolve the DIY house which is all about turning houses into family homes. 

“E-commerce and the online space play a big part in DIY as consumers continue to research online and shop in-store. We generate $1.2 billion in retail sales in DIY and we are targeting another 16 per cent growth over the next three years.”

IHG has several focus areas within DIY in the next 12 months and beyond, including paint, power tools and power garden.

“In the power tools and power garden sectors we cannot expect to achieve our targets across this market unless we increase brand awareness on our private label and exclusive power tool brands, while increasing the availability of these products across the network.”

IHG is also winning in its kitchen and bathroom category with growth in the past few years continuing. Mr Harris concluded his presentation by encouraging members who are not in this space to investigate all potential categories during their time at the Expo. 

 

Adapting for the consumer

It was refreshing to see some of IHG’s new talent take to the stage to update the room on new marketing and consumer engagement channels. Anna Kismet, Kath Carroll and Elisse Jones, all from the marketing team explained the new challenges in reaching the consumer in an ever more complex media landscape.  

The Australian consumer has evolved to not be at the end of the marketing journey, but rather at the centre of it, according to the team, and traditional media channels and paths to market were no longer as effective and cost-efficient as previously.

Kath, Anna and Elisse took the room through the strategic and tactical reasons for change, and gave the members and suppliers confidence on the increased reach and engagement of newer marketing channels like social media, loyalty and omni-channel marketing.  

“IHG is using data to drive effective outcomes and provide more relevant and personalised messages to consumers. Across their two brands, IHG has 1.7 million loyalty members who visit stores more, spend more, and are more receptive to marketing messages,” the team said.

The ‘Stronger Together’ theme was demonstrated through their appeal for brand advocacy from the room, a request to embrace change and to rally around the national marketing initiatives.

 

Growth opportunities

Moving together as a united team for common growth is the best way for all IHG members to achieve a return on their investment, IHG’s General Manager of Sales and Operations Karen Fahey said during the business sessions.

Presenting several areas of current growth within the network, Ms Fahey said that in the past nine months alone, IHG has worked with the group to develop four new brownfield sites.

Investment in existing stores is also strong with IHG’s Sapphire store upgrade program generating a 24 per cent scan growth on average and IHG celebrated the 200th Sapphire store development in Western Australia this last year.

“With a goal of 400 Mitre 10 stores of which 300 will be Sapphired, IHG’s two-brand strategy is also powering on with 58 Thrifty-Link and True Value stores moving to Mitre 10 and Home Hardware so far.”

“IHG and its members are now confidently exploring locations for new store builds, or the expansion of existing offers. There is potentially $3 billion of retail sales, identifiable through demographic, competitor and census data to give members confidence that growth is achievable. I am actively on the hunt for new members to join this amazing industry and utilise our support to put new square metres on the ground,” Ms Fahey said.

Ms Fahey encouraged the members in the room to embrace the tools within the IHG model that were specifically designed for their benefit, be they digital solutions like the store dashboard or loyalty, or the electronic product guide (EPG) which could vastly assist their margin management.

 

IHG’s Awards of Excellence acknowledges the best of the best

The 2023 IHG Awards of Excellence kicked off with a bang as well-known Australian singer, Paulini, belted out a Tina Turner classic to a packed room of 1000 dinner delegates. Master of Ceremonies for the evening, TV celebrity Catrina Rowntree, along with actor and singer Tim Campbell, presented the much-anticipated awards.  

 

SUPPLIER AWARDS

2023 FINISH & EXTERIOR SUPPLIER OF THE YEAR – Dulux Australia (Recipients for the second consecutive year)

Dulux representative Natalie Vaughan thanked everyone who voted for Dulux and put their trust in the team. 

“We wanted to acknowledge that we have worked with IHG for a long time and we have created a long-term relationship with all of you and we really appreciate that. I also want to acknowledge the amazing Dulux team who have done an outstanding job.”

 

2023 BUILD SUPPLIER OF THE YEAR – Hume Doors & Timber

Patrick Antoine of Hume Doors & Timber said, “Hume Doors & Timber have been with the IHG group for a very long time, and thank you to all of my brothers and sisters at Hume for all that you do. We work very hard and awards like this mean so much to us.”

 

2023 FIX & FITOUT SUPPLIER OF THE YEAR – Makita Australia (Recipients for the second consecutive year)

Stuart Willey from Makita Australia said it was truly a great honour to receive the award.

“From the member support to the hard work from our teams, we greatly appreciate the award. We have also had an incredible time meeting a lot of new members this week which has been great.”

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

2023 Paul Murphy ‘MIGHTY HELPFUL’ SERVICE AWARD – Laurence Moidin – Sunshine Mitre 10 Bundaberg

Upon receiving the ‘Mighty Helpful’ award, Lawrence said he treats the store as if it was his own and he has the utmost respect for the Sunshine team because they took a chance on him to be a part of the team.

“I moved to Sydney as a rep with no knowledge of hardware. I just worked hard and it has been an awesome ride. It is such a privilege and a massive honour to work there. I want to thank the Sunshine team for taking me on and giving me their support and the leadership skills that I have. I just love what I do,” Lawrence said.

 

2023 BLUE BLOOD AWARD – Roger Cook

Upon presenting the Blueblood Award, Ms Welsh said the recipient’s qualities include being unbelievably creative, and always seeing a way through. 

“Our slogan ‘independence is worth fighting for’ is there to describe this individual’s approach every day. Super intelligent, humble, never without a smile, and working insane hours because they care about what they do,” she said.

Upon receiving the award Roger said the IHG team always took on board his ideas and what he had to say. “I am not sure I am in this league (Blue Blood) but thank you very much,” he said.

 

2023 CEO RECOGNITION AWARD – Peter Womersley of Womersley’s Mitre 10

Upon presenting the CEO Recognition Award Ms Welsh said this year’s recipient is extremely considerate in their approach, putting people above profit every time and have a brilliant knack for asking the right questions at critical times. 

Peter Womersley’s brother Stuart received the award on behalf of Peter who said he was thrilled to work with and communicate with the executive team. “The difference in the business over the last 10 to 12 years is nothing short of amazing,” Stuart said.

STORE AWARDS 

2023 VILLAGE OF THE YEAR – Northern Independents from New South Wales (Recipients for the second consecutive year)

Business Development Manager Chantelle Jackson said Northern Independents were so grateful to be recognised again for their dedication, passion, collaboration and determination to be number one.  

“The collaboration of the members and the managers is evident who continue to support each other through hub and spoke, village marketing meetings and fundraising events, raising over $26,000 in fundraising events in the past year,” she said.

 

2023 CONVENIENCE STORE OF THE YEAR – Kootingal True Value Hardware – Steve and Paul Summers

Kootingal True Value Hardware was recognised for its high standards, and its investment over the past 12 months to increase the range seeing a 30 per cent growth in sales.

BDM Chantelle Jackson received the award on Steve and Paul’s behalf, saying the store’s offer is incredible, along with outstanding service that has a focus on supporting their local community.

 

2023 SMALL STORE OF THE YEAR – Dunsborough Mitre 10 – Trent and Kristin Wilson

After the store caught fire from a printer in 2020, Dunsborough Mitre 10 was revived through the Sapphire program and has since experienced double-digit growth. The store champions its staff in-store and has achieved a 100 per cent e-learning completion rate and is truly admirable in retail resilience.

Store owner Trent said, “Back in 2020 we had a fire that ruined the store and wiped us out for eight months of the trading year. In the rebuild, we went to Sapphire and we have since achieved a 30 – 40 per cent growth in turnover. I would like to thank our part-time staff, and they are all retirees and they love it. This award just proves to us that we are heading in the right direction.”

 

2023 HOME HARDWARE STORE OF THE YEAR  – Home Timber & Hardware Biloela – Tim Kessler and Ken Hutton

Tim said, “When people asked us if we thought we would receive this award I told them we did not have a chance. The ‘Stronger Together’ theme at our conference is something we embrace in our business. Our team is amazing and together we make this happen. IHG make us who we are today and we are the best group in Australia. 

 

2023 MEDIUM STORE OF THE YEAR – Wills & Co Mitre 10 Waikerie – Michael and Sharee Wills

Michael said all the other nominees were just as deserving. “Thank you to IHG for the  support we have had on a national and state level since we started our Sapphire development five years ago, it has been incredible. Thank you to our staff, especially those who teach other staff and step up with extra responsibility. Thank you to our suppliers and every minute you spend with us is invaluable.”

 

2023 GARDEN CENTRE OF THE YEAR – Benalla Mitre 10 – Brad Collett and Stacey Stylianou

Speaking on behalf of owner Gary Woodruff, Brad said he was truly humbled to accept this award. 

“There is a little garden team two and a half hours north-east of Melbourne who will be ecstatic tomorrow. This year we put on an extra 400 square metres of live plants, garden and outdoor furniture and some kid’s stuff which I call the ‘Benella creche’ and it has worked really well.”

 

2023 TRADE CENTRE OF THE YEAR – Barossa Mitre 10 – Barossa Co-op – Craig Dodman

Craig said he did not see this award coming at all. “The team will be very excited tomorrow and I could not be prouder of them all. The only time you hear the word Barossa at awards is when you are serving wine. Thank you to the IHG team – think back in 2010 when we were all in a bit of disarray and Mark Laidlaw built this culture that we have today and we have gone from strength to strength – I am very proud to be a part of it.”

 

2023 LARGE STORE OF THE YEAR – Permewans Mitre 10 – Paul & Denise Bast

Store Owner Paul said he felt like he had trained and backed the winner of the Melbourne Cup by winning this award. 

“It has been a journey – 22 years ago we purchased a run-down hardware store in Hamilton. We started renovating and have not stopped. IHG backed us to become a Mitre 10 store and the store has changed dramatically over the years and I still feel it is not at its full potential. Thank you to the team at home who care about the customer who walks through the door – they keep our doors open.”

 

2023 HALL OF FAME – Barry Rosenberg – Provans Mitre 10

Barry Rosenberg is the head of Provans Mitre 10 which has thrived within the same family for three generations under both the Mitre 10 and Home Timber & Hardware brands. 

Barry was joined on stage with wife of 53 years Sarah, son Jarrod, daughters Marnie and Emma – and his grandchildren. Jarrod and Marnie also work in the store full-time.

“Provans was established in 1903 as D. Provans and Sons Timber Merchants. David Provans left a legacy of a trusted name in the industry. Barry’s father bought the business in 1966 and asked his 19-year-old son, Barry, if he would like to run a timber yard. The rest is history,” Marnie said.

As the business moved from being a joinery to a timber and hardware merchant, Barry became well-known for his ability to build strong relationships with suppliers and customers. These relationships have kept the business in good stead throughout so many challenges and will continue to for many years to come.