IHG makes successful switch to Virtual Expo

by | Mar 15, 2021

The Independent Hardware Group’s (IHG) Virtual Expo made its debut on February 22, complete with all of its trademark events including business sessions and a National Awards of Excellence ceremony which ran alongside exhibition halls, expo deals, webinars and booth visit incentives housed within an interactive online platform.

With over 2700 delegates registered, the Virtual Expo opened up more opportunities for members than ever before by giving all store staff the chance to experience the event. Over 480 hardware stores and 190 exhibitors registered for the event which broke all attendance records.

This year’s business sessions included insights from IHG Chief Executive Officer, Annette Welsh who not only reflected on the last 12 months but also shared opportunities for members to capitalise on changes to consumer behaviour in a post COVID environment in 2021 and beyond. Ms Welsh was followed by a number of speakers, including demographer Bernard Salt, and an introduction from Total Tools Chief Executive Officer, Paul Dumbrell.

The Expo (trade show) itself consisted of 10 halls of 189 virtual booths, including a new Innovation Hall showcasing the latest shopper-trends and industry services, as well as a virtual showcase of volume buys for members on ‘Pallet Alley’. Members were also able to view and add to their ‘virtual showbag’ hundreds of supplier videos and documents, as well as watch ‘Learning Labs’ and supplier webinars via the auditorium. 

As everyone navigated the technology, the IHG team reported that on the whole, it was a positive experience as members and suppliers “discovered a new way of doing Expo”. 

The Expo’s networking lounge chat room remained busy with online chatter throughout the five-day event, and was utilised as a ‘go-to’ area for suppliers to send group messages to members on where to find their stands and what products and offers were available. Any technical and ordering issues were troubleshooted by the awaiting IHG team.

A fun and interactive competition was also held throughout the event, with participants invited to find hidden mini versions of Home Timber & Hardware canine mascots, Sandy and Rusty, and Mitre 10 brand ambassador, Scott Cam, similar to the game of ‘Where’s Wally’. A point system was also implemented incentivising delegates to engage with the platform, with points gained for booth visits, watching webinars and much more, putting members in the draw to win prizes.

IHG business sessions

IHG CEO Annette Welsh said, “2020 has given us a leg up and we should not let this go”.

During IHG’s business sessions Ms Welsh presented to members in a proud and upbeat tone, while she enlightened delegates on how the collective IHG network could continue to grow through focus and investment.

“2020 has given us a leg up and we should not let it go,” Ms Welsh said.

“While 2020 was a challenging, strange and difficult year, the hardware industry, and particularly the DIY market, experienced record-breaking growth. As a group we have built the most solid foundations on which to grow, and investment in the future is assured,” she said.

Ms Welsh also discussed the positives that had come out of the pandemic, including the efforts of members to lobby governments and ensure hardware was considered an essential service during this time. She also expressed how proud she was at the way members took on the intense uplift in demand by, “adapting to the volume coming into ‘click & collect’ and turning it into ‘click & deliver’, ‘dial & collect’, ‘dial & deliver’, curb side pick-up and contactless service.”

“Our suppliers also faced the same challenges. In particular those who came quickly when COVID restrictions impacted our DC in Melbourne. Our family-village-tribe culture has been taken to a new level in the last twelve months for the benefit of everyone.”

“Every aspect of our individual businesses was stretched to the full, but delivered results that in so many towns across the nation have substantially shifted market share towards one of our brands. We have put ourselves in tremendous position to serve any customer, any time,” Ms Welsh said.

A new confidence has emerged from 2020, according to Ms Welsh, who said IHG stands as an exceptionally strong player in DIY, alongside leading the market in trade. 

“Our digital platforms were critical in ensuring we could service consumers during lockdown and showed us where the cracks were. But online sales have now achieved levels that were previously predicted in 2025.”

In closing, Ms Welsh touched on Metcash’s purchase of TTH (Total Tools Holdings).

“Championing successful independents is always at the core of our business and the opportunity to ensure Total Tools independents could be protected and continue to grow is clearly aligned with our mission, as well as our strategy of becoming the number one trade player in the hardware sector,” she said.

Growth initiatives for IHG

IHG’s General Manager of Merchandise Geoff Harris spoke on the progress IHG has made in DIY and trade markets through its Sapphire upgrade program.

Providing an update on IHG’s growth plans, General Manager of Merchandise Geoff Harris spoke on the progress made in DIY and trade markets through IHG’s Sapphire program, as well as the group’s whole of house strategy, digital and category management.

Outlining the future for the group’s store transformation program, Mr Harris declared that the program continues to be, “the corner stone to delivering our consumer driven strategy”.

“In December last year we reached our 100th Sapphire store. From the beginnings of an idea in 2014 we have come a long way. We now have 100 stores in three different formats including trade only, DIY and a DIY/trade mix. Store investment varies from $30k to $250K or more, each one an individual solution and unique achievement. Together, independents and IHG have reinvested over $42 million into hardware independents across the country,” he said.

“IHG’s Sapphire program delivers for everyone, including consumers, members, suppliers and IHG. It has proven itself year in and year out since 2015.”

For three years now, we have had a plan to invest in 200 stores by 2022. Not only are we on track to meet this, I am thrilled to announce that with Metcash support, IHG can now expand to 300 stores by 2025. This is both a massive opportunity that we cannot wait to deliver on your behalf,” Mr Harris said

Digital remains another area of significant opportunity for IHG, across both trade and DIY, with its roadmap focused around three building blocks: “making it easy for the customer to shop with members, personalising, and tailoring its message to the consumer and inspiring consumers to try new projects and new products.”

“We may not match our competitor on their investment in the digital space but we have passionate people in store that can convert more loyalty consumers to our network and provide exceptional service,” he said.

Emerging categories were also touched on by Mr Harris, often referred to as “destinations” for consumers in store and categories where price does not always come first. He said kitchen, laundry, bathroom, garden, paint and connected homes were all categories where consumers continue to seek inspiration.

“Consumers are looking to be inspired in-store and online, and absolutely value service, education and assistance when shopping these categories. In the connected home space alone, we have seen a sales uplift of 145 per cent YTD. And whilst the DIY market is important for us, we also recognise that IHG is uniquely placed to work with our builders to get connected homes into the house build,” he said.

IHG has identified the kitchen sector as another category for growth across its network. 

“Kitchens, bathrooms and laundries remain prime customer destination categories and lead to sales growth in complementary categories such as appliances and accessories. Our network is primed to take advantage of the rapid sales growth expected in this category.”

“Our ‘principle kitchen’ offer, provided through Hafele, is second to none. Hafele provide direct member support with dedicated retail customer service and training programs. Importantly, members looking to enter the kitchen and appliance category who do not have the space for full in store displays can take advantage of our display modules to suit every store. It really is a great way to display your trade builder packs and retail appliance range,” Mr Harris said.

Two brand strategy 

IHG’s General Manager of Marketing, Karen Fahey, also presented the next phase of IHG’s two brand strategy, designed specifically to position Mitre 10 as a clear alternative to Bunnings.

IHG’s General Manager of Marketing, Karen Fahey, also presented members with the next phase of IHG’s two brand strategy, designed specifically to position Mitre 10 as a clear alternative to Bunnings.

“In May, the strategy will go live. It is crucial everyone feels they have a place in the new structure with True Value and Thrifty-Link stores encouraged to move to either Mitre 10 or Home Timber & Hardware by 2024, with IHG investing in the store conversion,” Ms Fahey said.

“The time is right to move on our dual brand strategy in earnest. IHG is investing in our independents and supporting everyone, no matter which of the two brands you choose, to be part of a strong, recognisable group to help your value and range perception,” she said.

The first conversion has already taken place with the former Port Broughton Thrifty-Link in South Australia rebranding to Home Hardware in February. After 16 years as a Thrifty-Link store, owner Mark and Kaye Bellman said the conversion allowed them to join a larger group, give them access to stronger marketing, e-commerce and loyalty, as well as give their community a refreshed store.

Ms Fahey said that by committing to the two-brand strategy, “we wish to limit change and disruption, strengthen our two hardware brands and leave no member behind.”

Total Tools update

Total Tools Chief Executive Officer, Paul Dumbrell explained why the acquisition by Metcash was so complementary to both businesses.

In a session welcomed by the IHG members and suppliers, Total Tools Chief Executive Officer, Paul Dumbrell provided insights into the Total Tools organization and why the acquisition was so complementary to both businesses, after Metcash acquired Total Tools last year.  

“It was obvious the IHG strategy to become the number one trade player in the hardware sector was clearly aligned to our strategy to be number one in the professional tool channel,” Mr Dumbrell said.

Like much of the IHG network, COVID has turbo charged Total Tools’ growth now to 88 stores, according to Mr Dumbrell who also announced the launch of its first franchise Total Tools store operated by one of the IHG members.

“Our network is on average 1500 square metres and our stores have access to over 100,000 SKUs across our network. Our focus is tradies, and tradies demand the best range and brand,” he said.

Australia’s rebuild

Demographer and renowned business speaker, Bernard Salt, also returned to the IHG Expo to discuss Australia’s “big rebuild” after COVID.

While Mr Salt agrees the pandemic has reshaped hardware retailing in Australia and changed it for the better, “what we are involved with in 2021 is not just the recovery of Australia but the rebuilding of Australia and the creating of better housing.”

Mr Salt took delegates back in time and explained how in years past, when Australians had endured hard times, often the population would come out the other side with much optimism. One example he presented was the entrepreneurial energy of Australians after both World Wars, which also led to the founding of Woolworths in 1924.

Mr Salt predicts that the same will happen post-COVID, with a better version of Australia expected, while not downshifting what has occurred within the economy during this time.

Throughout 2020 the average monthly spend on household goods jumped from $4.5 billion to $5.5 billion per month or a 30 per cent increase, due to COVID lockdowns, according to Mr Salt.

“If you are in home hardware you are tracking 30 plus per cent up on what you did this time last year and this is not easing up. Too much business is always a great problem to have.”

Working from home is also here to stay which will continue investment into the home, while also changing the structure of the home. 

“Like after a drought, a lot of us have water tanks on the property for 20 years and more and the same will happen with working from home significantly shaping Australian homes now and beyond 2021,” he said.

IHG’s National Awards of Excellence

IHG’s annual National Awards of Excellence also played a feature role at the Expo, with members and suppliers gathering in groups to hear the announcement of the national award winners on the opening evening.

The ceremony was broadcast online in an entertaining and creative format, with hosts Greg McKean and Jacki Kersting emceeing the event and many IHG team members called upon to present awards. 

“Unique times calls for a unique approach, and tonight’s National Awards of Excellence is an awards night like no other. A night where we celebrate the stories, the triumphs, the successes of our independent members and suppliers. 2020 tested your teams and tested yourselves. You are all to be applauded for the resilience in how you served your customers and communities day in, day out.  You are all winners in our eyes,” said Ms Kersting as she and Mr McKean opened the proceedings. 

Some award recipients were pre-recorded receiving their awards in surprise presentations. There were many emotional faces and some tears recorded as the unexpecting winners accepted their awards in-store.

Fourteen awards were announced including eight store awards, three supplier awards and three individual awards. 

IHG’s National Awards of Excellence

2020 Mitre 10 Store of the Year – Medium Format: Pontings Mitre 10, Warrnambool VIC

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2020 Supplier of the Year – Build: Hume Doors & Timber

2020 Supplier of the Year – Fix & Fit Out: Yardforce (Sumec)

2020 Supplier of the Year – Finish & Exterior: Dulux Australia

2020 Paul Murphy ‘Mighty Helpful’ Service Award: Vanessa Rossen from Dongara Mitre 10 in WA

2020 Village of the Year: Melbourne Traders & VIC Pioneers

2020 National Garden Centre of the Year: McLaren Vale Mitre 10, Mark & Fiona Loveday and Brian Lawrence, SA

2020 Store of the Year – Convenience Format: Manjimup Motors True Value, Jeff & Maree Hurley, WA

2020 Mitre 10 Store of the Year- Small Format: Sunlite Mitre 10 York St, Steven Czeiger, NSW

2020 Home Timber & Hardware Store of the Year: Home Timber & Hardware Biloela, Tim Kessler & Kent Hutton, QLD

2020 Mitre 10 Store of the Year – Medium Format: Pontings Mitre 10, John Ponting & Pam Madner, Warrnambool VIC

2020 Trade Centre of the Year: Hume & Iser Mitre 10, Iser Family, Bendigo VIC

2020 Mitre 10 Store of the Year – Large Format: TM&H Mitre 10, Jeff & Lynne Hitchins, James Hitchins and Laura Town, Moe VIC

2020 Blue Blood Award: Paul Nagl, IT Manager

2020 Hall of Fame: Gary Woodruff

Hall of Fame

IHG’s Hall of Fame also recognises the contribution and legacy of individuals and/or families within the industry. IHG’s Hall of Fame recipients are those who demonstrate the true spirit of the group’s brands over generations, who give their time, expertise and counsel to the group and whose influence has helped shape the current and future state of the hardware market. 

“All previous recipients have been true believers and battlers for independents and we are extremely proud to have each of them in the network,” according to Ms Welsh.

IHG’s 2020 Hall of Fame recipient saw the induction of Gary Woodruff, of Benalla Mitre 10, who was given his Hall of Fame recognition by Ms Welsh during a surprise presentation in-store. 

During the presentation, Ms Welsh said that Mr Woodruff has been at the forefront of Mitre 10 for over 15 years, shaping the business and the trading model that exists today. 

“He has always generously given his time and his expertise to guide Mitre 10 and everyone that works across it, towards the successful business that it is today,” she said.

Gary Woodruff was introduced to hardware through his father John, and has had 16 years running Woody’s hardware shops with his Dad. At their peak, they owned five Mitre 10 stores in Victoria. 

2020 Hall of Fame inductee, Gary Woodruff, alongside wife, Jan Woodruff. Annette Welsh, IHG CEO, travelled to Benalla to surprise Gary with the recognition.

“Gary tended to find broken stores in need of attention and invested in them to get performance back up again and build the best store in town.  He took his broad experience and commenced assisting the group, initially working on the members marketing sub-committee for Mitre 10’s south east division and then joining the Mitre 10 board.” Ms Welsh said. 

“In the 2000’s, Mitre 10 was on its knees. During 2008 and 2009 discussions were held with prospective equity partners in a bid to save Mitre 10 and get much needed capital. Gary, as deputy Chairperson, working alongside Lance Collins and Phil Petrie – rallied the members to prepare them for change and the eventual purchase of Mitre 10 by Metcash.” 

“Mitre 10 was in need of a helping hand and so followed the 50.1 per cent Metcash investment. At the first board meeting of M10 and Metcash, Andrew Reitzer advised the board that the current Chief Executive Officer, Mark Burrows, would not be the future Chief Executive Officer, but he had a guy and asked Gary, Lance and Phil to interview him. So, at a hotel in Melbourne Mark Laidlaw was duly interviewed and the rest is history.”

It was Gary who guided Mark, alongside Carl and Robin, in understanding the network, the individuals and in particular sharing his knowledge of trade. Gary used his relationships to facilitate discussions with key store owners to rebuild trust and belief in the future of the group,” Ms Welsh said.

In closing, Ms Welsh personally thanked Gary and his wife Jan.

“Gary has fought hard for things he believed in, and always led from the front. Congratulations to you Gary,” she said.