Small size equals big success

Grange Road Paint & Hardware is thriving thanks to good old-fashioned customer service, attention to detail and refined product knowledge—strengths that keep the clients coming back again and again…

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Store: Grange Road Paint & Hardware
Proprietors: Alan and Rae Piggott
Group: Key Hardware Group
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It’s not hard to understand why Grange Road Paint & Hardware in Queensland is a successful small business. When asked to explain what differentiates their hardware store from other businesses, proprietors Alan and Rae Piggott declare “Just caring about our customers.” It’s a simple philosophy that has served them well and prompted two store expansions in an environment where less thoughtful proprietors might not have remained viable.

Grange Road Paint & Hardware is in Eastern Heights is located about three kilometres east of Ipswich, not far from Brisbane. The property covers 200 square metres in floor area and gains passing trade from a small number of well-frequented neighbouring businesses.

“The store is situated in a strip of shops; there is a medical centre, chemist, take away, hairdresser and convenience store, with a service station about 200 metres down the road,” says Rae. “The area consists of mostly working-class people and pensioners.”

Grange Road Paint & Hardware is in Eastern Heights can be found about three kilometres east of Ipswich (QLD)

Alan and Rae entered the hardware trade many years ago after running a snack bar and newsagency seven days a week with their three daughters. At the time, a hardware business seemed attractive because of the relatively shorter working hours, which were typically about five and a half days per week!

“As we both had an interest in this field (hardware), it seemed a good option,” says Rae. “We wanted to spend more quality time with our children!”

Key group members
Within a short time, it became obvious to the Piggotts that running a solo hardware enterprise outside a capital city was fraught with hardship, particularly in relation to stock orders and deliveries.

“It was difficult to purchase from individual wholesalers, and warehouses did not carry every product required to suit our needs,” says Rae. The couple’s response was to join the Key Hardware Group to facilitate ordering procedures and reinforce their marketing strategies. “Joining a group seemed an excellent way to gain access to major suppliers. The group was also a way to gain more product knowledge through more experienced members.”

The Key Hardware Group has about 60 members across Queensland and northern NSW. Members run small to medium-sized hardware stores and share the costs of catalogue production. While most supplies to date have been delivered on charge-back systems, the group is in the process of setting up a central warehouse in Brisbane to stock an extensive product range for members. It is hoped that, once construction is complete, Alan and Rae will be able to purchase most of their stock through this central point. The cost of the facility will be borne by members with the aid of an existing small kitty of funds.

Owners of Grange Road Paint & Hardware, Rae and Alan Piggott

However, in keeping with their ideas of catering to the specific needs of local markets, Alan and Rae also intend to make selective purchases through mainstream suppliers like John Danks & Son even after the new warehouse is operational. Additional items will be sourced from local manufacturers and suppliers according to the changing popularity of brands and seasonal demand.

The store currently stocks about 7,000 lines of items. The success of the store, which has changed hands several times in its 36-year history, is all the more creditable given that few customers are bulk trade buyers. “Our customers are all consumers,” says Rae. “We do not have trade persons except in their emergencies.”

Access to Grange Road Paint & Hardware is from both the front and rear of the premises, with parking facilities restricted to on-street parking bays. Given the consumer bias of the clientele and access conditions, the Piggotts have stocked their store to service the needs of individual DIYers and residents with domestic hardware needs.

Gardening comes first
“Our gardening products are gradually gaining prominence over paint, which used to be our main selling product,” says Rae. “General hardware would then be a close second. We have an extensive range of garden items without a great deal of competition in the area.”

Like many regional stores, solid trading figures are not necessarily dependent on the latest computer technologies and accounting systems. The Piggotts have used the same computer package (“The Retailer”) since 1987—and they are in no mood to replace their functional and practical system with more up-to-date software.

Success, it seems clear, has come from other more immediate measures, namely good service, group advertising and responsiveness to customer needs. As proprietors and managers of the store—with the help of daughter Raewyn five mornings per week—there are no large turnovers of staff to detract from the family’s high level of expertise and local knowledge.

Gardening products have a prominent position in the store

“We advertise in the local newspapers and the group produces three catalogues per year,” says Rae, indicating that word of mouth and repeat custom form the cornerstones of the business.

The size and position of the store are the only true obstacles to growth. “We would be glad of more space, but we have expanded twice in the time we have been here and there is no more space available,” she says.

“Our challenges in the future are to be able to be competitive in the marketplace and increase our customer numbers by being helpful, cheerful and polite,” says Rae. “This is what makes us different.”

Written by John Power