Stock, service and support

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Store: Jarretts Hardware
Principals: Bulpitt and Watson families
Group: John Danks & Son

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How do you more than double your turnover in just two years? Well, according to the owners of Jarretts Hardware in SA, it all boils down to “that intangible thing called service”.

Jarretts Hardware, situated in the small seaside town of Ardrossan on the York Peninsula, is quickly gaining an industry-wide reputation for its intelligent, hard-working approach to business. Owners Phil and Carol Bulpitt, and Scott and Linda Watson, are couples in their mid-30s who took over Jarretts Hardware in June 2000.

Jarretts Hardware can be found in Ardrossan on the York Peninsula

It was a “return home” for Phil and Scott, both of whom were raised in the town before stretching their wings as late teenagers and heading for Adelaide. The two men worked as cabinet makers before going their separate ways, with Phil working in insurance/finance at General Electric and Scott spending time in Darwin in the fishing industry. Their experiences and those of their wives – Carol has a background in office management and Linda is familiar with accounting and administration – offered the perfect grounding for hardware retailing.

Nowadays, back in the familiar surroundings of their youth, they are overseers of a thriving business that serves as a shining light in the ranks of stores belonging to the Danks group.

According to Phil, Jarrett’s Hardware was established in 1918 by A.J. Jarrett, and the business harnessed a loyal clientele in the town over several generations. When Phil, Scott and their wives bought the business it had been run by the same owner for 35 years, and was trading with the solid performance figures one would expect from such an elder statesman of the town’s retail community.

The first thing the two couples did was to minimise their overdraft commitments by putting all their assets into the ownership of the business. It was a risky decision, but it forced the ambitious foursome to work hard seven days a week and implement a policy of delivering top-quality service at all costs. Using Phil’s financial acumen, combined with his and Scott’s woodworking and trade knowledge, they quickly discovered they could run a high-quality business within the framework of a long term, 20-year business plan. In fact, the provisional aim of “working for the business” for the first five years may prove to have been overly cautious, given the tremendous rates of growth in just two years.

Increase stock
“One of the first things we did was increase stock,” says Phil. “You can’t sell it if you haven’t got it. Then we decided it was time to do some renovations.” The young owners installed a Drive-Thru service to the 1,000 square-metre store, and also increased functional floor space with an extension to the rear.

All work took place while the premises remained open seven days a week, with the two couples doing much of the work themselves. While the extension is modern and practical, Phil says care was taken to retain the store’s heritage, which includes pressed metal ceilings, timber flooring and traditional counters.

Owners of Jarretts Hardware (l-r): Scott Wilson, Carol Bulpitt, Linda Watson and Phil Bulpitt

Rather than fighting the prevailing style of the business, Phil says a lot of effort was expended protecting the traditionalism of the layout while seamlessly implementing the modern touches customers demand. These innovations have included bright store lighting, low-level shelving and wide open floor plans.

The result is a store that promotes strong sales in building supplies, general hardware, garden & plants (including landscaping), fishing and camping, and paint. All stock is well turned due to utilisation of the Danks RMS system. “The diversity of departments within the business enables all of them to produce strong sales based generally on seasonality,” says Phil. “Overall, we try to assess how things are going according to the following general criteria: turnover, customer numbers, customer feedback – and how we are feeling. We’re doing fine according to all of the above.”

In attempting to explain the massive 100% rise in turnover since 2000, Phil says it’s necessary to consider a range of factors, including: a doubling of stock on display, implementation of a Drive-Thru service, expanded floor space, willing customer acceptance of “local people” as new store owners, the creation of “events worthy of promotion rather than just promoting events”, strong support from Danks & Son, and the introduction of a green life department.

“But by far it all comes down to that intangible thing called service,” says Phil. “It’s very hard to quantify, but it’s also very real. If you can provide an informed and knowledgeable service, you’re halfway there. And you can’t underestimate the importance of having a welcoming, happy and enjoyable environment.”

The next challenge for the business, he explains, will be to implement new POS computer systems that will save time on inventory assessment and ordering tasks. “It’s been a good thing taking care of all that to date because you get a hands-on feel for every aspect of the business, he says, “but we are now concentrating on the process of selecting a complete IT system that can assist us with the expansion of our business. The John Danks IT system called DART is the one we are interested in assessing.”

You can’t underestimate the importance of having a welcoming, happy and enjoyable environment, according to Phil Bulpitt

The future, as Phil suggests, is rosy provided the store can maintain its energy levels and clear vision of how to satisfy customers without cutting corners. As the store grows, long-term challenges are likely to include employing qualified staff in a rural town, and perhaps increasing trade custom from current levels of 15% (compared to local consumers 55%, tourists and holidaymakers 30%).

“For the time being, we are more than happy with the way things are going,” says Phil. “We have a great relationship with the reps who keep us informed about the wider industry, and our customers like the type of service we provide.”

Jarretts Hardware was a finalist last year in the Hardware Association of South Australia awards for the under 1,000 square metre Store of the Year category.

Story by John Power