Retail Focus: Central To Success

Mitre10 Home & Trade in Frankston (Vic) holds a unique position in the Mitre 10 organisation. Pauline Hoogen reports…

Source: Frankston Home & Trade
Owners: Womersley Family
Group: Mitre 10

Mitre10 Home & Trade Frankston, located in Melbourne’s bayside suburb of the same name, has a long and rich history of serving its local community and a heritage of which it is justly proud. In 1959, the business, known as Central Timber, was one of the original eight founding members of Mitre 10 and today holds the honour of being unique as it is the only one of the eight that continues to serve the same area under the same ownership.

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The business, originally a timber yard, began trading in Playne Street way back in 1922, under the ownership of Mr A. Patterson. The new business grew with hardware and fibrous plaster added in 1932 but the watershed year was 1946 when, in the aftermath of war, demand for building materials skyrocketed. Supplies were strictly controlled so the new owners, Jack and Barbara Womersley and Em and Aileen Oliver, bought interests in local timber mills to ensure they could maintain continuity of supply. With the expansion of the business came the need for more space so when a hardwood yard in Railway Parade became available, it gave timber operations a new home. In 1954, the joinery next door was purchased providing room for hardware sales and a new company, ‘Central Timber’ was formed. The 1950s and early 60s was a period of change: the Olivers retired and the Womersley family assumed ownership of the business; the joinery was closed and the interests in the mills and the fibrous plaster works were relinquished. Railway Parade became a ‘one-stop’ timber and hardware centre. Playne Street, now with larger premises through a 1957 acquisition of land next door, formerly occupied by a garage, became a dedicated hardware outlet. At around the same time as Central Timber joined the Mitre 10 group, it welcomed two new Womersley family members – Fred and Geoff. Fred had qualified as an accountant a few years earlier and Geoff had gained a diploma in building construction. Both already had several years experience in their chosen fields before returning to Frankston and joining the family business. During their long association with Mitre 10, the Womersleys have held positions on various committees and from 1963 to 1965, Jack Womersley was Chairman of the organisation.

New Beginning
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In 1973, Central Timber’s first Outdoor Centre opened on a new site in Overton Road, but by the mid-80s it was clear that the business needed a new site on the Cranbourne side of town where most new development was taking place. The current site of Frankston Mitre10 Home & Trade on Cranbourne Road, adjacent to the Karingal Hub Shopping Centre, was purchased in late 1985 and the adjacent block acquired on a long-term lease a couple of years later. The new store opened for business in July, 1990. All Central’s operations were gradually consolidated on the new site. The Overton Road Outdoor Centre closed in 1989 and in 1994, the Playne Street shop, which for years had suffered from a chronic shortage of parking, was somewhat reluctantly closed, ending 48 years of trading spanning three generations. A decade after the new store opened, the transition of management to the next generation of the Womersley family began. After 35 years of serving and managing the business, Geoff retired in 2000, handing over management of the timber and building supplies to his son Scott. Fred continues to be actively involved in the business but the firm’s operations are increasingly in the hands of his sons, Peter and Stuart, who joined the business on a full-time basis in 2000 and 2003 respectively. Naturally, as with all family businesses, the boys spent plenty of time working in the business at various times over the years. The new site allowed all of the operations to be housed in the one 5,000 sq m area and gave the Womerleys the chance to focus on taking the business forward. In 2002, the Central Timber shingle was dropped and the store underwent a Generation 21 conversion to become a Mitre 10 Home & Trade in 2003. Previously, despite its huge size, the business had been branded a mainstream Mitre 10 store.

Loyalty and Service
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As with any metropolitan hardware operation, competition is fierce. Bunnings opened a warehouse 2 kms away a year before the store underwent its conversion and because of its close proximity to a large shopping centre, to a certain extent they compete with majors such as Big W and K Mart. “Customer service is paramount to the success of any enterprise but competition is driving service out of the business,” lamented current Owner/Manager, Peter Womersley. “We have a long history of providing excellent service to our local community and we are always looking for ways in which we can improve that service and also reward our loyal customers just as we have done with our community benefit program.”

In 2002, in recognition of the support of the Frankston community and to enhance its commitment to continuing service, Mitre10 Home & Trade Frankston launched its ‘Community Benefit Program’. Through this initiative, participating groups receive a quarterly donation in proportion to the amount their members spend. “This benefits the local community and in turn allows us to reward the loyalty of our customers,” Peter said. Since its inception, the program has funnelled over $80,000 back into the community through the various participating groups.

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If service is paramount, loyalty comes a close second in importance to Peter and the store. “We value and reward our loyal customers and the success of our business depends on the quality of our loyal staff. We have an honour board with a handful of staff boasting service in excess of 20 years and a few in excess of 10 years. One of the biggest issues we face is retaining good quality people,” Peter added. With the Womersley family notching up a 49-year record-breaking association with Mitre10 and the business boasting 84 years of service to the Frankston community, the future looks bright. Peter and Stuart have been busy working on their business and on growing their families. Peter has three children – Zoe (6) Sophie (4) and Luke (3). Stuart has matched his brother’s effort with Matthew (3) Lachlan (2) and Jack (6 months). So it’s almost certain a fourth generation of the family will carry this successful family business forward for years to come.