Taking service to a new level

We’ve all heard the talk about offering “top-quality service” — but G. Gay & Co. in Ballarat, Victoria, is actually doing something about it…

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Store: G. Gay & Co, Timber Hardware & Building Centre
Principals: Gay family
Group: John Danks & Son

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There is much more to garnering a loyal clientele than simply saying hello to customers or recommending a particular brand of product. True service delivery requires effort, a little lateral thought and a precise understanding of what customers are thinking.

The business was enhanced with the second store a decade ago

At G. Gay & Co’s two Home Hardware outlets in Ballarat, about an hour’s drive west of Melbourne, local residents are being treated to some innovative and inspiring assistance from store owners Ross and David Gay and their father Jim (now semi-retired).

About six years ago the business began hosting “Trade Nights” to showcase new products, user tips and other industry innovations to local trade customers. Now held as annual events, the shows attract about 200 people and benefit from the support of suppliers and industry professionals. Not only are rural tradespeople provided with practical insights into new trends and product applications, but the business is able to promote new product lines in front of a grateful and informal gathering.

In-store tool ranges are comprehensive

In addition, “Ladies Nights” have been attracting similar crowds for the past two years, with G. Gay & Co offering local women instruction on jobs like plastering, changing washers, operating power tools and using cordless screw guns. The events are hands-on evenings that create a whole new client base of enthusiastic and savvy DIYers.

David Gay stands in the timber yard

Who else might benefit from such nights? Architects and planners, of course. Every so often, G. Gay & Co sponsors a dinner and product demonstration night for the benefit of local professionals whose initial designs can dictate final choices of building materials. The more these people know about new releases, the more options they have at the design stages to use advanced materials available from G. Gay & Co hardware stores. “We don’t hold these specialist Architects Nights every year, but we’re looking at putting on another one soon,” says Ross, who once again looks forward to inviting suppliers to the event.

These and other intelligent ventures, including offers of support to community programs and sporting organisations, have helped transform the business into a local and valued institution. Such initiatives are refreshing, particularly in light of the long history of the fourth-generation enterprise.

Four generations
“The business was started by Godfrey Gay in 1918, and he was succeeded by his son Eddy (Edwin) and then our father Jim,” says Ross. “Godfrey was a miner who started the business later in his working life, selling second-hand timber from the mines and old machinery.”

For decades the business traded mostly timber and building materials, but the firm diversified into more traditional hardware lines with the opening of its second store in the town in the early 1990s.

Ross Gay (left) with weekend manager, Les Burton

Both the original and newer stores rely heavily on trade customers (70% and 60% respectively), but consumer clients are being attracted to the stores through initiatives like the Ladies Nights mentioned above. At this stage the main categories include builders’ hardware, power tools and paint, with the biggest-selling items being pine timber, F17 hardwood and James Hardie products.

In addition to offering outstanding customer service, Ross says media and group promotions, as well as high-powered staff, are vital to success. “The Home group’s advertising campaign allows us to get our store concept to our customer base by catalogues as well as TV advertising,” he explains.

“The concepts used in Home’s advertising, with the turquoise colour and the Rusty and Sandy dogs, have been a great success. The dogs are popular among the children using our stores, and we hope that goes some way in securing our next generation of customers!”

The garden centre is well presented and neat

The Danks merchandising department is also helping to increase the stores’ plumbing range to capitalise on the latest Plumbworks releases, and façade exteriors are being repainted under the Project Orange scheme to enliven the existing colour scheme.

Even though the stores are part of the civic life of the town, Ross says he and his 52 staff (at both stores) are always mindful of competition from larger corporate stores. Keeping abreast of industry changes, therefore, is fundamental to the business ethic.

“We are always training our staff — whose strengths underpin the whole business — so we can offer the level of service demanded by our customers,” he says. “To this end we need to thank all our suppliers who are so generous in their assistance and product training. We pride ourselves on the quality of our product mix, and we look for quality products to back up our staff expertise and competitive pricing.”

Story by John Power