Howard Springs Into Life
Store: Howard Springs Mitre 10 Handy
Owners: Daryl Gibbons and Laurie Harris
Group: Mitre 10
A conversion to the Handy format has given a Northern Territory retailer a new lease of life…
Daryl Gibbons is the sort of hardware retailer that every ‘grey nomad’ touring the Top End, would like to meet. Daryl, who co-owns and manages Howard Springs Mitre 10 Handy in the Northern Territory, is always happy to lend a helping hand to a tourist in distress.
“We have a lot of tourists up here and they often need a bit of a hand,” said Daryl, aka ‘Gibbo’. “Sometimes they might need a bit of timber to fix something and if they don’t have any tools, we’ll lend them a screw driver or whatever they need.”
Howard Springs, a popular destination for a variety of visitors, is a rural area 30 kms south of Darwin. The major attraction is the Howard Springs Nature Reserve, which features picnic areas, walking tracks and a swimming area. The Reserve was established during World War II as a rest and recreation camp for servicemen from Australia and the United States. A weir was built in 1944 by the Royal Australian Engineers to improve the swimming hole. In 1957, Howard Springs became the Northern Territory’s first Reserve under the NT Reserves Board, now the Parks and Wildlife Commission. The area is home to a wide variety of birdlife and the natural springs (which the town was named after) are chock full of barramundi. Another attraction for tourists is the Hunting Reserve where it is permitted to hunt ducks and wild pigs. Throw fantastic fishing on the Howard River into the mix, and it’s not surprising that the caravan park is booked out all year round.
Although tourism is a key industry in Howard Springs, it is not the major source of revenue for Daryl and his business partner, Laurie Harris, who have owned the store for six years. Due to its close proximity to Darwin, the area (population 20,000) has developed into something of a rural ‘satellite suburb’ with the average house block being over 2 hectares in size. The majority of the store’s customers are DIYers, with approximately 25% in trade. “It’s a unique area,” said Daryl. “Because of the large blocks we sell a huge amount of irrigation equipment and garden products, everything from black poly and fittings to sprinklers.” Daryl also operates a Stihl dealership from the store.
The 600 sq m store has recently been converted to a Mitre 10 Handy format and Daryl is thrilled with the results, saying the business has already been revitalised. “The store is now brighter, more welcoming and better laid out for customers to find all their hardware needs,” said “Our customers have commented that the new shelving and display areas showcase our hardware range more effectively, allowing them to see everything on offer at a glance.” Features of the store include a rejuvenated irrigation department and tailor designed hardware department with wide isles and open shelving for an easier and more enjoyable shopping experience. They also have a large timber yard and nursery.
Daryl faces some significant competition with hardware stores in nearby Humpty Doo and Palmerston and a Bunnings Warehouse in Palmerston which opened a year ago. “When Bunnings first opened, it did slow us down for about a month, but we’re back on track now,” he said. Daryl and his staff of seven pride themselves on their product knowledge and the quality of their customer service. “We offer a very personal service to our customers and there is a lot of know-how within the staff,” he said. “We’re a very friendly bunch here!” Daryl himself is a goldmine of information, having grown up working in his father’s hardware store in Batlow in the Snowy Mountains region of NSW. He also worked in the Howard Springs store for eight years before buying out the original owner.
A couple of days before the Hardware Journal spoke to Daryl, he and his team had been busy shooting television and radio commercials for the local channels. “With the new store format, we thought it was a good idea to reinforce to the wider community what we can offer,” said Daryl. “We aim to be the hub for hardware in this region.”
The relative isolation of the Top End and the great distance from the major distribution centres in NSW and Victoria does pose problems for all retailers. Daryl jokes that ‘NT’ stands for ‘not today, not tomorrow’! “Getting stock can be a problem, you really have to think ahead in the territory,” said Daryl. “Most people understand that if you don’t have something today, you’re not likely to have it the next day either.” According to Daryl, the freight situation is gradually improving, as is the rate of service by the suppliers’ representatives. “The freight system is getting better, it used to be at least eight days before we received stock, now it’s less than a week, sometimes even less than that if it’s coming from Adelaide or Brisbane.”