Dynamic HTH Group Conference themed ‘Our Customers. Our Success’
Home Timber & Hardware Group’s (HTHG) 2015 National Conference, with over 1,300 attendees, was appropriately themed ‘Our Customers. Our Success’, upholding a strong vision of how maintaining the passion of the independent, customer satisfaction and service will ensure the future success of the group.
The conference kicked off with the Home Timber & Hardware Group (HTHG) Trade Show, beginning for two hours on the first day and continuing throughout the second day. Debuting at the trade show were 15 product demonstrations, which proved very popular and showcased the latest products and innovations in hardware via hands on demonstrations conducted by suppliers. Retailers crowded the stage to ensure they were up to date on the latest products to hit the market including products from: Sika Australia, Valspar, Cement Australia, Bremick, Positec and Wagner Spraytech.
Another popular trade show feature was ‘Pallet Lane’, which consisted of a large central aisle dedicated to ‘trade show only’ specials. Several uniformed HTHG staff patrolled the lane to ensure they were easily accessible to retailers to take orders. Pallet Lane enticed retailers with 58 exclusive volume deals, available at the show, with significant savings up for grabs.
An innovative HTHG 2015 phone app was also available to all attendees, which was helpful in directing visitors to the correct exhibitor stand. The app also outlined the program for the entire conference, as well as directions, a news feed, award announcements and details of social functions.
James Aylen address
With the conference marking 12 months since HTHG General Manager, James Aylen took over the leadership of the group, Mr Aylen said the conference had been a wonderful opportunity to bring together all key business partners of the group.
“I am a person who believes in actions more than words, but I do recognise that one of the areas we need to improve is to communicate better to you as a group on where we are actually going and I hope to start some of that today,” Mr Aylen said
It did not take long before Mr Aylen spoke on competing against the big boxes and what the future held for HTHG.
“Bunnings and Masters have strength in their size, their structure, their discipline and their execution. However, their strength is their weakness. They will always struggle to match the independent’s passion that comes with having ownership of your own business. The independents do have a competitive advantage in areas of quality customer service, advice, knowledge, your staff and your ability to stay local,” Mr Aylen said.
“In Australia, we still have butchers, greengrocers and bakers, thriving against the large supermarkets located right outside their door. These independent operators have an advantage. Why? Because they offer superior service, a quality product and because they have knowledgeable staff that are passionate.”
“This culture of support gives the independent retailers an opportunity to win in hardware. The builder tradesman demands this support and only you can deliver it. And that is why our trade-focused sites are getting good growth at the moment – even when they have added competition,” he said.
Mr Aylen also said that for the Group to be successful in a market that competed directly with Bunnings and Masters, it needed to concentrate on being number one in trade.
“Our retail offer needs to support our trade customer, and then be complimented with a DIY offer, where space permits. In markets where there is no big box retailer, we need to grow a broader core retailer and trade offer to suit both customers.”
“The market is continuing to polarise between customers who simply want the lowest price and customers who are looking for more than price. Our success depends on our ability to win those customers who are looking for more than price. Those customers who put value on service, value on advice and value on relationships ahead of price,” he said.
He also spoke about the Group’s objectives to deliver value to customers of its smaller-format banners – Plants Plus and Thrifty-Link Hardware.
“To be successful within Thrifty Link, we need to develop a convenient DIY offer to cater for the customer and handyman who need those everyday hardware items to fix those ‘little’ jobs around the house. To be successful in Plants Plus we need a complementary range of garden accessories to support the broad green life offer and unique customer experience,” he said.
Why the name change?
Mr Aylen said the HTHG strategy is to build a sustainable future for all three banners, which is why all three brands are represented on the group’s new corporate logo.
“Now why the name change from John Danks to HTHG? It was my decision. I’ve always been a believer that the name of the business needs to reflect the retailer name you have so the customer can associate with it. With respect to the largest of our three banners, we have taken the Home Timber & Hardware name but our future strategy is absolutely inclusive of the three unique retail banners that are part of our group,” he said.
HTHG’s five key pillars
When looking at the HTHG’s future growth strategy, Mr Aylen said this was built on five key pillars, which are fundamental in achieving and supporting each of these market offerings and ensuring success. The pillars focused on: a relevant range, an efficient supply chain, supplier relationships, the customer experience and a strong marketing campaign.
- Relevant range: “Our range must be relevant”, according to Mr Aylen, who also said because the group won’t always have the volume of the big box competitors, they needed to ensure range is relevant to local customers. Mr Aylen said it’s about keeping ranges fresh and capitalising on new trends and innovation.
“We continue to work through our existing ranges – deleting poorer selling names and replacing with more relevant lines for today’s customer. Our range needs to be a mix of quality brands, complimented with a good private label, which is competitively priced, but allows you to improve both your sales and your margin,” he said.
“This continues to be a strong focus for our buying team, to deliver great product at a great price to you,” he said.
- Efficient supply chain: Mr Aylen said to ensure an efficient supply chain, steps had been made to address supply chain cost issues and ensure long-term security. He said that despite a great deal of planning, changes in the supply chain did impact both the service level to stores and the timing of deliveries.
“It was imperative we changed to get costs out of our supply chain. It will help us be more competitive and give us sustainability in the long term, which will benefit us all,” he said.
- Supplier relationships: The HTHG also aims to continually deliver a quality branded range to its customers, through strong supplier relationships.
Backed up by his 30+ years’ experience in buying, Mr Aylen said, “Why must we have the strongest supplier relationships? We won’t always have the greatest volume but where we can win is by creating great relationships and growth for our suppliers. Suppliers will continue to support us if we can deliver better returns than our competitors. Execution of agreements is key. Know what you can commit to and deliver on what you commit.”
- Create a customer experience: Mr Aylen said it was imperative group members stayed focussed on passionately servicing their customers, by understanding what they value, by knowing their habits and delivering on their needs.
“Service, experience, advice, the passion for our products will always set us apart from the corporates. Building relationships with your key customers – only you can do that. The need to be nimble and quick to react, to think big but stay local,” he said.
- Strong marketing campaign: “We needed to develop an impactful marketing campaign where we will stand out from the mundaneness of what is hardware marketing in the media at the moment,” Mr Aylen said.
“With the right range, distribution, supplier relationship and the right customer experience, the final imperative is to deliver the right message to the customers of all our groups today and tomorrow. We have been working on new creative for each banner – there is a clear need for change. Our team have also been working on highlighting more opportunities in our loyalty programs, sponsorships, digital and social media, while new ads show how we want to stand out in the market place,” he said.
Together we are stronger
Mr Aylen completed his address by reaffirming his commitment to support group members.
“The Home Timber & Hardware Group is committed to supporting the independents in Home, in Thrifty Link and in Plants Plus and keeping you more relevant to all our customers. You are an important part of our long term strategy.”
“We need your support as together we are stronger. If we maintain the leverage, the strengths of being an independent, and help you blend that with some of the strengths of being a corporate – we will have a far more compelling offer to the customers,” he said.
“Woolworths has invested $65 million in the last two years to help strengthen the Home Timber & Hardware Group. To me this conference has embodied what we are trying to achieve to make the group stronger. Yesterday our suppliers put the deals on the table. My team embraced the excitement of selling. And you showed everyone that if the right deals get on the table then you’re prepared to support those deals,” Mr Aylen said.
In the final session of the conference, an intimate supplier Q&A session was held where Mr Aylen openly spoke to suppliers about his commitment to drive mutual growth and build supplier confidence in this group.
“When looking at where we are at, in quarter 2 last financial year, we did about $195 million. This year in the same quarter we did over $240 million. A major contributor to that growth was our company stores. We now have 44 sites, including recent additions of Hudsons and Belmont Timber. Well-run, quality trade businesses that have given us great scope to further grow our trade business.”
“We have plans to significantly invest in these stores to deliver greater sales across the broader business. Not just in trade. Because of the big boy’s growth, there are some independents doing it tough out there and it is our responsibility to give them the opportunity to continue to survive,” he said.
“In our upcoming marketing campaign for Home Timber & Hardware, our messaging concentrates on what a hardware store should represent – under the pledge to ‘Put the Hard Back Into Hardware’. We sought a new creative agency for the new campaign which adds a touch of Aussie larrikin humour and gives ourselves a real point of difference in a market saturated by more rational advertising,” Mr Aylen said. During the supplier’s session, Darren Manning, HTHG Head of Buying, also said the challenge had been set to ensure the trade show was a selling event and would deliver better returns on the supplier’s attendance. “Traditionally our team hasn’t sold stock on your behalf before in Pallet Lane. After the first night we sold so much stock that we had to re-print order forms. We set ourselves a target yesterday of what we thought we might be able to achieve. We wanted this to be a selling event. I’m so pleased to announce we took $5.2 million in sales yesterday,” Mr Manning said. “In regards to our company stores – with 44 sites nationally this now represents 50 per cent of HTHG sales. The most recent acquisition of 15 Hudsons stores will see an $8 million investment in rebrand and refurbishments over the next 12 months. And Belmont in Geelong Victoria has given us a distribution network right across the Eastern seaboard. This is a game changer for our business.”
“It is really important for us to be able to differentiate our stores from a customer’s point of view, especially when it comes to big builders and accounts, so we are rebranding our company stores as a sub-brand of the HTHG. Our company stores now allow us to service our customers at a far more geographical level – which we have never been able to do before.”
During the session, Mr Aylen also added, “we are taking our team on a journey ensuring they are sales people again. For a long time we were a wholesaler, but at the end of the day what we need to be doing is selling. I was very proud of the team at the trade show and our challenge is to keep this momentum going forward so that we can continue to show reasons why you should be a partner in our business,” Mr Aylen said.
On the final night the HTHG Gala Dinner and National Awards dinner was held with over 1300 delegates seated throughout a festive exhibition hall, alongside a large Cement Australia truck from Cement Australia, who were the Gold sponsor for the dinner.
Mr Aylen wrapped up the action packed conference by announcing the last three days had been such a success due to the “effort and support of everyone in the room, whether you are from Plant Plus, Thrifty-Link or from HTH, suppliers – together we have created a fantastic record in sales.”
Suppliers and retailers then listened in anticipation as the National HTHG awards were revealed, with the following award winners announced:
Best Young Retailer of the Year – Dominick Woodland, Cooper’s Hardware
Home Timber & Hardware | National Store of the Year (over 1000 square metres) – Dippers Home Timber & Hardware
Home Timber & Hardware | National Store of the Year (under 1000 square metres) – Townsville Hardware
Home Timber & Hardware | National Trade Store of the Year – Lang’s Building Supplies
Thrifty-Link Hardware | National Store of the Year – Branxton Hardware
Plant Plus | National Store of the Year – McDonalds Plant Plus – Lee Macdonald
Supplier awards were then presented by Darren Manning who said, “we are thrilled to recognise suppliers who do such a great job in supporting our business.”
2015 Supplier of the Year (Home Timber & Hardware) – Bremick
2015 Supplier of the Year (Thrifty-Link Hardware) – Selleys
2015 Supplier of the Year (Plants Plus) – Mr Fothergill’s Seeds Pty Ltd
2015 Supplier of the Year (Trade) – Cement Australia
2015 Supplier of the Year (Garden) – Amgrow
2015 Supplier of the Year (Tools) – Hitachi Power Tools Australia
2015 Supplier of the Year (Decorator) – Valspar
2015 Logistics Supplier of the Year – ED Oates Pty Ltd
2015 Exhibitor of the Year – Positec
2015 Product Demonstration of the Year – Northcote Pottery
The HTHG Gala dinner and awards night concluded with the surprise performance of Daryl Braithwaite, who populated the dance floor with his greatest hits, ending the conference on the perfect high.