Dunsborough Mitre 10 epitomises retail resilience

by | Mar 22, 2024

Winning its first National Small Store Award at the recent IHG Expo, Dunsborough Mitre 10 has overcome many obstacles to become the thriving retail hardware store that it is today.

Business: Dunsborough Mitre 10
Owners:  Trent and Kristin Wilson
Location: Dunsborough, Western Australia
Buying Group: Independent Hardware Group (IHG)

After a building fire destroyed the store in 2020, the tiny but mighty store was not only rebuilt to its former glory, but entirely transformed to become a thriving mecca for the local community.

Utilising Mitre 10’s Sapphire transformation program, store owners Trent and Kristin Wilson completely closed the business for eight months to ensure the new store was everything the local community needed and more.

“The fire started from a printer transformer stored under the counter inside. After the counter set alight, the fire burnt through to the mezzanine level upstairs. Because the fire produced so much soot, all of the stock was severely damaged and had to be thrown out – there was nothing left.”

“It was then that the IHG state office suggested we implement the Sapphire transformation program into the rebuild, which includes a deep dive into the business by IHG. They look at everything from financials to the stock we carry and they suggest the best products to stock in-store. IHG has all the data of what should be carried in-store to increase sales by at least 20 per cent,” Trent said.

Since the transformation, Dunsborough Mitre 10’s sales growth has surpassed this goal, achieving an incredible 35 per cent sales growth which is ongoing. Since the renovations, the store’s performance continues to improve year in and year out. 

Not only was the stock revamped in-store, but extensive structural changes were also undertaken. The store was stripped back to bare bones, with the ceilings and mezzanine floors rebuilt, as well as the entire store rewired and repainted.

“We also relocated a lot of the shelving and installed internal fixtures that are designed specifically for Sapphire stores. It is not something you just buy ready-made. The stands are extra high at three metres so it is quite a different look for us instore.”

“We lost a couple of rows in here because we widened the rows from 900 millimetres to 1.4 metres wide. Focusing on the shelf layout specific to the Sapphire format allowed us to add more lines into the store. Even though we lost a couple of aisles by widening everything, we still increased our lines from 8500 lines up to 11500 lines,” Trent said.

Upon reopening, Trent said once customers returned to the store, they were surprised with how extensive the changes were.

“We are thrilled with the response from the public. Just having more variation of lines on hand has been invaluable. We are only a small store of 900 square metres so we do not have a lot of space. Keeping a good core range of products for the customers is at the forefront of our purchasing strategy,” Trent said.

Blake’s lasting legacy

The same year that the fire destroyed Dunsborough Mitre 10, Trent and Kristin’s son Blake also lost his battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) aged just 18. Blake fought hard after he was diagnosed in 2019 at just 16 years of age, and immediately underwent extensive chemotherapy as well as two bone marrow transplants in Perth Children’s Hospital – three hours drive from their home in Dunsborough. 

Trent and Kristin with their daughter Delaney and son Blake who sadly lost his battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia aged just 18.

Trent spent his days travelling to and from Perth to be with Kristin and Blake during his treatment. Although Blake did manage to go into remission, the cancer returned in 2020. When the fire occurred in the same year, Trent said although it was devasting, it was a blessing in disguise because it allowed him to spend more time in Perth to support Blake.

“Blake’s positive attitude was unwavering throughout the treatment. He never said ‘poor me’ or felt sorry for himself, he just got on with trying to get better. As the store was rebuilt and reopened, it was good that Kristin and I had something to throw ourselves into so we could deal with losing Blake. When he was younger, he used to work in the business with me on the weekends and school holidays and he loved it. When I was rebuilding the store, I had cameras installed throughout so Blake could watch the progress of the refit and he would often text me and say, ‘to get on with it’.  He had a great sense of humor,” Trent said.

“Blake’s bone marrow was not producing red blood cells so he needed to have two to three blood transfusions a week and these donations kept him with us during his treatment. As he was in Year 12, he said that he always wanted to have something to do with the ‘Leavers’ program to promote and encourage school leavers to donate blood.” 

“Blake’s idea became the ‘Leavers for Lifeblood’ awareness program collaborating with Lifeblood. We set up stands in both Dunsborough and Busselton where the Leavers are buying tickets for events and we talk with them to encourage them to sign up to Lifeblood and become blood donors and also ask that they go on the Bone Marrow Donor Registry. Kristin, Blake’s sister Delaney and friends and family all support Blake’s vision every year and in 2023 we got over 1000 signatures which was an incredible response,” Trent said.

Loyal staff

While Blake’s legacy lives on in the local community as well as in the store from his days working alongside his parents as a junior, Trent and Kristin continue to work in the business with a close-knit team. Most of the casual staff are retirees aged over 60.

“We pride ourselves on our staff selection and training. We employ a full-time manager Matt Scorer who is an asset to the business, five casual staff members who are (all but one) over 60 and somewhat semi-retired as well as two juniors. Most of them work two to three days a week and they love interacting with the customers. For them, it is just an enjoyable way to earn a little extra money. My wife Kristin also works with us assisting with the accounting side of the business as well as managing the store’s homewares department which has become quite popular in-store.”

“Our staff are encouraged to guide our customers to help them without being intrusive or giving them the hard sell. We also make sure they are approachable so that the customer gets the best service they could hope for when they come into the store,” he said.

Local competition

Located just under 250 kilometres south of Perth, Dunsborough is a small coastal town with a population of around 9000. 

“We are primarily retail orientated, not trade because we are such a small store. With one other primarily trade-oriented hardware store and a second building supplies store in town, Mitre 10 Dunsborough has a different offering being a retail store. While we do carry a small range of timber, bulk screws, and cements, this is not our primary focus in this store. The previous owners also moved away from a trade offer and they had the store 16 years prior to us so it was never a direction the business has ever taken.”

“The largest town near us is Busselton located about 20 minutes north which has a 25,000 square metre Bunnings in town. We do not compete directly with this store because we just do not have what they have. We endeavor to carry the basics so that customers do not have to travel to Busselton for services not available in Dunsborough.”

“I can source almost anything in-store for our customers if they are willing to wait a couple of days. There is nothing we cannot order for our customers. We have found requests for online orders have increased because people are happy for us to order in what they need and then they can come in and grab it,” Trent said. 

The town also has a good mix of retirees, a growing young population that works in hospitality, FIFO workers with young families and seasonal holiday homeowners. There is a lot of building going on in the town which dictates that the store has all the essential hardware items for DIY projects for both established homes and new builds. 

“Today the biggest departments in-store are garden, paint and hardware. People in our town love their gardens and are willing to keep them looking great all year round. With new families and new houses being built some are saving money by doing the work themselves like landscaping and painting or fixing things around the house,” Trent said.

Looking to the future

Although the store has undergone a major transformation and the growth rate is strong, Trent said he is still looking at implementing some innovations in the near future. 

“We are always looking to improve the store including upgrading our hardware operating system to achieve store reporting and analytics. We are also looking at the new digital data strips in-store to improve efficiency, labour and time management.”

“It is important to continually look at our customer’s needs which is why we have implemented a new pet product and treats range. We just have to make sure what we implement does not detract from what we already offer. We are a small store there is only so much we can put in-store, so it is a very fine balance for now,” Trent concluded.