Symons says: “We’re open!”

Australia’s first “new concept” Thrifty-Link store has opened for business, complete with fresh display designs, innovative ranges — and a personal visit from Red Symons…

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Store: Highfields Thrifty-Link Hardware, Qld
Owner: Craig & Annmaree Stibbard
Group: John Danks & Son
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In many ways the presence of Red Symons at the dawn of a new era in Thrifty-Link’s branding profile is appropriate: Red is a well-known “personality”, and the new store format guidelines certainly emphasise a “personal” approach to retail principles and customer relations.

The new building is a centrepiece of the town

The Thrifty-Link banner has always presented an image of competent one-on-one attention rather than “corporate coolth”, and the new generic Thrifty-Link layout is characterised by spaciousness, brightness, height and airiness — qualities designed to maximise the ability of storeowners and staff to offer personal attention in an uncluttered environment.

Highfields Thrifty-Link Hardware, located about 10 minutes’ drive north of Toowoomba in Queensland, is the first store to feature the banner’s “new concept” attributes. Standout features include 2.7m fixtures; highly visible end caps; broad aisles (1,200mm or more); open floorplans and fresh, legible internal signage.

Craig Stibbard has had a high profile in Highfields since 1995, when he purchased a 300m2 independent hardware outlet and converted it into a Thrifty-Link store.

The new store layout is spacious and crisp

Following tremendous business growth, Craig decided about two years ago that it was time to relocate to larger, purpose-built premises. After a lengthy planning and construction process, the new 700m2 store was opened on December 5. This revamped business represents a major economic force in the town of 5,000 inhabitants, and is fundamental to the success of a local housing and development boom in the extended catchment area. According to Craig, the grand opening starring Red Symons attracted several thousand people and resulted in a new record number of purchasers — certainly a “Red”-letter day in the life of the business.

Built as part of a brand new retail complex of about a dozen businesses, the new premises were designed in full consultation with Danks’ merchandising advisers. Craig’s old store remains open as a trade-oriented outlet.

New look, more room
So what does the new store look like in the wake of such careful preparation work?

Red (centre) spends some time with the Annmaree, baby Brodie and Craig Stibbard

“One of the main features is a mezzanine floor,” says Craig, “which looks over the entire shop. The whole idea was to create a feeling of open space. The highest ceiling level is six metres and that helps with the presentation of the 2.7m internal fixtures.” The expanded floor area also permitted a full re-evaluation of each department, with the Paint section in particular benefiting from enhanced displays to inspire trade and consumer clients alike. There is even a sofa for relaxed conversations with clients about their decorating ambitions.

While the store is primarily devoted to consumers (90%), there are now broader timber and garden departments to suit both DIY and professional customers.

The opening ceremony was a hit with thousands of people

“The Garden department is huge now,” explains Craig. “In the old store we were a bit hamstrung because of the limited space, but now that we’ve increased our display areas and stock levels the customers are really happy; the feedback has been excellent.” The main departments are Garden/Outdoor, Paint, Plumbing and General Hardware. Sales of power tools, notably GMC ranges, are also valuable to the business. Stock levels in all departments have almost doubled to 12,000 SKUs.

In its first month of operation, the new-look store generated a sales increase of 63% over the equivalent period last year, and the customer count was also up 70%.

Craig says such statistics bear out an instant consumer liking for the new Thrifty-Link format, and testify to the high credibility of the brand as an all-round service provider.

More personality
Of course, store infrastructure must be complemented with high-calibre staff, and this is particularly relevant now that Craig’s workforce (both full- and part-time) has risen from five to eight people. All staff receive instruction about how to assist customers, and both Craig and Annmaree have completed business training courses to streamline the process. They also participate in regular courses offered by Danks.

Related items are easy to find thanks to legible signage and high visibility

“At the end of the day you need to have a bit of personality in your store,” admits Craig. “It puts people at ease, and you communicate better so you know exactly what people have in their minds when they ask for advice.”

Craig says he had no hesitation in embracing the new format, having maintained a strong professional liaison with Thrifty-Link over the last decade.

He has held numerous Thrifty-Link executive positions including State Chairman (5 years), Vice-Chairman (one year), as well as National Vice-Chairman (also one year), and is currently a State representative.

“I joined Thrifty-Link in ’95 because I liked the product offering, the fee structures and the whole marketing approach,” says Craig.

Craig says there are many opportunities to grow the business even further; in the meantime, the new layout will consolidate an already thriving regional operation.

Story by John Power