One store – one thousand owners

Western Australians are continually blazing new trails. Call them mavericks, experimentalists or daredevils – they take ferocious delight when their successful innovations attract national envy and admiration…

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Store: BKW Co-operative
Principals: Local Community
Groups: CPS
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BKW Co-operative in Katanning, Western Australia, could not exist in the Eastern States. With more than 1,000 equal financial stakeholders and a single retail outlet of 810 square metres, such a business – if transposed to Melbourne or Sydney – would probably be bought out, broken up through internal squabbling or sold off to make way for a housing complex.

BKW Co-operative has an enormous street entrance for its loading and unloading area

Out west, by contrast, the co-operative has flourished in Katanning, 280kms south-east of Perth, for 81 years. The co-op comprises a Makit Hardware outlet and other businesses including a liquor store, supermarket, giftware store, etc, all of which are thriving under local community ownership and patronage.

“Our store is ‘community owned’ by our ‘members’ or shareholders, which total upwards of 1,000 people,” says Ashley Brokenshire, hardware division manager. “As a co-operative we have a number of divisions in our company which include our hardware complex, supermarket, clothing outlet, etc. All stakeholders become a member with a one-off payment of $50, and they receive vouchers at the end of the year as their ‘dividend’ in accordance with how much they spend at the complex.

“There is an annual general meeting which is open to all members, and we take on new members as people move into the town (pop. 4,700) or existing residents take up the offer. If you spent $2,000 in the complex in a year you would get your $50 back in the form of a voucher at the end of that year. We have a board of directors that is answerable to all members, but the day-to-day activities are taken care of by store management. It’s a programme run by the community for the community, and it works very well.”

About a year ago the hardware outlet was enhanced with a new warehouse facility, greatly improving its stock capacity and presentation and earning it the title of CPS Country Store of the Year 2001-02.

(l&r) Local contractor Adam Pawlowski with Echo’s Marty Chappell

Being in the heart of the wheat belt, there is a strong demand for DIY home renovation materials and recreational goods. “Lifestyle products, the advent of shows such asBetter Homes and Gardens, Ground Forceand others have resulted in huge growth in the DIY home renovation/improvement market, plus we have very strong sales in recreational products such as camping and fishing,” says Brokenshire.

“There are a number of reasons why these sell so well. The vast array of information available to consumers via the TV, magazines, Internet, etc, educates customers and enables the average person to carry out a variety of home improvements easily with impressive results. Consumers also get great satisfaction renovating and improving their own homes, and enjoy the benefits to their living environment.”

Recreation goods are also big on the agenda. According to Brokenshire, heading for the outdoors is a popular pastime, and more and more people are choosing to have a family camping holiday instead of heading overseas. They use the hardware store for their general holiday supplies.

Group “essential”
Notwithstanding the loyal custom of its financial stakeholders, Brokenshire says the store owes much of its current success to the CPS group. “We operate as part of the CPS group with our franchise banner Makit Hardware,” he says.

Makit store manager, Ashley Brokenshire stands by one of the merchandised displays in the store

“Being part of a group today in hardware is essential, although I don’t believe that your group alone can make your business a success; you need the right ingredients in your store already such as customer service and back up; friendly, positive staff and an inviting, bright, well presented store.” In addition, the store advertises on radio, releases extensive catalogues and produces its own monthly newsletter accompanying accounts.

The hardware store now has six full-time and three casual employees out of a total co-op staff of 45-50, all of whom recognise their role as contributors to the overall well-being of the community.

“We exist simply by the goodness of our members and the public’s support and choice to shop with us, and we strive extremely hard to deliver what they expect of us and satisfy their needs every day,” explains Brokenshire, adding that growth is part of their master plan. “Our expansion plans include a new garden centre due for construction early in 2003, and continued range expansion in our hardware operation to strengthen the offer to our members and customers. We want to be ‘the’ one-stop shop in the Great Southern of WA.”

Part of that growth involves continually monitoring customers’ needs and adapting the business and range to keep pace with their expectations. The store is continually evolving.

“The face of retailing is continually changing and our challenge is to keep pace with change,”The says. “The traditional hardware store as we know it has run its race, and we need to embrace diversity in order to continue to grow. We need to continually review what products are out there and keep in touch with the changing tastes of consumers.

“Being a community owned store we are different from our competitors in that all the profits generated from our store are channelled back into the local community and economy, and are not retained by a single owner.”

Story by John Power