The hard-working team from Dipper’s Home Timber & Hardware have endured their fair share of tragedy and natural disasters since the store opened almost a decade ago. Their efforts to overcome hardship and build a thriving business for the community of Moree gained state-wide recognition in 2021, being named IHG’s Home Timber & Hardware Store of the Year for the NSW and ACT region.
Business: Dipper’s Home Timber & Hardware
Owners: Rebecca Diprose
Location: Moree, NSW
Buying Group: Independent Hardware Group (IHG)
After purchasing the store in November 2012, Rebecca and her husband Anthony (dec) doubled the store’s turnover in just 18 months after the couple saw an incredible amount of untapped potential within the business. It quickly went on to win Home Timber & Hardware National Store of the Year (over 1000 square metres) just 18 months on in 2014.
Anthony (Dipper) was already a well-known personality in the district and, with the help of a friend, pushed the business hard during the first two years of operation. The store grew to its full potential in a short amount of time through the implementation of the right products, store relay and upgrade, high-quality customer service, while also maintaining a close connection with the local community.
The business continued to grow, but in 2017 Bec and Anthony became concerned about predictions of the drought in the local area and began to prepare themselves for a downturn in business.
Then the unimaginable happened not long into the year when Anthony passed away from a sudden heart attack at the age of 47. Rebecca was not only left to try and comprehend the sudden loss of her husband, but also take on the business by herself while also bringing up three young children aged just three, six and seven years old.
To complicate matters further, the family were only months away from embarking on a new home build.
“We had to make some very quick decisions in regards to the shop and the new house,” Rebecca said.
“I had been working in the shop a day or two a week prior to this, but more with the accounting side of the business. Luckily, I did sit down with Dipper and he showed me a lot of the businesses systems that were in place before he passed away. Just six weeks after Dipper died in 2017 we had our fifth birthday celebration at the shop which gave me the opportunity to thank all of the staff that had supported my family throughout this time,” she said.
The support from the IHG group at the time was unwavering, particularly from nearby members, including owner of MacKenzies Home Timber & Hardware in Goondiwindi, Clive Quartemaine, who is situated about 120 kilometres north of the store.
Clive was helping in the store the day after Dipper’s passing to ensure everything was running smoothly, according to Rebecca.
“Clive’s business is very similar to mine so I only have to pick up the phone and ask advice on things such as wages or where a certain department should be at and he just helps out. I often take our store managers for a day trip to his store because Clive is so clever with store presentation and the general running of the store. He is an inspiration to our business.”
“IHG’s State Manager Ian Back has also been on the Dipper’s journey since we bought the store and has been an enormous support, while our Business Development Manager, Chantel Jackson is also super passionate and genuinely interested in making sure all is OK, coming on-board just three months after Dipper died. She is so clever on sourcing all the right products, store layout, HR and merchandising because she worked in a trade centre,” she said.
While Rebecca says even though she runs an independent business she feels like she has the benefit of the entire IHG team behind her, particularly when it comes to IHG having the ability to secure stock and prices and utilising IHG’s warehouse as well.
When it comes to support, Rebecca is grateful for the talented leaders helping guide the business.
“Site Manager Mark Baker has really stepped up, particularly in the trade area, and has been a stalwart of our store for 20 something years.”
“Luke Cubis is another young leader I rely on who started out as a junior at the store before embarking on a traineeship and is now the Retail Manager at the store. At 22 years old he has a maturity beyond his years.”
“I also have our office manager Margaret O’Neill who has been with us since we bought the business. Her attention to detail is incredible,” she said.
When Dipper was alive he would come home with great ideas and Rebecca said that often she would be the one who was left to make ideas happen.
“But now I have slipped into that position of seeing the bigger picture and Mark and Luke are very much the detail. We just seem to bounce off each other including changing the store from a trade-based store to also implementing a female-friendly shopping environment.”
“They respect me enough to make the decisions on evolving the store’s bigger picture, but I also give them enough freedom to do what is right for the business,” Rebecca said.
Dipper’s Home Timber & Hardware has continued to evolve over the years and is incredibly different to what it was when it first opened in 2012.
“Initially the store was part rural supplies, part hardware. The business needed a bit of love and we have got it as far as we can,” she said.
As a remote business located in the farming community of Moree, 700 kilometres northwest of Sydney, the store continues to be a great example of a rural business catering to locals’ needs to ensure money stays in the town.
Moree remains solely reliant on agriculture so if dryland and irrigated farmers experience good times, so too does the town. However, after the drought began in 2018, the area became dire by the following year and locals just stopped spending money.
“We had to make some pretty big business decisions throughout this time and when people moved on from our business, we just did not replace them. We did have to cut hours which was hard.”
“The drought made me analyze the business and look at things that you probably would not normally look at, including dead stock and our ranging to make sure we were up to date with what the IHG group was putting forward. Thankfully in early 2020 it rained a lot throughout our district which set us up for a great year ahead. Being a regional town, we rely on agriculture and it meant everyone would have their winter crop plant for the first time in two years. Imagine being without an income for two years.”
“COVID then hit us in March last year like a steam train, with hardware being one of the winners of the pandemic. We went from our worst month in February to our best month in April. It was so hard to comprehend our worst month on record and our best month on record were only eight weeks apart. As people lost their jobs during the drought families just left town so trying to find staff to fill roles was difficult as well,” Rebecca said.
Before the rain arrived in early 2020, local farmers did not have the funds to maintain and upgrade on-farm accommodation, so when the drought broke the Moree community were desperate to invest in their surrounds.
“In early 2000 the population of Moree was 12000. Due to advancements in agricultural practices and the drought this number is now 8000. We could not control the drought and how this affected our business. What we could control is the shopping experience for our customers and ensuring we have the right products at the right price, good customer service, and store standards are at a level that discourages customers from shopping with a competitor, either online or out of town. The pandemic has also encouraged people to support local businesses because they know that if they do not shop locally, we will not be there anymore,” she said.
While Dipper’s Home Timber & Hardware does compete with a co-existing IHG member, Moree Mitre 10, Rebecca says she sees this store as more of a partner than the competition.
“We help each other and work alongside each other more than anything. They are a smaller DIY offering while we are a large retail and trade offering. Our direct trade competition is Bunnings in Inverell, about 140 kilometres away, but they do deliver here three times a week.”
“COVID has prompted more people to come back to our store and shop locally. Our job is to make sure we retain them with a shopping experience that keeps them loyal to us,” she said.
While the store continues to thrive post-COVID, Rebecca said she is planning to grow the business even further .
“What is preventing us from moving forward is our current infrastructure. While we do have a massive site of 12000 square metres and 3000 square metres of trade, it can be a curse because products can easily be dumped in the wrong spot. We have outgrown our current infrastructure within the trade space so we are looking at the next stage of where we take this business.”
“When we bought the business in 2021 it was 60 per cent retail and 40 per cent trade, but now it is the opposite,” she said.
Rebecca believes the way forward for Dipper’s Home Timber & Hardware now is to continue to improve on everything it has worked on for years.
“We often order our framing weeks in advance so our lead times in a regional area can be at two weeks at least. We are lucky with the retail side of the business because we draw out of the IHG warehouse and receive two drops a week. If we do not have what our customers need, they can potentially drive over 100 kilometres to source their needs from another store.”
The future looks positive for Moree, particularly with the inland rail project underway which will upgrade all railway lines between Melbourne and Brisbane. This will see big industry come to the western side of the Great Dividing Range and transport local grain in an affordable manner. For now, Rebecca says she is looking forward to the store evolving throughout its next chapter, alongside her three, beautiful kids, and the amazing team who continue to push the business into the future.