Storming Ahead in NSW

The Vane-Tempest family has been providing hardware to the township of Condobolin for decades – and it’s “blue skies ahead” for future generations… ____________________________________ Store: Vane-Tempest Bros Mitre 10 Handy, Condobolin, NSW Owners: Neal & Peter Vane-Tempest Group: Mitre 10 ____________________________________ The township of Condobolin, about 450kms west of Sydney, lies at the geographic heart of NSW – and the lifeblood of local businesses is positive word of mouth, fairness and dependability…come rain, hail or shine. Most of the 3,500 local residents associate hardware with the name “Vane-Tempest”. Brothers Neal and Peter Vane-Tempest Neal Vane-Tempest and his brother Peter, both aged in their early 60s, have run the store on the same site since 1960, but the history of the business dates back to the 1920s. “It all started when our grandmother opened a grocery store in 1927,” says Neal. “She ran it for about 20 years before my parents Aubrey and Emma took over in the late 1940s. Then, in 1960 my brother Peter and I took it on – and we’re still here going strong.” The first hardware lines were introduced to the store in the early 1960s under the brothers’ management, with grocery items continuing to feature on the shelves until 1970. Since then the business has thrived by marketing just hardware goods, but it has hardly been a static business over the past 35 years: it was run as an independent store until the late 1980s and then as a Home store with the Danks group for a dozen years. Most recently, the business underwent a renaissance in November 2004 when the brothers joined the Mitre 10 Handy group of stores. The switch to a new group (and new Generation 21 livery), says Neal, was motivated by issues of brand recognition, freight costs and delivery schedules, and has resulted in a 20% increase in sales over the last quarter. Principal departments are Paint, Garden, Building Materials and Power Tools, with a 50% trade customer base and the balance comprising DIYers and general shoppers. Long-term Success The Vane-Tempest Bros store today in Handy livery One of the biggest issues facing retailers in small towns is long-term survival and growth in an apparently fixed market. According to Neal, the business today – with its eight full-time staff – has flourished thanks to a number of initiatives:

  • Maintenance of a second, separate-site retail business dedicated to building wares;
  • Periodic store renovation and building works to enhance the hardware store;
  • Operation of a delivery fleet to enlarge the prospective client base;
  • Add-on business features such as selected hire services;
  • A willingness to experiment with buying group memberships; and
  • Old-fashioned, over-the-counter customer service.
“We have a second business in a separate yard that supplies mainly timber, bricks and glass,” says Neal. “It’s largely exposed but there is a big shed on it. We deal in glass replacement there, as well as putting together window frames and that kind of thing. There are trade and DIY customers.” The main hardware store, however, is much more modern and up-to-date. With 1,000m2 under cover, supported by a 500m2 second-storey mezzanine, the property is busy, bright and visually grand. “We built the second-storey addition in 1978 and then did the back about three years ago,” explains Neal. “The rear section has six-metre ceilings and the whole store is well laid out with fixed shelving. In fact, we didn’t have to do a great deal when we changed to the Handy format. The store remained open the whole time and we just had to put in some gondola shelving and a few other displays and Mitre 10 colours.” Phil Yeomans Neal says an advanced fleet of delivery vehicles opens up a new territory of business stretching 100kms in every direction, while a niche market has been cornered with the provision of a 23-tonne crane that is hired out to diverse customers in the local community. It is clear that the Vane-Tempests are not afraid to try out new business ideas – and this is confirmed by the brothers’ recent purchase of the town’s local newspaper, Lachlander, which was one of the last hot press publications in NSW – “though it’s been upgraded to be fully computerised now,” says Neal. Many Arms In other words, this thriving rural business has succeeded due to diverse ventures with “many arms”, touched by a brave experimentalism that is often missing in urban outlets. Of course, the capacity to expand the store and its ancillary units has only been possible over many generations, and this “slow and steady wins the race” patience is another virtue often unsighted in city stores. As for the future, Peter Vane-Tempest has a son, also named Peter (“a Re-Peter”, says Neal) who is active in the business and anxious to introduce his four-year-old son Andrew to the store. If young Andrew takes to hardware, he will be a fifth-generation member of the outlet. The Last Word Mitchell Keen I suppose the main benefit of shopping with us is that people can walk to the counter, ask for everything they need, and we’ll go and get it for them,” says Neal. “You can’t do that in a bigger store where you’ve got nails in Aisle 21 and Paint in Aisle 3.” The result is a multi-faceted business that is perfectly suited to its local surrounds and customer expectations – and well equipped to grow and “kick up a storm” despite a relatively small population. By John Power