The Sunny Side of the Street

Shane Dennington, proprietor of Charles Street Hardware in Launceston (Tas), reckons he’s living proof that you don’t have to be an expert in hardware to run a successful store. Eight years ago, Shane purchased the 350 sq m store, which is in the heart of Launceston’s CBD, after 20 years as a toys and games wholesaler and a brief stint running a retail discount store. Back then, there were four hardware stores in central Launceston, now Charles Street is the only one. “When we started eight years ago, we didn’t have any pre-conceived ideas about hardware,” said Shane. “In the years since, we’ve learnt, adapted and got better at it. In a way, we have let our customers tell us what they want.” Being located on the main street is a great advantage, Shane admits. “We have constant traffic passing by which is a bonus,” said Shane. “We pay a premium for where we are but it’s worth it.” They use their prime location to great effect, with eye-catching displays outside the front of the store. “We’re very big on displays here,” said Shane with a laugh. “For example, many Tasmanians have vegetable gardens, so have always have attractive racks of seeds, seedlings and pots out the front.” Charles Street Hardware is a bit different from the average hardware retail operation in that they are purely retail, with no trade clientele at all. In fact, Shane describes the store as “convenience hardware.” “We don’t run accounts and we have no trade customers at all,” he said. “The bulk of products we sell are small items that the average person or DIYer uses all the time – things such as sand paper, fuse wire, plugs, nails and adhesives. “We have a lot of regular clients, young guys who work in town, a lot of pensioners, a lot of women and couples doing renovations. We also do free deliveries which many of our customers find a very helpful service. Our customer service is something we all pride ourselves on.”

Another success story for Charles Street, which has three full-time staff, is the partnership developed with power tool company, GMC. They sell the mid-range of GMC tools and turn over approximately $250,000 of products annually, making them one of GMC’s most successful accounts in the country. “We brand ourselves as a GMC store,” said Shane. “And whenever we advertise power tools we get a great reaction. Power tools seem to be a great incentive for getting people into the store in the first place.” Mindful of the major interest in fishing, in that region of Tasmania, in August last year, Shane opened a fishing tackle department, called ‘Downtown Tackle’ which occupies about 100 sq m of the store. “There are so many places to fish around here – the Tamar River, the Lakes and the east coast,” said Shane. “We get a lot of blokes who go fishing after work here, so it’s convenient for them.” The store faces competition from other larger hardware stores in greater Launceston, including a Bunnings Warehouse a few kilometres away, but Shane says they are more than holding their own. “When Bunnings opened here four years ago, it put us on the back foot for a while but we recovered,” he said. “We get a lot of comments from our customers, saying our prices are just as good as the major stores.” Charles Street was one of the first Tasmanian stores to join HBT and according to Shane, it has been an extremely beneficial decision. “Before joining HBT, the biggest challenge we faced was being overcharged by suppliers and not enough contact from the reps,” said Shane. “When we joined HBT, representation improved and pricing got better as we were able to get competitive deals from HBT’s preferred suppliers. “And the great thing about HBT is that they don’t tell you how to run your business and you are not forced to use catalogues.”