Did You Hear the One About…?

Andy Mac’s Timber & Hardware in Windsor, NSW, is a substantial, fifth-generation business based on family values, Aussie know-how and enough laid-back humour to straighten your beard…

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Store: Andy Mac’s Timber & Hardware, Windsor, NSW
Owners: McMillan family
Group: HBT

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The first thing customers see when they approach Andy Mac’s is a street placard featuring a joke, thought for the day or some other philosophically sound social commentary. The recent Olympic Games, for example, represented a goldmine of inspiration: “Greek Athletics Has Plenty of Good ‘Drug Runners’.”

The signs set the mood for a genuine, approachable and personal approach to retailing – hardware and timber merchandising with a laugh as well as a smile.

The complex is sprawling and casual

The levity crosses over to the company’s website, in-store promotions and advertising. Managing Director Steve McMillan, for instance, has just completed a two-month “Beard Off” competition with General Manager Bob Bourke. The event was a hard-nosed battle between the two men to determine who could grow the best beard; customers registered their votes with a $5 donation to the Care Flight organisation, and winning punters’ entries went into a barrel for a chance to win a $500 Andy Mac’s shopping voucher. Let’s hope the loser “took it on the chin!”

Other promotions include a Dutch-auction-style sale of a piece of hardware, with the window-displayed price dropping by a dollar every day until the item is sold.

Andy Mac’s is at the “cutting edge” of store promotions

Not long ago, as part of an Insulco promotion, the store created its own “Batt Cave” (complete with hanging bats) and a “Batt Mobile” in a move that undoubtedly motivated every budding Cat Woman in town to “revamp” her home insulation.

In addition, an Andy Card newsletter/e-mail is sent out to 900 of the store’s best customers to announce special offers, new products and assorted pearls of wisdom designed to solve the problems of the world.

Quality Staff
The confidence to express this level of enjoyment is founded on solid trading practices dating back to 1850, when the family’s first timber milling ventures began in Batemans Bay on the Clyde River. Over the ensuing years the milling operation expanded to include a shipping arm that was used to transport timber along Australia’s east coast, and timber yards at White Bay, Bondi Junction, Rose Bay and Chatswood. After moving to Windsor in 1972 and following various changes of premises in the area, the company complemented its timber operations with a small retail outlet, then part of the Home Saver Group. Subsequently, a new one-acre site developed in 1996 and the joining of Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) allowed the retail arm to spread its wings and the result is today’s thriving store/timber complex.

Timber represents about half of overall business

With such experience under its belt, the company has created a business that is 50% trade: 50% retail. Within the retail store, about 80% of customers are general consumers, with professional tradespeople making up the balance. “Trade has been the backbone of the company,” says Steve, “but in retail cash is king.”

The principle of superior customer service, however, applies to all clients – as noted on the firm’s website: “The people who work here are a bit over the top about wanting to deliver the best service a customer can get. They’re all damned interested in timber and hardware and in learning all about it.”

According to Steve, staffing has always been a crucial part of the business.

Careful attention is paid to stocking the right products

“We have 15 floor staff, both casual and full-time, and they’re all great at what they do,” he explains. “The casuals are a mix of young and older people, including university and school students, while the permanent staff like Bob and I, have 20–25 years experience. We even had one employee who was with us for 54 years! Each of us has his own strengths; Bob is particularly good with the ladies.”

With the current store firmly established, management has taken pains to ensure that all departments are well-stocked and appropriately ranged to suit local buying habits.

Steve says 90% of stock is sourced via HBT, with all product selections made by seasoned in-house timber and retail managers who rely heavily on reps, trade literature and conferences to keep up-to-date with the latest releases.

“That’s the beauty of running your own store,” says Steve. “We do all our own promotions and buying and never end up receiving stock we don’t need.”

Most recently, a specialist 3D Paint Shop was introduced into the store. Equipped with mainly Dulux and other Orica products, the department has now overtaken Garden as the dominant storewide category. Associated services include full timber cutting facilities, saw sharpening, gas bottle refilling and free local deliveries.

Onwards & Upwards
Steve says the future of the business is bright, notwithstanding the imminent arrival of yet another competitor.

It pays to have plenty of space when dealing with timber

“I think the retail side of things will develop and the timber will gradually decline,” he says. “But we’re happy for the time being to have a mix of timber and retail, as well as trade and cash customer purchasers. It’s a good balance servicing a ‘fringe’ area of Sydney, right opposite a big renovation market from a 2,500-home estate that’s about 15 years old.

“But most of all we really enjoy running the business and coming up with new ideas. That’s where the challenge lies: lots of new and interesting ideas.”

And plenty of new jokes too, we suspect.

By John Power