From State Manager to Storeowner…

Since leaving his job as State Retail Manager (NSW) for The Laminex Group, Jason Waddell has discovered that a corporate background can present an ideal platform for store ownership…

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Store: Home Timber & Hardware Kotara, NSW
Owner: Waddell family
Group: John Danks & Son
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There are no hard and fast rules governing store ownership in the hardware industry; store operators come from mixed backgrounds and display varied levels of business acumen.

So it is refreshing to come across a new storeowner who has held a high-level, executive position within a large company supplying stores. Do suppliers look different from “the other side of the fence”? And can any “corporate” methods be applied to store retailing?

The proud team from Home Timber & Hardware Kotara in NSW

Jason Waddell started with The Laminex Group in 1989–90 as a storeman and sales clerk in Orange, and rose rapidly through the ranks of the company to become a branch manager based at Dee Why. He was appointed State Retail Manager (NSW) in 2001—a position he held until mid-2003 when he joined forces with his father Bob to buy Home Timber & Hardware Kotara in Newcastle.

“The vendor had another store as well as a lot of other business interests, and he was looking to sell Kotara as a going concern,” says Jason, adding that the business was in reasonably good shape for the changeover.

Business has grown since Jason and Bob Waddell took over the store

Jason describes the store, located in a huge, bulky retail complex, as a “medium-sized” outlet flanked by other businesses. With an area of 560m2, its size is fixed by surrounding premises.

“It really should be 1,000m2 if you look at the business we are handling and the potential for growth, but we’re happy with the store for the time being because it turns over about two and a half times what it should!”

Corporate lessons
One of the main corporate initiatives that Jason has applied to the store relates to his sales methodology. Despite the stores “medium-size”, Jason spends much of his time outside the store hunting for business. His job portfolio, therefore, has more in common with the role of a supplier’s rep than that of a traditional store operator.

Bob and Jason Waddell

“It’s probably outside the norm for a storeowner, and we feel a little bit green regarding hardware management, but I think what our system does is relieve the business of a lot of the highs and lows of a mid-range renovation market,” he explains. In a typical week he might seek business by visiting building development sites, nursing homes, real estate agencies, strata management companies and plenty of other potential client sectors that would not usually receive direct overtures from a hardware retailer.

“Nursing homes are good, for instance, because they are good customers for locks,” he says. “And we get referrals from one home that advises residents’ family members to come to us for their duplicate keys.”

“We have introduced good project tracking systems to make sure we know what new developments are on the go at any given time in the Newcastle/Hunter region.”

The store offers good access to customers

Jason’s enterprise is reaping powerful dividends for the store. Under normal circumstances a store in a large shopping complex would devote most of its attention to general consumers rather than trade customers. But Jason’s sales expertise on the road has created a turnover that is 50% trade! And, as mentioned above, this trade base is diverse and representative of many business classes—a desirable state of affairs because it protects the store from erratic fluctuations during a slow-down in any particular market.

The trade base is further enhanced by the maintenance of a store warehouse just a few minutes’ drive from the retail outlet. Jason says a full-time truck driver is able to make deliveries directly from the warehouse, removing the need to constantly replenish stock on the shop floor and ensuring speedy service to the customer.

A strong, well-rounded retail presence in the area is good for hardware sales

Not content with applying their corporate expertise to business development, Jason and Bob have also made refined assessments of store presentation and stock selection. A new planogram is being rolled out and efforts are being made to increase stock turnover to target levels of eight turns per annum.

“The stock turn was 3.7 per year when we moved into the store and we’ve raised it to 4.5,” he says. Much of this improvement can be attributed to a policy of reducing the variety of SKUs on shelves in favour of fewer, more carefully selected iconic products.

Needless to say, Jason and Bob have established firm relationships with those suppliers who “go the extra yards” to help with in-store training, merchandising and promotions. The “Under New Management” launch in March this year was a case in point: those suppliers who helped with the special day and offered assistance for associated trade nights are now benefiting from good sales through the outlet.

Back to basics
Notwithstanding his self-confessed “greenness” and adventurous approach to business growth, Jason says he aims to keep a close eye on the basics of the business at all times. An important element of store prosperity, he acknowledges, is staff expertise, and the stores eight full-time personnel are all highly experienced and dedicated professionals, each with up to 20 years’ experience.

“We have a core 150–200 customers who know the staff by name!” Jason says proudly. “Hardware is so diversified these days, with everything short of groceries for sale, so it’s important to have people around you who know what they’re doing. Our strategy is to have one person looking after each customer from the first inquiry to the sale, so customers get to know everyone personally.”

By John Power