The female angle

Claire Reye’s thriving hardware store in Gin Gin, Queensland, is dominated by female staff — which means it is well-organised, efficient and economical…

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Store: Ace Hardware Gin Gin
Owner: Claire Reye
Group: Key Hardware Group
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“Until 18 months ago, Ace Hardware Gin Gin was fully run by women,” explains owner Claire Reye, who managed the store for 20 years before buying it on June 30 this year. “We had everyone upset when I put on a male — Kevin, our only full-time employee — to replace our popular lady who left to travel Australia. However, the cement seemed to be getting heavier! We had a sign on the door saying: ‘Women can do everything’.”

Ace Hardware Gin Gin is located about 50kms from Bundaberg, Queensland

Reye’s 130m2 store was started by her father 25 years ago, and in subsequent years it operated under the direction of her brother Ken Arkinstall and his business partner George Clarke. When the opportunity arose for Reye to assume ownership of the business earlier this year, she did so without great fuss or fanfare.

Located about 50kms from Bundaberg, Gin Gin has a population of 4,000 people, and is home to a large farming community. As with most retail businesses in small towns, the key to longevity is high-quality service and disciplined work practices. In Reye’s case, the main elements of success include courteous and knowledgeable staff; spacious (off-site) storage areas to facilitate bulk ordering; membership of a buying group to provide additional savings on purchases; and high levels of good will from the public.

The highway outside the store leads to the Wonbah Estate Vineyards and Winery

Most customer loyalty is generated without the need for significant advertising expenditure. “We have never needed to advertise,” says Reye. “Word of mouth is enough — however we sometimes advertise in our local paper and send out the Key Hardware specials when we have the time. Donations are also given to most charities in the district, and this helps to advertise us.”

Despite this apparently unsophisticated approach to marketing, the store ranks in the top 20 stores in Queensland in terms of its sales of Philmac fittings. “Our turnover is amazing,” says Reye. “We sell everything from reinforcing mesh to timber, nails and paint. We have a high turnover of Berger paint and have done so for many years.”

Business has been able to expand seamlessly thanks to large sheds that Reye bought seven years ago at a nearby industrial estate. These structures accommodate cement, timber, fibro and similar product, and help to maximise in-store display areas.

Personal attention
These days Reye and her colleague Kevin are supported by three part-time female employees, and there are no plans to grow the business further. Nor are there any plans to hire more men. “I think many men like buying hardware from a woman, as often they don’t know what they want and don’t seem intimidated by a woman, especially if she knows what he is looking for,” she explains. “Also, many men send their wives into the store to buy for them and we have a good old chat!”

The storage sheds facilitate bulk ordering for customers

Such a friendly atmosphere has created a store that appeals mainly to general consumers; the local council is also a strong supporter of the store. “Our motto is to ensure our customers feel they are important, and we try to supply anything they enquire about,” she adds.

“This is where being a member of Key Hardware helps. We have been a member ever since the group started. It has meant expansion and leveraging power for us, and the group is always helpful. I only have to ring and ask, ‘Where do I buy such and such,’ and in no time someone has let me know the supplier. Key Hardware is reasonable and we only have to participate in specials if it suits.”

There are some challenges, however, that remain forefront in Reye’s mind. The overriding problem of freight costs is one bugbear that cannot be obviated by sound business practices or sizeable storage spaces.

“It seems once our goods arrive in Bundaberg we are slugged a very large freight (bill) from there to Gin Gin. Often it is more than the freight from Brisbane to Bundaberg. It is an ongoing problem, and with only one carrier it seems unlikely to improve. My pet hate is passing on large freight charges to the consumers.”

Notwithstanding these overheads, the business is stable and entrenched as the main hardware store in the town. Policies of listening to customers’ needs, helping to determine appropriate purchases and devoting adequate time to make sure needs are fulfilled all combine to make the outlet a respected resource in Gin Gin.

“Many people say we do compete with Bundaberg, and they prefer to shop with us as it is so convenient,” says Reye. “We carry a very large range of items which makes it one-stop shopping.”

Story by John Power