Demak Outdoor Timber and Hardware delivers quality over quantity

by | Apr 13, 2022

Business: Demak Outdoor Timber and Hardware
Owners: Daniel, Michael & Kieran Trewin
Location: Ferntree Gully and Heathmont, Victoria
Buying Group: Hardware & Building Traders (HBT)

Demak Outdoor Timber & Hardware

With one store in Ferntree Gully and one in Heathmont, Demak Outdoor Timber and Hardware is a successful family business that was established purely by chance in 1989.

As a former fencing contractor, Peter Trewin began his journey as a timber merchant after the company he sourced fencing material from closed down. Soon after Peter quickly learned there was a significant shortage of timber suppliers and decking products in the local area and he became desperate for materials – not much unlike the situation facing most builders and fencing contractors today.

The first site in 1989

Peter had no alternative but to buy directly from the manufacturer and stockpile his timber in the front yard of his family home. It was not long before other contractors wanted to purchase from his stockpile as they too struggled to source local supply. Peter’s stockpile was the talk of the industry, with new customers approaching Peter every day.

Peter’s son and current owner of the business, Daniel Trewin, said Demak Outdoor Timber and Hardware was born the moment Peter decided to rent a property in Melbourne’s South East to cater to the growing timber demand.

“The business started out on a muddy block of land with some packs of timber on it. Pete’s customer base just grew and grew so he put on some staff, a driver, rented a couple of forklifts and continued to offer fencing materials and related components to the local trade,” Daniel said.

“The office was an old shipping container with a fire pit, where the fencers could come and get their materials as well as stand around socialising with a beer into the evening. It was very rough and the sort of thing you would never be allowed to do these days and it just evolved naturally. In 1996 we had the opportunity to purchase a former Vic Roads depot in Ferntree Gully because it featured some sturdy sheds and had substantial space for a machine shop as well.”

“We immediately set up a welding bay and timber machine shop on the new site and we have a full-time welder on staff to this day. Initially, the Ferntree Gully site was established to complement our initial site and was meant to be a manufacturing plant with timber and steel custom made products. In no time it grew to be its own complete stand-alone business. So suddenly we had two locations without even meaning to,” he said.

Both sites continued to evolve for four years before the rustic Ringwood branch moved to a new site that was originally established as Heathmont Timber in the early 1940s.

“This was also when I first came on board after starting an apprenticeship in graphic reproduction and web design, but this did not work out for me. After initially saying I would never work in the family business, Pete convinced me to come on board as a labourer while we spent 12 months renovating the site ready for the big move. We used our experience to purpose-build the new location to be exactly how we wanted it and it has been a stand out business in the local area ever since,” he said.

Stand out features

The 12 months of hard work that went into designing the perfect set-up at the Heathmont site now sees the business stand out from its competitors on a daily basis. Wholesalers, customers, and fellow timber yards often tell Daniel they are blown away by how neat and clean the timber yard is.

Demak Outdoor Timber and Hardware’s racking is custom made to ensure its timber remains in top condition.

“While the initial design of the yard does assist in maintaining a clean look, we also attribute the pristine condition of the yard to our staff who care about their job and really look after their space. It also helps that the racks were purpose-built so when the timber is stored in the racks, everything is nice and tight. This also stops timber from moving so you end up with a much better-quality end product.”

Another standout feature of the business is the quality of its product with Daniel adamant on always paying more for better quality material.

“We have developed a reputation over the years that we might not be the cheapest but we are always the best. If a customer goes elsewhere and has to throw out just one piece of timber this is often enough to be the difference in the cost that we have with our competitor. Our customers also know that there is no hassle with our product and if there ever is a problem, we fix it. Servicing our customers properly is such a huge focus for us,” Daniel said.

With a DIY/trade ratio that is close to 50/50, Demak Outdoor Timber and Hardware has a substantial retail base that is constantly evolving, along with its regular fencing customers who are also a huge part of the business.

When discussing the impact on supply, particularly within the fencing sector of the business, Daniel says that because there is such a shortage in paling fencing, they have been forced to ration supply according to their customer’s demand.

“We sought out our top 30 fencing customers and looked at their purchase history for the last 24 months to work out how much timber they bought in comparison to others. We then allocated the same percentage of our limited paling stock to these main trade fencing customers. The allocation is updated daily with the undulating stock levels and it keeps a rolling tally of everyone’s allocation while supporting the guys who are the bulk of our business. They are so appreciative of our support during this time of low supply,” he said.

“In saying this we never know when supply is coming. We often ask suppliers when a load is coming and they say they have no idea and then a truck rolls up the next day. It is a perfect storm with the timber supply shortages and we are just riding the wave. Now the floods have occurred in a large forestry area up north this will have huge on-going effects because now the ground is so wet the loaders cannot get into the forests and log. It will be months before things get back on track,” Daniel said.

For now, Daniel is grateful that Demak has experienced no decline in business since COVID despite all of the Melbourne lockdowns.

“Obviously everyone who was in lockdown decided to renovate their outdoor spaces which was great for us. We went to 100 per cent in retail sales during this time, but it takes a lot more time and effort to serve these customers and then of course the influx of deliveries took a lot of time as well. We initially offered free deliveries within 10 kilometres during the first lockdown which grew our deliveries by a couple of hundred per week,” he said.

Local demographics

Over the years both stores have remained quite reactive to trends which means that the majority of the stock in-store is dictated by the customer, Daniel says.

“While we also present new products to the customer, we are primarily focused on the outdoor timber market. However, if we have customers request a product that we do not have in-store, we document their requests and if it is requested again, we often get it in because we should have it,” he said.

As the only full stockist in Victoria of Trex Decking, Daniel realised some time ago that the composite decking market would be a big part of the industry.

“We import many containers of Trex Decking every year and it is by far our best-selling product. Our staff also love the product which makes it so much easier to sell because it is so low maintenance and will look the same for years. We have a massive display area of Trex Decking at the front of the store which is accessible to our customers outside of store hours, along with plenty of niche deck lighting including illuminated balustrading and glass panel fencing that lights up at night,” he said

Demak Outdoor Timber & Hardware’s Ferntree Gully store.

Hardware and Building Traders (HBT) has also remained proactive in introducing products to the store outside of Daniel’s scope, including accessing great deals that can be utilised online.

“We recently found a fantastic deal through HBT with Coleman pop-up gazebos. We bought a few pallets even though we have nothing to do with camping, but it sold incredibly well online. It is the little things that make us standout including the products that customers ring for from all over the country that they cannot find anywhere else,” Daniel said.

Working with HBT

As a HBT member for over eight years, Daniel says there are many benefits to being part of the group including being an invaluable networking asset.

“I have met so many great suppliers, retailers and HBT staff who have put me in contact with the right people and this is beyond a monetary value. When I aligned with the group eight years ago, I realised there was no cost involved but benefits everywhere. Over the years I kept looking for ‘the catch’ to being part of the HBT group but there just wasn’t one and I never looked back.”

“HBT offers incredible deals for hardware. This is not so easy within the timber space because the margins are not there at wholesale level to start with. HBT is definitely on the road to putting in the work with the right staff and the right investments and making timber work for them as well as hardware does,” he said.

Substantial online space

Incredibly Daniel has utilised the online space for over 20 years now, and is proud of being one of the first in Australia to launch an online timber store back in 2012.

Through HBT, Daniel met fellow member, Mick Lawlor from the Fastener Factory in Melbourne, and the two stores often bounce ideas off each other.

“Mick and I are both technologically minded which has meant that our online spaces have grown drastically in the past 20 years and is now a major part of both of our businesses. I have one staff member allocated to pack all of the online orders each day, while another staff member looks after the online space as well.”

“While it is a struggle to find the time to continually update the online store, it does generate a lot orders we otherwise would not have had. Customers use the online store as much for ordering as they do for quoting and put everything in the cart and print the list out so they have a quote for what they need,” Daniel said.

Further expansions

For now, Daniel and his two brothers continue to grow and evolve the stores. Michael was the former manager of the Ferntree Gully store but has moved out to the workshop now to ensure this runs smoothly, while Kieran manages the Ringwood East store. Daniel continues to focus on business development, the website and administration.

Outgrowing the current sites is the biggest issue for the family currently, who have already purchased a few thousand square metres of shed space to assist with storage woes, particularly when it comes to storing container loads of the Trex Decking material.

“My brothers and I have spoken about opening a third location for many years. Staffing is the most prohibitive issue, but never say never!” he said.

“At the moment we will continue to do what we do best which includes custom machining and welding. We are constantly evolving. This is also why we extended the Ferntree Gully store about five years ago, doubling the size of the showroom, and extending the building out substantially.”

“We are always looking at new machinery but we are at the maximum in space and power. In saying this we are reviewing products all the time and making the space that we have continue to work for us now and into the future,” Daniel said.