Inspirations Paint greenfield site shoots up

Just five years ago, former painter and decorator Ben Ilacqua took a chance in his career and jumped into the retail game by taking on an Inspirations Paint greenfield site in the new suburb of Gregory Hills, located just over 60-kilometres south-west of Sydney. Inspirations Paint Gregory Hills has already grown to be one of the state’s top stores, and Ben was also recently appointed as the youngest member of the group’s Franchise Advisory Council.

Business: Inspirations Paint Gregory Hills
Owner: Ben Ilacqua
Location: Gregory Hills, South West of Sydney, NSW
Franchise: Inspirations Paint

It seems Ben is no stranger to growing and evolving businesses. He began working as a painter and decorator at the age of just 16 and then went on to open his own painting business when he was 20. The golden opportunity then came up for Ben to take on the Inspirations Paint Gregory Hills greenfield site five years ago, which he said has been an incredible experience and has allowed him to expand his business knowledge along the way.

“When we first opened the store there were a lot of developments and infrastructures about to take place. We got in a little bit early but we knew we would grow with the area. Oran Park is probably the biggest hub near our new suburb, a former raceway which has now converted into a mini city,” Ben said.

“It was very unnerving starting a new business in a new suburb because we had no way of gauging how fast the business should scale up. However, I had faith in the new store because of the amount of pre-planning and local networking we did prior to opening. It took us about 18 months to two years to really get the store off the ground, but now it is going great and we are very proud of its growth.” he said.

With the store servicing both trade and retail customers, Ben said the team of five worked closely with every customer to ensure they had a good experience when shopping at the new store.

The Inspirations Paint Gregory Hills Paint Club loyalty program was a game changer for the business – building up a significant database for the store.

“Some of our newest customers included new home-builders and local painters and decorators. From there we also had a lot of DIYers coming in wanting to complete up market design work in their new homes. This was when we introduced wallpaper which kicked off really quickly. It is definitely making a comeback,” Ben said.

“While wallpaper is very popular for us, as is interior and exterior decorative paint, our concrete paint division is also very strong. Sealing driveways, factory floors and pathways has been a real hit. We also specialize in protective coatings, which services our industrial and commercial customers. These are the three most popular segments in-store currently.”

“We are always willing to try out new product categories in-store to see what works. While some have worked, some have not, but this is the way we find what is successful. We have also worked hard on innovative in-store displays which help ensure that our store looks more like a show-room rather than a paint store,” he said.

Continually implementing new elements into the 700 square metre store has allowed the business to not only cater to the local market, but also ensure on-going growth in different market segments.

“The business also grew when several, large infrastructure commercial jobs commenced in the area, including the Gregory Hills Hotel and a large Officeworks complex. We are very lucky to have worked with some of the biggest developments and commercial projects introduced into the Macarthur area,” he said.

Stand out store

Ben believes Inspirations Paint Gregory Hills continues to stand out from competitors because as a former painter he understands what the pain points are for his customers, including increasing demand for paint deliveries to both trade and residential customers.

“When I opened the store, I really wanted to introduce an efficient delivery service. So we employed a full-time driver who is on the road all day delivering to both trade and retail customers. This has been a huge success for us because for trade, time is money and our promise is to be on-site within the hour,” he said.

The delivery service was initially implemented for trade customers pre-COVID. However, when a lot of home owners went into lockdown post-COVID, Ben realised there was a pain point for retail customers not being able to easily access paint when needed.

“Our head office was very proactive in setting up both ‘Click & Collect’ and ‘Click & Deliver’ services online just prior to COVID-19, so the roll out of this was perfect timing. Now all our customers can jump online, purchase any product they wish on a ‘Click & Deliver’ service straight to their front door. Our system is so far advanced it is incredible,” he said.

“Despite the recent development of our online and delivery services, I believe another stand out quality of the store comes from the service we provide. Our hand-picked team is very passionate about what we do. We have also implemented a lot of concepts from head office including the ‘Five Golden Rules’, which helps us maximise the customer’s experience and our profitability. It also ensures customers achieve the best outcome for their painting projects, while increasing basket sizes in-store,” Ben said. 

With the store now sitting at 60 per cent trade and 40 per cent retail, Ben said he is currently focused on the retail side of the business throughout COVID, due to the impressive spike in DIY and home renovations during this time.

Shooting up the rankings 

While most Inspirations Paint stores are trade dominant and closely aligned with Dulux, Ben said he chose to banner his store with Inspirations Paint because he believes in the products the group sells and the morals and ethics of the members.

“I am passionate about Dulux paint. Having prior application knowledge and now being able to help all customers has been very rewarding. Obviously working with this product has paid off because now the store is shooting up towards being one of the top stores in the state. We worked really hard to get the business to where it is but some of this can be attributed to our strong Dulux and Inspirations Paint network,” Ben said.

While local competition is primarily Bunnings, Ben said he believes, “the big green box beats the drum on price, while we beat the drum on service. And our professional service is second to none.”

“This is why we are constantly training staff at our stores. We measure customer satisfaction by sending a survey to each customer (post-purchase) and we collate the responses by staff member, and follow up any negative feedback to find out how we can improve. We are constantly refining the way we do things.”

Store innovations

Inspirations Paint Gregory Hills was established five years ago as a greenfields site and has grown into one of the group’s stand-out stores today.

One of the biggest assets to the business is the Inspirations’ Paint Club loyalty program, which is designed specifically for DIY customers, according to Ben.

“The program allows the store to retain customer’s paint colours, products and purchases in a comprehensive database. It ensures customers will always have a library of past colours, which is vital when colour matching in the future,” he said.

“This has been a real game changer for us as it gives us the opportunity to reach out to customers who may have lapsed. The larger the database grows the easier it is for us to communicate with customers and stimulate re-purchase. The direct marketing promotions we have completed this year have really worked in bringing lapsed customers back in store.”

“Our store was also the first to set up a new concept called ‘Tradies on Tour’ which allows us to give back to our most loyal customers. We do this by running a fully catered trade show at the store. We then take 60 of our best customers to the stadium to watch the Newcastle Jets verse the Western Sydney Wanderers. It helps that head office sponsors the Jets and we get the tickets for free.”

“Being on the other side of the fence I know customers shop with a store for certain reasons. Sometimes good service is not enough because a lot of independents give good service and pricing is similar across the board. Being a new store, we really had to do something big to cement that loyalty. ‘Tradies on Tour’ has really worked for us because we go all out to put on a memorable night for our loyal customers,” he said.

Franchise Advisory Council (FAC)

Recently appointed as a member of the FAC, Ben is now part of a group of members from each state who act as a sounding board for Inspirations Paint management.

“I am one of the youngest in the group and I was so flattered to receive the FAC appointment for NSW. I value being on the council. We come up with new initiatives on behalf of the stores, so it has been great for me to learn the background of the business as well.”

“One thing I have noticed about the group is that although some of us are not located in close proximity, we continue to work closely together to ensure that across our network, the service level and advice we deliver are all of professional standard,” he said.

Inspirations Paint store upgrade (CFX)

The Inspirations Paint group as a whole is currently undergoing a significant re-vamp to ensure it remains a paint group that is highly focused on its customer’s needs.

“We took the new concept to the market and we received a lot of feedback from both trade and retail customers about what they wanted from the look of a paint store. We are now creating a major upgrade from these learnings, to ensure we are the best-looking and best-operating paint stores in Australia. I have seen the concept and it looks amazing with wayfinding and category signage, interactive screens and universal shelving. Once the program is complete, customers will have a much better shopping experience and be exposed to new product categories they did not even know we sold,” he said.

Future plans…

Despite all of the impressive programs and innovative products Ben has introduced into his store, he says there is still plenty more to do.

Team member Troy Pelli, with Inspirations Gregory Hills Store Owner Ben Ilacqua, Michael Vangelovski, Jenna Beks and Kelly Montgomery.

“While there is always something to do in-store, we are also looking to expand and open another store because demographically it makes sense. The Macarthur area is quite large and we see future opportunities in both the Badgerys Creek and the Menangle area which is yet to be developed. We know we have the ability to open a successful greenfield site and now we have the expertise to expand our Inspirations Paint group. We are only one of a few paint stores in the area, which is why we are looking to set up another store nearby in the near future,” Ben said.