Fastplast’s Building Industry Expo a local success
Store name: Fastplast Building Supplies
Store owners: Chris & Jean McGeoch, Shaun & Leemarie Abbott, Elaine Abbott.
Buying group: Natbuild
Fastplast Building Supplies has achieved a lot since it was first established just under 20 years ago, and is now particularly well known for its highly popular Building Industry Expo held in Port Macquarie, on the NSW North Coast.
Not only has the business grown substantially, but so too has its popular Building Industry Expo, with this year’s third event boasting 45 suppliers and an impressive 300 attendees. Feedback from both suppliers and attendees this year was nothing short of exceptional.
Originally established as Fastplast Interior Linings, storeowners Chris McGeoch and wife Jean, Shaun Abbott and wife Leemarie, along with founding member and Shaun’s mother Elaine Abbott, will next year celebrate 20 years of operation, remaining a proudly 100 per cent locally owned and operated business, with all owners long-term residents of the Port Macquarie region.
When speaking with AHJ, Managing Director Shaun Abbott explained how his career began humbly, starting off at McDonalds, before moving into a McDonald’s management role in the mid 90s after completing his HSC. During this time, Shaun accomplished several management accreditations, before he moved into a maintenance role whilst also operating his own small business in lawn and garden care.
“When my family formed Fastplast Building Supplies, it offered me a career change into this exciting and evolving industry. I started at the very bottom in 2002, when I began by stacking timber and sweeping floors. But over the next decade I quickly progressed through the ranks from forklift driver to truck driver, to sales and receiving, onto Dispatch Manager and second in charge, before finally taking on the role of General Manager in 2015,” Shaun said.
Stand out store
With the main operations area of the store and under roof storage spanning 2750 square metres, situated on a 4200 square metre block in the Port Macquarie industrial estate, the well-stocked show room boasts a primary focus on trade quality tools and accessories. The site is also specifically designed to remain highly accessible to tradies, with fantastic product displays incorporated into the building’s façade showcasing all options available, according to Shaun.
“While our heritage remains in linings supplies, we also specialise in various types of internal and external building solutions. The experience of our sales team provides a complete solution to our customers in-store, and our specialist team of delivery personnel also understand what is important to our customers. The store also provides building materials required from the ground up, to completion, covering most aspects of house builds or commercial projects,” he said.
“Only recently we undertook a complete storewide upgrade of our computing system – a daunting task for anyone who has been there. Twelve months on, it really has improved our ability to provide quality information to our customer base, assist with managing any accounting concerns and inventory control, as well as the quick and efficient service of customers in-store or via phone and email.”
“We also offer a wide range of product information resources via an extensive install guide and product information section in our main sales area. This is complemented with an interactive information hub, which is hugely popular with our customers,” Shaun said.
While the store remains predominantly a trade operation, with a reasonable proportion of sales coming from the trades, Shaun said these numbers are beginning to shift as more consumers are undertaking DIY projects and seek a personalised shopping experience and trustworthy advice to find the best solutions.
“We value the opportunity to assist customers who are not sure on what the most suitable option for their project is, which is also why we also specialise in sourcing hard to find products for those that need them.”
“Being a coastal town, and with recent trends towards Hamptons inspired housing, we also feature a large range of cladding options within our onsite displays. Brochures are great but the opportunity to touch and feel a product or see a reasonably sized display installed can really help with that decision-making process,” he said.
With exceptional quality customer service remaining a high priority at the store, Shaun said management continues to invest a lot of time and resources in staff training to ensure customers always receive high quality service.
Access to information regarding systems and solutions for the trade, is also a very important daily consideration, he said.
“This is particularly important when you consider how quickly the industry is moving and the vast range of new products that are entering the market each month. Systems and solutions are equally important for customers undertaking a DIY project or those battling the minefield of selections on a new home build. It is for this reason that we have also recently upgraded our product displays, showroom, plus undertaken multiple safety upgrades in our operations area so customers have an opportunity to get hands on with the products.”
“These in-store upgrades have also led us to win consecutive awards four years running in the local Chamber of Commerce Business Awards. I truly believe that we stand out as the only locally owned and operated building supplies store in Port Macquarie. Most of our customers also understand and see the importance of supporting local businesses and keeping their money in the local community,” he said.
“We in turn strive to ensure that the decision to support a local business does not mean our customers have to sacrifice a fantastic shopping experience. This is why we keep our service levels at the top of our game, maintain competitive and fair pricing, keep a healthy range of well-known and high-quality brands and ensure our businesses presentation is 100 per cent at all times.”
“We also give back to the community by supporting over 30 local charities and sporting teams. We give back to the locals wherever we can, because they give so much to us,” Shaun said.
With the store’s motto being, ‘Build with Service’, the business continues to implement high quality service to current and future customers, which all begins with quality staff training, according to Shaun.
“Extensive staff training programs will continue to underpin this motto and Natbuild has some amazing programs within its offer to assist in this area. We have some fantastic and experienced staff who embrace training exercises actively which gives them further confidence in what they do each day. Engaging in tailored promotions is also something we, and our customers value, so we have some very exciting upcoming plans in this space,” he said.
Fastplast Building Supplies attributes its steady increase in sales not only to the buoyant housing market over the last decade, but by also ensuring thorough assessment of the business is undertaken by management on a regular basis.
“We constantly look at how we can do things better and sometimes our changes to the business can be quite radical, but we deem it as necessary. Just because you have always done something a certain way, does not mean it is a good fit for your business moving forward. As we have continued to grow all areas of the business, from sales to transport, these areas have become quite busy,” he said.
“We also continually re-structure and promote from within, where possible, which is why our staffing has doubled to 26 staff in the last five years. We enjoy a considerably low staff turnover, which in turn means we have many long serving employees working within the store, who have decades of experience within our industry,” Shaun said.
The strength of Natbuild
As a long-time member of the Natbuild (National Building Suppliers Group Pty Ltd), Fastplast Building Supplies fits perfectly with Natbuild, particularly because the group is “truly passionate about independents and the group operates much more like a business partner.”
“As a Natbuild member, you are not just a number, you are important. If you have a question, idea or concern it certainly is not ignored. Natbuild is also very transparent in its operation, staffed by experienced professionals, and the group sincerely adds value to our business in buying power and profitability,” he said.
“As an independent operator we have full confidence Natbuild works hard to ensure we remain competitive in this industry. The comradery within the group really is second to none and although Fastplast Building Supplies is just one independent store on the mid north coast of NSW, we really do feel part of the greater collective of over 150 stores nationwide,” Shaun said.
Looking into the year ahead, Shaun said the store has several exciting marketing concepts in development, including the recent showcase of its third Fastplast Building Industry Expo.
The birth of Fastplast’s Expo
Six years ago, the Fastplast Building Industry Expo was born from a need to offer a point of difference to its customers and suppliers, which was along the lines of a trade night, but an upgraded concept that was a touch classier than steak sandwiches and beers in the trade yard.
While the store previously ran smaller trade night type events in the yard and at smaller venues, feedback from this style of event was that they were, “a dime a dozen” and if run too often, or without a point of difference, customer engagement can be quite minimal, according to Shaun.
“Whilst our customers are still happy to attend these events, they also wander around and say ‘I saw that last year, I’ve seen this before, where’s the bar and my mates?’. We decided a point of difference was needed, and ‘classing it up’ was our solution. We also believed pushing the event to run every two years would prevent it from burning out and to also ensure a good mix of products on display every time,” Shaun said.
“Marketing of the event has been restricted to email, text messages and more traditional methods of communication such as instore signage, flyers and or course word of mouth. While we were very keen to have a great attendance, we also wanted to ensure attendees were of high value to suppliers and not just there for free stuff and a beer,” he said.
Fastplast Building Supplies also had a plan to grow the Expo into an event that other local businesses, from related but non-competing arms of the building industry, could use as a medium to get in front of the collective customer base. As such, in amongst the 45 suppliers who attended The Glasshouse in Port Macquarie this year, there were 10 locally owned and operated businesses from the Port Macquarie area displaying their products.
“One example was local steel supplier, Bennett’s Steel, who saw the Expo as a low-cost advertising opportunity to get in front of, and showcase, their products to attendees. These could be customers of ours but not necessarily customers of theirs. The concept of involving other businesses also helps to grow a strong sense of community amongst other locally owned and operated businesses”
“This year’s event was the third running of the Building Industry Expo which has already grown to include a $20,000 prize pool for the evening. We even had virtual reality race car simulators and a magician all set up in the prestigious local arts and entertainment centre. Feedback from our suppliers in looking to organise this year’s event was exceptional. The last event attracted approximately 300 attendees so it was not an overly hard sell to get supplier involvement. Our customer base simply could not wait for the night. There was a real buzz in the air,” Shaun said.
During the alternate years of the Expo, Fastplast Building Supplies ran weekly trade breakfasts for the duration of spring, which have also proven to be a great success. The breakfasts provide key suppliers with the opportunity to attend trade breakfasts during spring, chat to tradies about their products, and as a sweetener, are run in conjunction with a significant prize pool.
“Last year one lucky customer towed away a $22,000 camper trailer at the end of spring, just by attending the breakfast and entering the competition. The event was also hosted in support of our local Lions Club and we have been fortunate enough to have them come along and take care of the cooking duties in return for a significant donation to help the club with their important community activities,” he said.
2020 will see another season of tradies’ breakfasts run throughout spring, while the much anticipated Fastplast Building Supplies Expo will run once again in 2021.