“Small” is no trouble for Harry!

Pooles Hardware & Paint — with just 1,800 square feet of space — contradicts the theory that “bigger is better”…and the owners wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Store: Pooles Hardware & Paint
Owners: Harry Vandenberg & Sons
Group: Thrifty Link, John Danks & Sons

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The problem with theories is that there are always exceptions to the rule. Pooles Hardware & Paint in Dee Why, a northern suburb of Sydney, doesn’t just break the rule that “bigger is better” — it shatters it!

Pooles Hardware & Paint on Pittwater Road in Dee Why (NSW)

This tiny store, with its corner frontage, lack of on-site parking, minimal POS facilities and old-fashioned appearance, is doing a roaring trade by adhering to a set of basic principles: know the local market; stock the right products; offer high-quality, personal attention; and adapt to prevailing conditions.

These principles may sound like generic and common sense dicta (the kinds of precepts that marketing executives like to mention at meetings), but the implementation of such ideals requires patience, hard-earned goodwill and a lot of sacrifice.

Pooles Hardware is owned by Harry Vandenberg and his co-director sons Trent, Troy and Todd. Together they have run the 55-year-old store for 11 years, and enjoy the expert assistance of one staff member, Steve Jackson.

Many changes have been made in the store over the past 11 years to keep ranges and presentations relevant and fresh

Dee Why, according to Harry, is “densely populated with a high number of units among its residential mix, and is renowned historically for its large proportion of units.” The construction of units has been particularly rampant in recent years, and this growth has helped boost business enormously. But a growing population alone is not enough to guarantee retail success; one of the major strengths of the business is the Vandenberg family’s keen empathy with its local customer base.

Given the large number of units in the area, certain DIY projects (and customer profiles) are predictable, based on resident turnover and a large number of single-person residences. Demand is high for products involving small-scale interior refurbishments, the installation of security devices, and other simple handyman activities. Equally predictable is the necessity to offer sound, personal advice to people who might be new homeowners — because these customers rate expertise as highly as price.

“The items that are sold consistently include paint and accessories, general hardware and plumbing,” says Harry. “The high number of residential units adds to the reasoning why these items represent our core sales. A lot of the older units require the need to be maintained and refurbished, whereas the newer units need finishing touches to accommodate each individual person.”

Service beats size
Trade customers account for only around 10% of the customer mix. “There are a multitude of reasons for this result,” Harry explains. “One of the more predominant factors is the need to service the DIY market (thoroughly). The growing trend for people to take on maintenance, repairs and construction themselves has increased steadily for years, and the need to assist is this area underlines the basis behind Pooles Hardware philosophy.

The store is small, cramped (but tidy) and loaded to the rafters with stock. (See pic below too).

“By giving people personalised service and knowledge when they come to the shop, we allow them to be fully satisfied in their endeavours. The customer can receive advice to make the job at hand as painless and straightforward as possible, and this point is what sets Pooles Hardware apart from its other counterparts such as Bunnings and Mitre 10.”

The acceptance of a “community” ethos extends to relations with surrounding businesses. Even though the business is just outside the heart of the town centre, retail densities remain strong. Pooles is a part of a defined shopping precinct which forms a link along Pittwater Road, and the stores collectively offer each other several benefits including the ability to service all customers’ needs in one place.

No trouble with Harry
Many changes have been made in the store over the past 11 years to keep ranges and presentations relevant and fresh, however the limited store size restricts wholesale modifications…and that’s just fine with Harry. “There is common thought that expanding the store might bring promise, but we often think that bigger is not always better,” he explains.

“So we believe that if the business continues to serve its customers as it does now and constantly strives to perfection, then the business will continue to grow. People will change the way they think about hardware stores. No longer will people head to the mega stores for answers; instead the ‘old-fashioned hardware store’ will live again as it once did.”

He does, however, admit one concession to modernity, and that is membership of the Thrifty Link division of John Danks & Son, including use of the group’s catalogue advertising, buying strength and shared group knowledge.

Pooles makes use of five catalogue distributions per annum. “The promotions are carefully constructed through customer feedback to provide expert knowledge, and catalogues are then distributed throughout our local area,” says Harry. “In addition, 10,000 pamphlets are used to reach immediate suburbs, and local newspaper advertisements complete the message that the store in ready to help residents with all their DIY needs.

Harry laments the public “misconception that customers have about mega stores,” and insists that massive stores are not always as cheap as they appear. “If local hardware outlets such as ours, along with the help of organisations such as John Danks and Son, work together to give good service and advice at a reasonable price, then the hardware industry will become intensely user-friendly towards customers needs.”

Story by John Power