Retail Focus: Future Bright at Sunlite

A boutique-style Thrifty-Link store in the heart of Sydney’s CBD is doing a roaring trade. Pauline Hoogen reports…

Store: Sunlite City Thrifty-Link
Owners: Czeiger Family
Group: John Danks
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Picture some of the most expensive and exclusive retail real estate in Australia and you might expect to find exclusive, haute couture stores such as Chanel, Gucci or Prada or luxury hotels for the rich and famous such as the Hilton, the Sheraton or the Intercontinental. And you would be right, all of these can be found in Sydney’s CBD. But would you expect to find a couple of humble hardware stores in prime locations near the renowned shopping precincts of Martin Place and the QVB?

Well, there is nothing humble about Sunlite City Hardware. Dynamic, energised, electrified and just plain ‘WOW’ is a more apt description. After a brief interlude with the man at the helm, Sunlite’s Managing Director, 28 year old Steven Czeiger, you soon understand why Sunlite City Hardware is the most successful hardware business in Sydney’s CBD.

Trading under the Thrifty-Link banner, Sunlite City Hardware has a store in Pitt Street, close to Martin Place and one at the Town Hall end of York Street, close to the Queen Victoria Buildings. The York Street store opened in 1995 with the Pitt Street store following in 2000.The family business has, however, been trading for 20 years, opening its other location as an electrical wholesaler in Bondi Junction in 1986. The business was started by Steven’s father, Fedor, who has essentially now retired from this business, leaving it in Steve’s very capable hands. After acquiring business and marketing qualifications, working for a stint in London and gaining further experience in marketing communication roles with a telecommunications giant back home in Sydney, Steven took up his role as Managing Director of Sunlite in January, 2004.

People Power
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Much like McDonald’s is in the business of real estate not fast food, Sunlite is in the business of people not hardware. In just under three years since assuming control of the business, Steven has taken Sunlite to an enviable position and the secret to his success sits with his ‘dream team’ and the ‘wow’ customer service they deliver to Sunlite’s customers. Make no mistake, Steven is passionate about hardware and, in fact, he wants to totally revolutionise the hardware industry in Australia. However, Steven’s real passion is people. He is fascinated by human behaviour and is about to receive accreditation as a ‘life coach’ – working with people to help them reach their full potential. “It is all about relationship building, with our suppliers, out customers and our staff. We are not interested in employing anyone who simply wants a job. We are offering people the chance to have a career. All our employees have been hand picked by me and they all study to obtain a Certificate in Retail,” Steven explained.

‘A’ for Attitude
“To have a cohesive team that thrives on adrenalin and shares a passion for going that extra mile for customers, you need to employ the right kind of people. I think we have achieved that with what I consider to be our ‘dream team’,” enthused Steven. That is not to say he has employed a bunch of clones or young, go-getting yes people. “It has everything to do with attitude and nothing to do with age, experience or appearance. If I had two candidates for a position and one had experience in hardware but the other had the right attitude, they would get the job every time. You can learn hardware but that isn’t much good if you are not on board with our focus on providing ‘wow’ customer service”, he added. One such member of the dream team is Terry Papaioannou, commonly referred to as ‘Uncle Terry’. He joined the Pitt Street team only two years ago, but had previously been working in the family’s electrical business. “Terry is on the shady side of 60 – certainly no spring chicken – and he is the perfect fit for our team because he is right behind our vision,” Steven added.

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Another coup for the business was when David Voulgaris joined in April, 2005, as the Manager of both stores. Prior to joining, David ran the Mittagong Home Hardware store, voted the most successful store in the group. Sunlite City Hardware has a relatively small but extremely focused staff of three in the York Street store and seven in the Pitt Street store. As owner and MD, one of Steven’s pet hates is being called ‘boss’. “My first boss is my customer and my next boss is my staff. David and I work closely together in the management of the stores but every member of the team is empowered to contribute ideas and suggestions. We have a fantastic staff retention rate and plenty of people knocking on our door wanting to join,” said Steven.

So, how exactly is this dynamo going to turn the industry on its head? “Hardware has a fairly dull reputation and we are always looking at ways to push the envelope and make shopping in our stores not simply a total shopping experience, but a lot of fun as well,” said Steven. And they accomplish this by doing small things such as providing lollies on the counters for customers and having music playing in the store, to more large-scale, innovative promotions. They’ve used scantily clad girls wearing tool belts promoting the stores and promotions such as offering free key cutting to attract customers. One of the store’s most successful innovations, and one that has suppliers clambering to get involved, is their knock out windows that have been hugely successful for them. Whether it is funky mannequins dressed in different hardware settings or a guy dressed up barbequing to promote summer products, it is traffic stopping stuff. But the huge plasma screen really draws a crowd. Suppliers take it in turn to promote their products and customers just love it.

Quick and Easy
Sunlite City Hardware is like a 7-11 supermarket for hardware. Their stores are well-lit, well laid out, well stocked and maintained and provide their customers with a fantastic shopping experience. “Our customers are either time-poor, white collar workers who don’t want to waste their precious weekends trawling around a huge warehouse looking for what they need. They want to grab what they need in their lunch breaks,” explained Steven. “Or they are maintenance people working in hi-rise office buildings or hotels where occupancy rates are critical to their success. If they need a hook on the door or a light globe replaced to allow them to fill a room, they want it now and not only will they’ll find it at our store, they’ll come back again and again, because of our ‘wow’ service.”

The store’s catch cry says it all: ‘the future is bright at Sunlite’.