A design destination

Direct Interiors implements a retail vision of the future. It provides massive stock levels in a setting that would put some art galleries to shame, and end users are queuing up for ideas…

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Store: Direct Interiors
Owners: MSP Group
Group: NBSG, Plumbing Plus

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First we had “big barns,” now it seems the next step in retail formats is “big galleries”! The recently opened new premises of Direct Interiors in Adelaide have more in common with an arts centre than a conventional hardware outlet. From the outside the premises are huge by any standards: 10,000m2, with 9,000m2 under cover including a 3,000m2 warehouse, a 1,500m2 showroom and other administrative zones.

The new premises of Direct Interiors were opened in Adelaide

An imposing façade features massive glass windows stretching from street level to the roofline, and the bold internal décor smacks of more bright colours than a painting by Miro. The whole precinct is easily accessible thanks to 250 on-site parking spaces.

Curved, bright, backless benches are placed in centre-room positions as though offering comfort to “visitors” rather than “shoppers,” and there is an unmistakable impression that every bathtub, shower rose and tile on display is a functional work of art.

In terms of its sheer size, huge open salons and comfort, Direct Interiors is a destination offering homebuyers, renovators and dreamers just about every conceivable idea they could require for a complete interior home refurbishment.

The “art” lies in offering clients a suggested vision of how each finished product might appear once it has been installed. A new shower screen, for instance, will probably end up in a freshly reworked bathroom, so why do some outlets have their in-store displays flanked by ugly, multi-tier walls of dusty boxes?

It makes far more sense, as Direct Interiors testifies, to place the screen in a bathroom-style alcove that highlights its qualities in proper context. Moreover, it stands to reason that clients will be more comfortable about making major purchases if they can envisage how the products might appear in their own homes.

Artistic inspiration
Display ranges at Direct Interiors include kitchen appliances and fittings, bathroom wares, tapware, wardrobes, doors and door furniture, plumbing supplies including hot water systems, plus one of the city’s most elaborate collections of local and imported tiles. “It’s really about inspiration and ideas,” says general manager John Bladen. “The real excitement for me comes about when people see what we have, and then apply that to their own lives, in their own homes.”

Display ranges include bathroom wares and tapware

The current complex has been open for about nine months, however the business can trace its origins back 20 years as a plumbing and hardware supplier operating from a nearby industrial estate.

“Our [new] complex is situated at Windsor Gardens, on one of Adelaide’s main arterial roads (carrying in excess of 30,000 vehicles per day) — approximately six kilometres north-east of the CBD,” says Bladen. “We are located in one of the strongest growth corridors in the state, and have approximately 85 staff including 18 sales staff on the showroom floor. We are open seven days a week including most public holidays.

“The business is part of the MSP Group of Companies — a privately, wholly owned South Australian group of companies headed up by managing director and proprietor Mark Pickard. Whilst the business will always retain its strong presence in the residential builders market, we have developed a strategic program to strongly grow our position in the retail, commercial and renovation markets.” The present client make-up is approximately 70% trade, 30% consumer.

The mission to enhance numerous market presences is supported by active membership of National Building Suppliers Group (NBSG) and Plumbing Plus Group. Bladen says that by combining the purchasing power of many independents, members are able to secure pricing from manufacturers that will provide for effective competition against national and multi-national hardware groups.

Customer relations
But buying power is only part of the strategy — the rest is pure customer relations innovation. As Bladen explains, “We provide a lounge, complete with glossy interior designer magazines, and furnished with purpose-designed couches, a large screen TV and all the relevant sports channels, as well as a fully equipped (enclosed) kiddies lounge with videos, a TV, toys for all ages, etc. We believe these facilities make shopping and product selection easier for our customers.”

Customer percentages are approximately 70% trade, 30% consumer

Promotions are carried out using TV and radio commercials, as well as a “display home” program for live product demonstrations. Direct Interiors is far from a static display centre. “We are constantly changing and evolving our product displays,” says Bladen. “We have a comprehensive customer service feedback program with in-store surveys, which provides us with invaluable information about our customers’ expectations and our ability to deliver them.

“Also, we have recently added a full bathroom and kitchen installation division, and are in the process of growing our commercial division.”

In terms of its size, Direct Interiors is a destination offering people almost every conceivable idea for a complete interior home refurbishment

The future looks bright not only for the store but also for its dazzling marketing techniques. The challenge, says Bladen, will be to avoid too much competition from copycats! Other potential hurdles might involve the pressure to maintain an outstanding workforce in a small capital city, as well as seven-day rosters.

For the time-being, the store is unique in its capacity to offer installation services, displays of unparalleled quality, and training programs. It is also avant-garde in its recognition that product style is just as important as utility for many hardware customers, particularly given buyer awareness of the role that tasteful refurbishments can play in adding value to a property.

By John Power