HBT reveals team expansion and conference dates
AHJ recently caught up with HBT CEO Greg Benstead, who not only revealed the group’s new conference dates for 2021 but detailed the group’s ongoing commitment to expand and evolve the team to deliver a better service to both members and suppliers.
14/05/2021 by Christine Bannister
With HBT’s National Conference initially scheduled for early June this year, Mr Benstead said HBT (Hardware and Building Traders) recently made the call to move the conference to later in the year to prevent any hiccups due to COVID outbreaks.
“The conference will still be held at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre but will now be held in November, just to allow more time for the COVID vaccine to be rolled out. Hopefully, this will give us more of a chance of running the much-anticipated event,” Mr. Benstead said.
“After the most recent outbreak, I did say to the team that this virus could come out of the blue at any time and I suggested then that we make the call early and move the conference to the first week in November. When we spoke to most of our members and suppliers, they said they were very keen to have a conference and wanted to make this happen for them. Hopefully, by then the world will be a much better place.”
“We can also conduct the conference in the same capacity as we always have because we have got the larger facilities at the Gold Coast Convention Centre to allow the conference to happen. We will, however, be changing a few things including changing the big auditorium presentations. When we were in Melbourne and there were 800 people in a room listening to the presentations it just did not feel like us,” he said.
HBT’s moved auditorium presentations to a luncheon format alongside store award presentations throughout the final afternoon of the conference, to make way for social activities in the evening,
“We wanted to try something different after Melbourne’s conference and this year’s conference allowed us to make some changes. We will continue to do the right thing while getting everyone together at the same time,” he said.
Strengthening the team
Significant changes have also been made to HBT’s corporate team recently with former HBT member, Andrew Graham from Traralgon H Hardware now joining the team at a corporate level.
“Andrew’s father has now taken over the business while Andrew works on the front line with HBT’s General Manager of Member Services, Mike LoRicco. Andrew will no doubt be an incredible asset to the team,” he said.
“Jason Mc Elligott from Walker Brothers Timber & Building Supplies in Gosford, New South Wales has also come on board. Jason was the manager of the store for the last 21 years but has now joined the HBT team as part of member services. Jason has got some great expertise in the timber segment, and also has some really good marketing ideas as well as strategies on how to get to our members more efficiently,” Mr Benstead said.
The HBT buying team has also experienced some changes after new team member Rita Niforas came on board and will now work alongside Kevin Marshall, Marcella Indries, and Peter Hurley to make up the business manager in the buying team. An additional team member will come on board next financial year, with all five team members to work closely with HBT’s General Manager of Buying, Jody Vella.
“The final structure of the buying team will ensure there are enough buyers to cover all of our suppliers effectively moving forward. Before we brought more members on board there were too many suppliers for each of the buyers to work with to gain the relationships that are critical to HBT. Now with ultimately five in the buying team, it means we can get to everyone efficiently and strategize properly,” he said.
HBT currently has several significant projects on the go including working on several IT projects that are beginning to come to fruition, according to Mr Benstead.
“HBT already has an incredibly efficient IT system for rebates and handling suppliers, as well as promotions and marketing opportunities and we have built up this online space so it is available to our members. I think the opportunity for us now is to continue that journey to ensure that members and supplier reporting are world-class.”
“We would love to work with other buying groups, to assist in helping independent businesses achieve better deals. We could assist them via our IT systems. This is a direction we could take into the future.”
“What we need is for real independents to be stronger. We are a bit fractured at the moment and I think there is an opportunity to get us together in this way. It will be implemented in baby steps and there is a lot of hurdles to jump over before we get there, but this is my ultimate plan,” he said.
While HBT recognizes the importance of integrating an online space throughout the store network, Mr Benstead said he also believes he owes it to members to provide a simple system so members can go online with little effort.
“If a member wishes to be online we simply show them the online platform that we have developed and for a couple of hundred dollars, they can work the platform from their store. This is a similar story through the H Hardware network, where we currently have some fully functional transactional websites,” he said.
“HBT’s ‘pick your own’ catalogue program is very similar to the online program. This allows members to create their catalogue from a template that costs nothing for the member.”
“The catalogue program is growing and we are just in the process of sending out catalogues to every one of our members. This is so they all can see a hard copy of a potential catalogue for their store that has been built online, and they can do it themselves. We thought it would be a great idea to send presentation models to all members, just so they can get it in their hands and they can see how eye-catching it is to their customers,” Mr. Benstead said.
HBT’s store numbers continue to grow steadily, according to Mr Benstead, who said store numbers have grown by about 50 members in the last 12 months.
“HBT’s membership is now sitting at 860 with the growth coming broadly, from everywhere. The recent strengthening of the operations team also means the team can get out and talk to retailers better,” he said.
Moving forward, HBT is working on multiple store planograms to be implemented throughout various store sizes.
“The team is working on multiple store planograms, so if a store wants to get into a category they can choose from three different bay layouts. We are doing a large amount of work on the portal now, and we are changing the way it works in various channels. The portal needs to be about the store owner and what they need to know and want, which is why we are making sure it becomes far more personalized.”
“The portal has become much user-friendly because store owners now only see the suppliers and categories they work with when they log on. By constructing the portal this way it becomes easy for members to access pricing and deals. They can have it open next to their registers at the front of the store to always use. HBT is doing a lot of work in this area so it is easier for members to see the final price they receive as an HBT member,” Mr Benstead said.
Several of the initiatives HBT is currently working on will be officially rolled out at the national conference in November. Mr Benstead said members have plenty to look forward to at the upcoming event, including meeting the new team and, of course, finally interacting on a personal level, once again.