Retail Plumbing: The Craft of Trading

Retail plumbing is reliant on knowledge and expertise, according to Russell Mills, owner of the five-store business Burdens Plumtec Bathroom Kitchen & Plumbing Supplies, in Victoria…

Russell Mills entered the retail sector for the first time in 1990 when he bought a small, outer-suburban plumbing store in Ringwood, Victoria.

Today he has five retail plumbing outlets in his stable, and is therefore in a prime position to comment on industry trends and successful retail principles.

According to Russell, the retail plumbing sector is changing constantly in tune with more fashion-conscious consumers, not to mention the demands of increasingly competitive and time-poor trade professionals.

Gone are the days when “any old downpipe will do”; instead, plumbing retailers must be able to canvas enquiries instantly, offer a broad range of products at reasonable prices, and adapt immediately to alterations in orders or specifications. Retail plumbing is becoming more of a “service industry” all the time.

Innovations include the need nowadays for dedicated, polished showrooms where plumbers can present ranges to their customers, as well as comprehensive and reliable supply channels for instant provision of unstocked items.

In-store Expertise
But the most important prerequisite for ongoing success, according to Russell, is in-store expertise. “If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you may as well not bother,” he explains.

“Across-the-counter expertise is vital. If people ring or fax through an order and ask for a particular item, you’d better know exactly what they’re talking about or they’ll go somewhere else.”

Russell estimates that staff expertise can take a year or more of training to develop, with young trainees making the best candidates because they are unlikely to bring the “baggage” of inferior retail practices to the business.

Russell says he is exploring the feasibility of appointing a HR manager to oversee training and to create plainer career paths for employees within the organisation.

Burdens Plumtec, Vic
Business Priorities (Highest to Lowest)

Figure 1: Household Grey Water Sources
Ranking Business Service
1 In-store Expertise
2 Delivery Systems
3 Product Pricing
4 Ancillary Services
5 Depth of Range
6 Brand Exclusivity
7 Billing Flexibility

Delivery Systems
Another primary facet of the business is the delivery service. With five stores generating orders across metropolitan Melbourne and one regional centre, a fleet of 15 Burdens vehicles (mostly one-tonne capacity) is constantly on the move.

“I’d say 70%–80% of all orders are delivered directly to a worksite,” says Russell. “Clients are generally working in close proximity to a store, but they will go where the work is and you have to follow them. We’ve done everything we can to minimise turnaround times to as little as two or three hours for some jobs.”

To read the rest of this article, read it in the September issue of the Hardware Journal.