Retail Focus: Parachutes? Yes, We Stock Them …

George Taylor’s Stores, with six outlets operating in western Victoria and SA, are renowned nationally for stocking everything from hand tools to parachutes – and even wheelchairs just in case you have a rough landing…

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Store: George Taylor’s Stores, Vic/SA
Owners: George & Gwyn Taylor
Group: Independent
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Caption: George TaylorAHJRetail01July05

Country retail outlets are like books: Never judge them by their appearance – because inside you might discover treasures and delights that will make a lifelong impression.

This is certainly the case with the network of George Taylor’s Stores, in particular the multi-acre retail warehouse and business HQ at Grassmere Junction, about 9kms north of Warrnambool on Victoria’s Shipwreck Coast.

AHJRetail02July05Caption: An aerial shot of the store at Grassmere Junction

This sweeping, ramshackle and expansive retail outlet is almost a tourist attraction in its own right, inviting visits from collectors, farmers, hobbyists, campers, travellers and all those souls who can’t resist the temptation of surprise. Inside the store you’ll find thousands of items, including turnstiles from the MCG, invalid scooters, blacksmith tools, fishing waders, ex-Army surplus materials and enough office furniture to make Pandora blush. But the mainstays are hand tools, farm equipment, fasteners and light machinery. General hardware makes up about 40% of total stock, and despite the large numbers of second-hand widgets, thingummies and whatsits the vast majority of goods on display are new items.

The owner and mastermind behind George Taylor’s Stores is, of course, George Taylor, a 74-year-old self-made entrepreneur who has built his retail empire on principles of common sense, bulk purchase practices and a belief that comprehensive stock inventories are a fact of life. George – former paper boy and motorcycle racer, recipient of the Warrnambool Citizenship Award in 1993 and passionate supporter of Richmond FC – bought his first store in Warrnambool in the early 1960s. The business evolved over the years with the acquisition of extra stores, and gradually the “disposals” character of the enterprise faded as George placed a greater emphasis on general hardware and rural supplies.

Caption: If you want it, it’s sure to be inside somewhereAHJRetail03July05

By the mid-1980s there were 13 outlets serving most of south-western Victoria and eastern SA, and George says he needed a major warehouse to keep the supply chain functioning properly.

“That’s when we bought Grassmere, which is about 4acres with two acres under cover,” he explains. “It was just a warehouse but people started knocking on the door and before we knew it the place was a retail centre, office HQ and warehouse all in one.” A brush with cancer two decades ago prompted George to rationalise the business (“I didn’t want to drop off the perch and leave my wife Gwyn with stores all over the place.”) and concentrate on fewer stores that were highly profitable; hence the stable of six outlets that exists today.

Direct Imports
One of the most amazing features of the business is its huge array of products spread over two States. Most retailers would struggle to oversee such huge product lists while producing adequate turnover rates and profit margins. So how has George managed the task? The secret lies in George’s early recognition that the direct importation of products could offer two rewards: not only were prices cheaper, but dealing directly with overseas suppliers avoided local supply and distribution expenses. George imported his first hardware goods from Hong Kong in 1969, and has since drawn from markets in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and China. These days he imports about 30 containers (20’ and 40’) of goods every year from China, where he has contacts in both the north and south of the country. All goods are sold through GTS outlets – No items are sold wholesale to other retailers. Online sales add to the success of the business via an excellent website at www.georgetaylorsstores.com.au.

AHJRetail04July05Caption: New blacksmith tools are popular in western Victoria

“I’ve never really brought out a real dud [shipment],” George says. “We just got in a container of plastic goods last week, and there’s another one on the water at the moment full of poly tarps; there’s also one on the way full of ships hardware like turn buckles.” Direct importation allows George to set highly competitive prices on goods ranging from mitre saws and band saws to lathes. Moreover, products can be sourced from China, George says, without compromising quality. “Our first container of mobile invalid scooters from China is coming out soon – the main component is made in the USA and the second-main component is made in Taiwan; the Chinese have done the outside assembly and that’s it.”

Increasing numbers of hand tools are being sold under the GTS personal brand, and extra products are purchased through groups such as Danks, Australian Hardware Wholesalers and smaller suppliers.

Nothing is Fixed
There are no fixed product lists in the GTS catalogue, which leaves room for George to purchase whatever types of products he wishes – nothing is taboo so long as the price is right and there is a potential market. The stock flux actually encourages customers to drop in regularly “just to see what’s arrived”, while TV advertisements on the local station keep customers aware of selected special offers and core stock arrivals. Business is thriving to the extent that a store in Warrnambool will hopefully be expanded (pending permits) later this year.

Caption: At one stage the store had 20 tonnes of optical glassAHJRetail05July05

Finally, 35 staff, 25 of whom work full-time, offer a friendly and gracious atmosphere to the entire enterprise.

So if you need a parachute…or a wheelchair, just drop in!

By John Power