The pinnacle of Independent Hardware Group’s (IHG) 2022 online Expo was once again its annual National Awards of Excellence ceremony, with members and suppliers invited to view a telecast of winners being announced across 15 award categories.
Held on March 23, the award ceremony was a wonderful insight into the spirit and achievement of independents that served their communities over the past 12 months, the significant investment suppliers made to help independent business prosper and grow, and the legacy of individuals and families who gave their time, expertise and counsel for the betterment of the group.
Featuring a number of the IHG support staff as hosts and presenters of the online broadcast, as well as video tributes and heartfelt speeches from the unsuspecting winners, the event was a fitting celebration of the high benchmark set and the determination to withstand the many pressures faced in the industry over the last 12 months.
The awards featured surprise presentations to some of the award winners, including former IHG Chief Executive Officer Mark Laidlaw who was caught off guard when presented with the CEO Recognition Award at his home by current Chief Executive Officer Annette Welsh, but pleasantly surprised and grateful for the recognition.
Many candid stories of success were shared. Some members were surprised to learn they won awards for the second consecutive year while others were simply humbled to win awards over fellow nominees who they held in such high regard.
CEO Recognition Award: Mark Laidlaw
Upon presenting the CEO Recognition Award, Ms Welsh said the award was a fitting tribute to the person who has had the most impact on the IHG business over the last 10 years.
“Mark took our buying group from shaky ground to new heights many others could not even imagine. When Mark retired from the role of CEO in April 2020, he left the business in a far healthier position than he found it,” she said.
“Shaping up the network was second as we were under attack from Bunnings and Masters, and the amount of extra capital he had to secure from Metcash was more than they had initially paid to acquire Mitre 10. He never doubted the funds would return and the credibility and respect already gained in Metcash meant he was backed 100 per cent.”
“He was always strategic, looking ahead to growth channels and ensuring the viability of the independent channel. Importantly he helped everyone understand that each part of our three-legged stool – the member, the wholesaler and the supplier – needed to be profitable and successful if we are to withstand the onslaught from competitors,” Ms Welsh said.
Upon receiving the award Mr Laidlaw said, “I did bring the award to the company years ago but never thought I would be receiving it myself. I am mostly proud of the team continuing where I stopped. This is very kind of you. Thank you.”
Included in the presentation were messages from influential IHG members including Barry Fagg of Fagg’s Mitre 10, Pete Womersly of Womersley’s Mitre 10, David Woodman of Beenleigh Mitre 10, Gary Woodruff of Benalla Mitre 10, Stephen Iser of Hume Iser Mitre 10 and Julie Murphy of Murphy’s Mitre 10.
Hall of Fame: Stewart Family, Barrow & Bench Mitre 10, Malvern SA
As Hall of Fame award inductees, Ian and Marj Stewart began their hardware journey in 1978 after quickly establishing themselves as stalwarts of the independent hardware business in South Australia.
“Together with their sons, Paul and Michael, they have fought fiercely to represent the brand well across four suburbs in Adelaide and regionally in Mt Gambier. What is striking about the Stewarts is their service. Not just to their customers but to the broader independent network. Ian served as Chair of Mitre 10 South Australia and sat on the Mitre 10 board. Taking the service cue from his father, Paul has been the South Australian Chairman of Hardware Australia and currently sits as the National Chairman for the same organisation,” Ms Welsh said.
Upon receiving the award, first-generation Store owner Ian Stewart said he was blown away by this occasion. He said the business had come a long way from when it was first established, taking $250 on the first day with the roof leaking everywhere from the rain.
Second generation Store Owner Paul Stewart said he believes, “as long as you stock the shelves, clean the store and provide the service, these are the basics to driving a successful store.”
Paul Murphy ‘Mighty Helpful’ Award: Larry Roberts, Gubbins Pulbrook Mitre 10, NSW
General Manager of Sales & Operations, Chris Tsotra said the Paul Murphy ‘Mighty Helpful’ Award celebrates the amazing talent and expertise IHG has across its vast network of stores, and the people that capture the ‘Mighty Helpful’ way.
“This year’s winner is someone who not only displays all of these attributes but also brings 45 years of experience in the hardware game, and has a positive impact on so many builders and team members in the southern highlands. Larry Roberts, we are so proud to have people like you in our network who meet and exceed our consumers’ expectations on a daily basis,” Mr Tsotra said.
During the award presentation, Gubbins Pulbrook Group General Manager Ryan White said, “Larry connects with his builder and ensures whole-of-house and ingraining himself into the business. We call him ‘Captain Chaos’ because he tries to squeeze in extra deliveries etc. to ensure our customers get the best service possible and causes chaos in the business.”
National Store of the Year – Convenience Format: Woodgate Beach Hardware, QLD
Owners: Dennis & Dianne Ham
Located in the Bundaberg region, Woodgate Beach Hardware & Hire brings the meaning of convenience to life, according to IHG Customer Service Manager Tracey Pieronczik.
“Owners Dennis and Dianne Ham put their heart and soul into all facets of the business ensuring they present a strong offer for their community. Their small team are great examples of how a convenience format store should be operated.”
“The team pride themselves on store standards, this year achieving a five-paint brush score for the first time. Over the last 12 months Dennis and Dianne have worked closely with their Business Development Manager to assess new ways to broaden their range and overall presentation of the store. Recent improvements include new fixtures, pallet racking and re-merchandising the yard layout to extend the capacity of their convenience trade offer,” she said.
Dennis and Dianne Ham said they were thrilled enough to have won state awards two years in a row, but to win the national award was just fantastic.
National Store of the Year – Mitre 10 Small Format: Sunlite Mitre 10, Paddington NSW
Owner: Steven Czeiger
Sunlite Mitre 10 in Paddington represents the changing face of inner-city small format retailing, according to IHG’s Learning Solutions Manager Neil Sullivan who said the bespoke hardware offers a ‘light, bright and fun’ experience that attracts thousands of shoppers through its doors.
“This is six national awards for the Sunlite Group in seven years. A tremendous achievement for Steven Czeiger and the entire Sunlite team. In 2021 the team completed a vibrant expansion of the Paddington store into an adjacent building allowing them to double the footprint over three levels. New features include a garden décor and green life space and a revamped trade area…and the usual ‘Sunlite personality’ throughout,” Mr Sullivan said upon presenting the award.
Sunlite Mitre 10 Managing Director Steven Czeiger said it was an honour to win the award and he was grateful to be part of an industry that remained opened for the most part throughout COVID.
“We will continue to raise the bar high and be the best convenience hardware store in Australia,” Mr Czeiger said.
National Store of the Year – Mitre 10 Medium Format: Crameri’s Mitre 10, Maryborough VIC
Owners: Bernard & Mandy Crameri and Stewart & Jessie Crameri
Crameri’s Mitre 10 is a thriving, multi-faceted business and sets a high benchmark across retail hardware, trade and rural supplies, IHG Accounts Receivable Team Leader – Wholesale, Andrew Steele said when presenting the award.
“Owners Bernie and Stewart Crameri are great examples of business owners who care for their local community and work tirelessly to achieve the best experience possible for their customers. In 2021 they invested in full development of their trade area including new trade drive-thru, shed extension, trade desk and ranging, to build on the significant transformation undertaken in the retail side of the business in 2016. We cannot wait to see the outcomes of your latest venture into small format retailing in inner-city Melbourne,” Mr Steele said.
Stewart and Bernie Crameri said the professionalism of Mitre 10 is of great value to the business. They said they believe that being part of the Mitre 10 group gives them a great advantage over competitors. They also thanked their wives, Mandy and Jessy for their on-going support.
National Store of the Year – Mitre 10 Large Format: Barossa Mitre 10, Nuriootpa SA
Owners: Barossa Co-Op
Barossa Mitre 10 is part of the universally loved Barossa Co-Op network and epitomises the ‘locals serving locals’ community ethos, Sapphire Transformation Manager Brent Riddiford said when presenting the award.
“The business has gone from strength to strength since undertaking Mitre 10’s Sapphire transformation program in 2017. Store Manager Craig Dodman pushes for retail excellence in all aspects of the business leaning on IHG initiatives such as HSAs and eLearning to incentivise his team, and empowers his trade team to grow the business through the use of trade technology and demonstrating ‘whole of house’ solutions to builders across the region. It has been a long journey to the best-in-class reputation that this business holds today, but through commitment and dedication the entire Barossa Mitre 10 team have built a great legacy of retail success,” Mr Riddiford said.
Barossa Mitre 10 Store Manager Craig Dodman said it was an absolute honour and a privilege to win the national award.
“This could not have happened to a better team who really are something special,” he said.
National Store of the Year – Home Hardware: Berry Springs Home Hardware, NT
Owners: Russell & Lindy Willing
Berry Springs Home Hardware is a great success story after taking out the national title less than two years since opening, Digital Product Owner – Checkout and Fulfilment Alex Dalidakis said during the award presentations.
“This is a story of business owners who saw an opportunity in their local community, moved at pace to make it happen and continue to recognise the value in reinvesting for further growth. Russell and Lindy Willing are long term owner-operators of a successful IGA supermarket in the same shopping precinct. They opened the hardware business in August 2020 and since day one it has been warmly embraced by the Darwin community.”
The team take a truly local approach to business operations, connecting with customers through personalised service and advice. They work tirelessly to evolve the store’s offer as a reliable outlet for hardware and rural supplies while sticking to tried-and-true processes that help the store maintain the highest of retail standards,” Mr Dalidakis said.
Berry Springs Home Hardware Owner Russell Willing said he could not have developed his store to such a high level without the support of IHG.
“I would also like to thank the team who support the community and make every customer happy,” he said.
National Garden Centre of the Year: McLaren Vale Mitre 10, SA
Owners: Mark & Fiona Loveday and Brian Lawrence
McLaren Vale Mitre 10 continues to set new benchmarks in innovation with the team’s distinctive ability to create an inspired and evolving environment for shoppers, IHG Ranging Manager Dorie Maffia said when presenting the award.
“Mark and Fiona have continued to demonstrate retail leadership, this year investing in new ranges and layouts. This includes a redeveloped grassed area at the rear of the store creating a 200 square metre display yard for pots, plumbed fountains and advanced trees. The new departments have proven to be highly successful with strong sales momentum and new customers visiting for higher dollar items.”
“Year-on-year green life sales are up 14 per cent, pot sales up 10 per cent and giftware up 30 per cent, driven by the contribution of larger ticket items and increased foot traffic. The McLaren Vale team represent commitment, pride and passion in a category that requires flare and the ability to ‘slow down time’ for their customers who seek to be inspired by displays that they can visualize and bring to life in their own homes,” Ms Maffia said.
Mark and Fiona Loveday said the staff do an incredible job with the green life and the green life team of Mandy, Fiona, Liz and Anthony have banded together to create a great space.
National Trade Centre of the Year: Margaret River Mitre 10, WA
Owners: Lloyd & Ann Shepherdson
Margaret River owners Lloyd and Ann Shepherdson, together with managers Paul Brown, Noelene Willcox and Trade Manager Bruce Biddle have built a remarkable trade business by adapting and catering to their market and being nimble in their approach to supply chain issues, Trade Sapphire Transformation Manager Brendan Sloane said while presenting the award.
“The 2600 metres square store features a well-laid out yard and drive-thru with undercover timber and building supplies. A dedicated trade desk and access to a well-merchandised retail trade offer complete the customer experience, while an expansive Home Improvement Selection Centre and plasterboard business completes the whole-of-house solution for key builders and their clients.”
“The store has leveraged the buoyant market by investing in new kitchen and appliance displays and a trade-specific front of wall plumbing range, while the trade technology suite and BuildXact program continue to improve their service model,” Mr Sloane said.
Margaret River Mitre 10 Store Manager Paul Brown thanked Mitre 10 for the nomination and said it was overwhelming to win the award against some really prestigious trade stores on the east coast.
National Village of the Year: The Apostles, VIC
Village members of The Apostles in Victoria truly epitomise the great benefits of collaboration, leadership and team spirit, according to IHG.
“A very cohesive and motivated village, the stores made a commitment 12 months ago to come together and become famous for high standards, a best-practice service ethos and united local marketing activity to combat competition. Its efforts have paid off. Throughout 2021 they have achieved this with an average sales growth of 21 per cent across The Apostles Village, while the average HSA score sits at 94.5 per cent – or four paint brushes,” the IHG spokesperson said.
Permewans Mitre 10 Owner and member of The Apostles, Paul Bast said there were some fantastic stores all around the south coast that network to organise promotions and the award is well deserved by the whole team.
Supplier of the Year – Build: ITI Australia
ITI have nurtured a culture of trust in building close relationships with IHG members that have resulted in a 20 per cent growth even during these challenging times, IHG Business Unit Manager – Build, Tony Matteo pointed out during the presentation.
“They have worked closely with members to help them find ways to grow together and have gone the extra mile to make that happen. They continue to deliver outstanding customer service and also remain at the top level in DIFOT even in these challenging times with supply.”
“ITI doubled their supply of LVL resulting in an additional 5,000m3 supplied to our members. What does 5,000m3 of LVL look like? That is enough to supply 2500 homes or an additional 18 per cent of IHG LVL needs. Congratulations to Germano, Paul, Michael and all the ITI team on a well-deserved win,” Mr Matteo said.
ITI Australia National Business Manager Germano Tomassetti thanked the IHG group, the team at ITI, suppliers and members.
“It is a great partnership and we hope to continue next year and beyond,” he said.
Supplier of the Year – Fit Out & Fix: Stanley Black & Decker
Stanley Black & Decker has demonstrated a willingness to partner with IHG to ensure members have access to quality products at competitive prices including access to exclusive lines to compete strongly against a market leader, Business Unit Manager – Fit Out & Fix Jacque Derksend said when presenting the award.
“With exclusive IHG access to the Stanley FatMax power tool range that gives members a strong brand to compete within the mid-tier segment, the SBD team actively engage with IHG to grow the business and develop new opportunities.”
“They continue to drive product development to ensure our members have a strong pipeline of new products, support our eCommerce program with their full range available online for consumers, and maintain the highest levels of dedicated field support to our IHG members in all states and regions,” Mr Derksend said.
Stanley Black & Decker National Account Director – Independent, Jim Kaneleas said he was extremely honoured to receive the award.
“This is something we have chased for the last few years and we will continue to work hard within the independent space and keep fighting for their independence,” Mr Kaneleas said.
Supplier of the Year – Finish & Exterior: Cabot’s
This year has been exceptional in terms of the sales momentum for Cabot’s, IHG Business Unit Manager – Finish & Exterior, Brett Meehan said as he presented the award.
“There are two standout reasons that gave them the win – product innovation and delivering a holistic service partnership from store level all the way up to IHG support office. Over the past 12 months Cabot’s has been extremely strategic and forward-thinking in finding new ways to partner with IHG, resulting in sales growth of over 20 per cent with the group.”
“The introduction of Universal Timber Oil, a game-changer in the oil-based paint space, and the Ceetek automatic pre oiling machine are two key points of difference available to our members that continues to drive customers to our brands,” Mr Meehan said.
Cabot’s General Manager Jemma Carison thanked IHG for the honour and said the partnership is in the best shape it has ever been.
Supplier of the Year – Logistics: Cochrane’s Transport
Cochrane’s Transport in South Australia has had a close partnership with Mitre 10 for over 25 years, providing quality levels of customer service to members IHG General Manager Supply Chain & Logistics Rick Sola said during the award presentation.
“Through their expertise in logistics, Cochrane’s make a real difference to operational efficiency, to product quality, order accuracy, and most importantly, the capacity to lower the cost of goods for our members. Cochrane’s recently built new operational facilities in Adelaide and expanded their service network to ensure deliveries can be completed to the IHG network. They continue to improve systems and processes to provide timely and accurate information on delivery schedules,” Mr Sola said.
Cochrane’s Transport Managing Director, Peter Cochrane said the association with Cochrane’s and Mitre 10 has existed for well over 20 years.
“We have a great team around us as well. This is an absolute bonus. To pull this much freight out of Melbourne daily and out to the stores is not an easy exercise but we manage to do it – it is great,” Mr Cochrane said.
Cochrane’s Transport Chief Executive Officer, Martin Robb said it was great to be recognised with an award as prestigious as this.
In closing, Ms Welsh not only congratulated all award winners and nominees but pointed out that every store deserves an award for trading throughout 2021 with the challenges presented. The adaptability required to keep their teams and customers safe tested many.
“I send my admiration to each and every one of you and I know as a team we got through it together,” Ms Welsh said.