Ag and Trade sales growth shows no sign of slowing

by | Jul 15, 2022

Initially established as a farming business 20 years ago, ‘Farm and General’ primarily catered to the needs of the extensive farming community throughout Esperance, located 700 kilometers south-east of Perth. But it was not long before the owners saw a new niche within the business.

Store name: Ag and Trade 
Owners: Greg Prosser, Shane Powell and Gary Waideman.  Store Manager – John McLean
Location: Esperance, Western Australia
Building Group: Construction Supply Specialists (CSS)

After a short time, the trade area of ‘Farm and General’ began to grow exceptionally well and owners Greg Prosser, Shane Powell and Gary Waideman decided this popular component of the store should be expanded into its own establishment. ‘Ag and Trade’ was born in 2013.

Long-term Store Manager of ‘Ag and Trade’ John McLean says while the ‘Farm and General’ store already provided a small number of tools, hardware and industrial supplies, when the store owners saw how popular this space had become, they decided to separate the two businesses and establish a stand-alone hardware tool store.

The establishment of the new ‘Ag and Trade’ business was seamless as there were already two retail establishments on the site and plenty of shed space as well. This shed space also allowed for a significant amount of stock to be stored throughout the pandemic when sourcing supply became difficult. Local farmers and builders now use ‘Ag and Trade’ as their go-to store, because they know that the business has plenty of highly trained staff who also provide exceptional customer service.

“With a population of around 15,000, Esperance is well-known as one of the better farming areas in Western Australia and has an extensive cropping industry as well. We not only work closely with the local farmers but we also deal a lot with the Southern Port, particularly CBH which is a big grain exporter within the local area. We deal with many of the industrial and engineering businesses in town, while also supporting the local building industry as well,” John said.

‘Ag and Trade’ staff members Taleah La Touche, Brett Moffatt, Rod Kirkup, Nick Barrett, John Mclean, Rick Martin and Corin Smith.

Double-digit growth

Incredibly, the ‘Ag and Trade’ business has continued to grow in sales every year since it first opened, boasting double-digit sales increases for eight years. John was brought on as the store’s Agricultural Specialist just after the business opened after having worked within the agricultural sector for some time. His experience is complemented by the rest of the ‘Ag and Trade’ team who all have vast experience in the retail and trade areas.

“I did think that the sales increases year-on-year might have slowed down at some stage but we have achieved this again this year. COVID also did not slow us down at all, we just seemed to keep going at the same pace,” he said.

The high level of business growth has continued due to the exceptional customer service implemented in-store, according to John who says this aspect of the business is extremely important because word gets around fairly quickly – in a tight-knit town – if customer service is poor.

“Our main priority is to provide excellent service by greeting all customers by name and we also conduct a lot of follow-up calls on any enquiries we might have during the day. We build the business by focusing on our range which is why we substantially increased our stock range over the past few years.”

“Since COVID we have found that a lot of suppliers have not been able to supply parts to us straight away. Quite a few local suppliers have also moved their warehouses back to Melbourne or Sydney so when we order products it can take up to two to three weeks before anything arrives here. This is another reason why we believe it is so important to maintain an increased range and our stock holdings as well,” he said.

Luckily the site of ‘Ag and Trade’ and ‘Farm and General’ featured two substantial showrooms to begin with, as well as several large storage sheds at the rear of the property so there was plenty of room to hold stock. 

While it has become easier to source products since lockdowns and border closures ceased, tools still remain one of the hardest products to source, according to John, who says he now has an abundance of stock in-store and has the ability to supply, “customers with products that even the suppliers cannot supply”.

“Being 700 kilometres from Perth we are quite isolated, so the farmers, trades and the ports depend on us to have the right products in-store so they can continue operating. All of the engineering businesses that undertake steel fabrication are also very busy so they need plenty of product from us as well on a regular basis.”  

“While we do offer a huge range in-store, we have access to pretty much any part that a customer comes in for. We also build the business by always following up on customers enquiring on a product. We are more than happy to look into it and source pricing for them. Our competitors often do not have access to the suppliers that we have access to and do not have the time to track down a part which is why we always do this for the customer as well,” John said.

Being part of the CSS group for the past seven years is a substantial advantage, according to John, who says attending CSS meetings and trade shows allows the store to source most products. Having a network of CSS dealers to fall back on when sourcing products is also incredibly helpful.

Online dilemma

While expanding the store’s offer online has been a topic of discussion amongst the team, John says developing an online space is not yet a priority because he finds the majority of his customers still want to come into the store and check out new products before purchasing them.

“We sell a lot of Milwaukee and we have a vast range in-store on display. We have brought our pricing in-line with online competitors and customers know they can come into our store and we have all the tools they need in-store. We also handle all of the warranties as well.”

“We find less people are ordering on-line locally because if something goes wrong, they often need to send the product to Perth and then wait for it to come back. Locals also prefer to support local business.”

While the store’s biggest sellers are tools, it also offers an extensive range of Cigweld products. Its agricultural and safety segments are also big sellers in-store. There is a 50/50 split between servicing the agricultural and the trade/hardware/engineering business with seven staff running the ‘Ag and Trade’ and about 20 staff running ‘Farm and General’.

Looking ahead…

For now, John says he will continue to look for new suppliers and also add to the range via customer requests.

“If someone wants us to carry a product and we can see that they are going to use it all of the time then we are happy to stock it in our range. We are also looking into having an online presence but it will be more about showing customers what we have to offer rather than advertising products to purchase.”

“We still want people to come into our shop because this is the best way to ensure that they understand all of the products that we sell. Being fairly isolated we still have this advantage over stores that are located in towns that have a higher population,” John said.