From tradesman to trader…

John Wardle is a long-time hardware store operator whose past experience as a builder is, perhaps, his most valuable asset.

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Store: Hamilton Hill Hardware
Owners: John & Diana Wardle
Group: CPS

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Retailers who own small stores in close proximity to large competitors need to be outstanding in one or more ways to survive. Most successful small operators are quick to point out that they can provide services that larger stores might struggle to deliver: faster service, efficient deliveries, comprehensive advice to customers, unique product ranges, etc.

Hamilton Hill Hardware can be found about 18km south of Perth.

But increasing numbers of small operators are also winning market share by making use of their expertise as former professional tradespeople. John Wardle and his wife Diana are co-directors of Hamilton Hill Hardware, about 18km south of Perth, WA, and they are role models for any tradespeople thinking of a switch into the retail sector. John spent many years as a builder before leaving the trade 20 years ago to open a store in Medina, outside Perth. Since then he has established five stores in succession, two of which were run under the Mitre 10 banner.

His latest venture at Hamilton Hill opened in April 2002, and it is by no means the biggest store in the area. At 325m2, the store abuts a 60m2 outside compound and has its own roller door entrance for deliveries and forklift operation. There is also parking for 25 vehicles at the front of the store. In other words, the business is fair-sized, but it won’t be converted into an aircraft hangar any time in the near future!

Advice and guidance

There is parking for 25 vehicles at the front of the store.

“Although we have two established ‘big box stores’ nearby — one north and the other east, both within five kilometres from our store — we offer knowledge of products, one-to-one service and build a relationship with the local customers by offering them the right product for the right job first time,” explains John.

“In addition, because of my building experience, we can give guidance on how best to tackle a job. Our trade customers can drive into our loading bay, pay for the product and drive away within a few minutes. Our customers compliment our service, and say their preference is to support our store because we acknowledge that ‘time is money’. We enjoy hearing positive comments on our service.

“Although the bigger stores dominate the market within WA, we feel confident that if we provide the service and products at a competitive price, there will always be a market for profitable stores of our size.”

John Wardle and his wife Diana are co-directors of Hamilton Hill Hardware.

John’s background, no doubt, has helped consolidate a client base that is currently 40% trade. The remaining consumer market is also “trade” in outlook, with many migrant customers displaying a high level of DIY competence and sophistication.

“The hand tools range is our best-selling department because of the large proportion of tradesmen in the area,” he says. “Gardening tools with bagged fertilisers and manures and reticulation also sell extremely well. Since our opening we have sold over 150 wheelbarrows.”

Group associations
No matter how adept the service provision, all hardware stores have to maximise their buying power. According to John, he achieves this through membership of the WA-based Co-operative Purchasing Services (CPS). “The first 12 months Hamilton Hill operated as an independent store, purchasing mainly through Australian Hardware Wholesalers and the local CPS group,” he says.

The client base that is currently 40% trade and the remaining consumer market also has a “trade” in outlook.

“Advertising was done through local media and letter box drop. We decided to sign with CPS under the Makit banner in February this year because CPS is a local group with some 52 stores with the Makit banner. CPS also has the advantage of being able to produce catalogues with products that are suitable to the WA market. The number of catalogues produced for my area is 15,000 and in some instances there is a double drop during prime selling time.

“Displaying the Makit banner has improved our turnover around 20% over the last three months,” he adds. Future challenges involve a possible expansion of the store, with plans in the pipeline for an extra 150m2 of floorspace. The current staff of two full-time and one part-time sales person may also be expanded.

While the store appearance might alter over time, one consistent feature will be John’s specialised empathy with his trade clients, and an insistence that smaller stores set the benchmarks for customer service.

Story by John Power