A Family Affair

A Family Affair

Store: Porter Home and Building Centre

Owners: Porter Family

Group: Natbuild (NBSG) and Danks

Porters Home and Building Centre is one of the largest hardware operations in Australia and is constantly evolving…
If Scotsman, Charles Porter, could now see the small building contracting business he established in 1883 in Mackay (Qld), he would undoubtedly be proud and amazed. That humble business, which was founded to build a hotel in Mackay, is a now a multi-million dollar enterprise, owned and operated by his descendants, and employing more than 260 staff. Indeed, the business is very much a family affair. Joint Managing Directors, Gavan and Paul Porter are Charles’ great-grandsons. Two of Paul’s children – Scott and Lee – work in the business, as does Gavan’s son, Gavan Steven.
An award-winning business, Porters Home and Building Centre is a ‘one stop shop’ institution in the Mackay region, with business broken down to 70% trade and 30% retail. Apart from the main store in the CBD of Mackay, there is also a 2,500 sq m store in Cannonvale (near Airlie Beach) which caters mainly to trade. In addition to the usual hardware categories, Porters’ services include roof trusses/wall frames and glass and aluminium fabricating/powdercoating. The Mackay store also supplies a range of kitchen appliances and other white goods, has an extensive lighting section, as well as a ‘Gourmet and Gift’ shop and coffee shop. In addition, they have six reps on the road and a fleet of 25 vehicles.
Not content to rest on their laurels, Gavan and Paul, who took over as Managing Directors, after the recent retirement of older brother Barry, are now in the midst of significant expansion plans. A $9 million redevelopment over the next 12 months will see the construction of a specialised trade division including building supplies and plumbing supplies. A $2.5 million project will see all the manufacturing components of the business – the glass and aluminium factory and truss and frame plant – consolidated into one operation. When complete, the site will cover nearly two hectares.

When Gavan describes himself as a “big planner”, he’s not joking! You just have to hear about the strategy they adopted when Bunnings came to town, to realise that’s true. In 2001, Mackay was the first regional town outside Brisbane where Bunnings set up shop. Rising to the challenge, the Porters took their management team around Australia on a tour of various Bunnings warehouses, to gauge their strengths and weaknesses. “We looked at all the issues including product range and pricing, marketing, personnel and our training,” said Gavan. “We saw what Bunnings was doing and knew that we could do it better. In many ways, the arrival of Bunnings was a catalyst to make a better business. We have always been very strong in customer service, but I believe we have now lifted our customer service to another level.” They may have proved they can ‘beat the box’ but Gavan is the first to admit they cannot afford to become complacent. “All businesses face different challenges every day – once you become complacent, you’re gone!”

Gavan and Paul also admit they are fortunate to be in the location they are, benefited by tourism, the current resources boom Queensland is enjoying, and burgeoning development on the nearby Whitsunday Islands. Customers include builders on Hamilton Island, Hayman Island, Lindeman Islane and South Molle Island. Coal mining in the nearby Bowen Basin also provides several major customers including BM Alliance Coal and Newlands Coal.

A downside to the resources boom is the constant competition for labour, with the huge wages offered by the mining companies, a lure to the local workforce. “It can be hard to find staff at times, the average wage for a trades assistant in the mines is about $100,000,” said Paul. “Still, we don’t tend to lose people too often, a lot of our guys have grown with us and some have been here for 30 years.”

Gavan and Paul are ever mindful of supporting the community which has been so supportive of them over their 123-year history. They financially support local sporting clubs, charitable groups and educational institutions, and are also a major sponsor of the Mackay Jazz Festival. Every Saturday, they provide the facilities for sporting and community groups to raise money through car washing and sausage sizzles.

Hard work, and the commitment to quality and serving the customer, is clearly a family tradition at Porters. They admit they owe much to their father, Gavan William, who worked in the business for more than 40 years. “Our father believed we should start at the bottom and work up and in some ways he was fairly tough on us,” said Gavan. “On my first day, he threw me the broom and told me to get to work. We had to prove ourselves, that’s for sure. But he also instilled in us a work ethic, enthusiasm and a drive to succeed.”