Blacktown “delivers”

Most successful trade-oriented retailers spend a lot of time delivering hardware directly to worksites — but few businesses “deliver the goods” as well as Blacktown Building Supplies in NSW…

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Store: Blacktown Building Supplies, NSW
Owner: The Swadling Group
Group: Mitre 10, NBSG
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Trade outlets in the hardware industry are heavily dependent on reliable delivery services, however many retailers neglect this fundamental aspect of the business.

Blacktown Building Supplies is a massive operation

One hardware business that has proved the value of providing immediate attention to its customers is Blacktown Building Supplies, based in Greater Sydney, NSW.

The store is part of The Swadling Group, a family-run operation that now has six stores in eastern and western Sydney. Apart from the Blacktown store, there are Swadling-owned outlets in Rosebery, Rozelle, Annandale, Canterbury and Bankstown.

The Group began in 1986 with the purchase of a single store in Alexandria, and is now a highly successful enterprise with an aggregate annual turnover of more than $45 million.

Clear vehicular access is a feature of the store

While most stores in the Group were purchased as ongoing and often long-standing businesses, the Blacktown outlet was designed and built from scratch, opening in May 1992. Established as a joint venture between the Swadling family and two former employees, the business blueprint incorporated all the lessons learned over many years in the retail trade, and the store has continued to win a loyal clientele over the intervening decade.

“We’ve created an operation at Blacktown — and at all our stores — which is service-oriented,” says Group Purchasing Manager, Ian Wassell. “Deliveries across the Group account for a major part of our business, and we have structured everything so that even if one of our stores doesn’t stock a product, we can still get supplies from our central warehouse at St Mary’s and arrange a delivery, quite often within a matter of hours.”

Multi-store efficiencies
Blacktown, in particular, reflects the importance of identifying and servicing customer needs.

“The Blacktown business has about 70% trade clients, 30% consumers,” explains Wassell, “and I’d say more than half of the trade business is done via direct delivery to the client.”

Effective in-store signage simplifies product selection

In other words, at least 35% of the store’s total turnover is dependent on effective and timely delivery services.

One of the advantages of being part of a six-store Group is that multi-business efficiencies can be used to affray costs and improve productivity, and the Group’s delivery system is an example of how “bigger” can indeed be “better”.

A central warehouse in St Mary’s was created several years ago to supply all stores, including Blacktown, with a huge variety of difficult-to-display items and SKUs that might have erratic sales volumes. And the whole network functions like clockwork thanks to a fleet of vehicles that form a chain between stores, clients and the warehouse.

The timber department would make any carpenter jump for joyRetail4April04

“At Blacktown we have a total of five drivers on the road,” says Wassell, “and they are supported by another four at the warehouse. Overall, the Group has 22 vehicles ranging from one to 22 tonnes. We have our own fleet of mechanics at our Group Maintenance Centre; we do our own property maintenance, mow our own lawns, and we even have our own welder. This means we can service not only the fleet but all other aspects of the business in-house.”

The highly efficient delivery network has had an impact on the way the Group stocks products and deals with its trade clients.

“If a trade client wants something from Blacktown, we can usually get it to the site in hours rather than days, no matter what the order is,” says Wassell. “The warehouse means we can offer a greater diversity of stock than our competitors. For instance, we have a great timber department with Tasmanian Oak, Cedar, Oregon, Pine and other timber types that the others might not have.”

This efficiency, says Wassell, is what trade clients need to conduct their businesses. Speedy deliveries are more important than price considerations (“which are still competitive,” he stresses), and internal efficiencies like back-loading are passed on to clients.

Delivering more
While the delivery system has been instrumental in Blacktown’s success, it is by no means the outlet’s sole “driving force”.

Company director Phillip Screpis, and Group Purchasing Manager Ian Wassell

With a floor area of 4,000m2 undercover and 100 parking spaces, Blacktown has a separate timber area and can offer special attention to registered builders. In fact, the store has performed so well that it has won a number of awards, including the TABMA Award over four consecutive years (1998–2001) as Member of the Year.

And these high standards are also reflected in the stability and long-term tenure of staff. “We’re particularly proud at Blacktown that 60% of the (more than 30) staff have been with us for five years or more,” says Wassell.

Regular clients make use of Blacktown’s services over a wide Sydney territory, facilitated by both seen and unseen support from the sister stores.

Given the strong trade presence, most new business is achieved through word of mouth, though being a Mitre 10 member is equally important for growing the consumer side of the business. Bulk purchases have also been enhanced through the Group’s recent induction into National Building Suppliers Group (NBSG).

As Wassell says, the company logo features the bold catch-cry “Yes, we can deliver today”, and that sentiment is the cornerstone of all elements of the business from its delivery service to its stock management.

Most importantly, he adds, the highly professional staff live by the same maxim and turn principle into action magnificently.

By John Power