ITT store shows competitors who’s BOSS

When Tony and Sue Smith first took ownership of BOSS Industrial, they never imagined how much the store would grow and thrive just by enforcing simple, yet powerful changes in-store, including constantly implementing and updating new stock.

Business: BOSS Industrial (ITT)
Owners: Tony Smith 
Location: Bibra Lake, WA
Buying Group: HBT Hardware & Building Traders / ITT Industrial & Tool Traders

“When we looked at the figures before we purchased the store it was clear that, although I had no hardware industry experience, there were changes I could make to improve turnover and profitability. We had loyal customers and great experienced staff in place but we just needed to build our stock levels to ensure the customers always walked out with everything they needed,” Tony said. 

First established in 1979 as Spearwood Building and Agricultural Supplies, the store was once well-known for selling tractors and fertilizer to the local Market Gardens. As the area developed and more industry moved into the area the name changed to SBA Supplies in 1994 and the store diversified to meet the demands of the evolving customers. Tony and Sue purchased SBA Supplies in 2004 after holding positions in several industries and also after an extensive search to find a suitable business they could develop and grow.

“Having been involved in lots of different things in my life I decided it was time to take on a business of my own. After an intensive search taking almost a year I finally found BOSS Industrial,” he said.

“About five years ago we decided to change the name of the store to BOSS Industrial and move away from the SBA Supplies name established when the store had a completely different customer base and product mix. We also wanted the new name to better reflect our attitude as we firmly believe we are the best option for supplying industry,” he said.

Store owners Tony and Sue Smith, with Store Manager David Watson and wife Helen.

“Bibra Lake, south of Fremantle, is our location, which is part of a huge industrial zone. The area covers Fremantle to Rockingham and includes Bibra Lake, Henderson, Kwinana and Naval Base but we also deliver throughout the metro area and into regional towns as well.” 

“While the store does not directly deal with mining, it does deal with associated fabricators including welders and engineering workshops, boat builders, ship building, construction companies and the container yards in Fremantle. We cater mostly to those who work with metal however, our customer base is quite diverse. The store has a huge product mix selling everything from abrasives and tools to safety gear and workwear,” he said.

Store transformation

While BOSS Industrial did have a reasonable customer base , the average sale per customer was not as high as it should be because the store was so low in stock.

“When I first took on the business, I would see a customer come in and ask for four products but often we could only sell them two products and they would walk out. Determined to prevent this from happening I made sure that if someone came in to purchase four things, we gave them four things,” he said.

The BOSS Industrial team prides itself on providing plenty of stock, offering good pricing and great service.

“I was also very focused on building up our stock levels so our customers had no excuse to go anywhere else. We focused on stocking the store with exactly what the customer wanted. It was difficult at times, particularly the first seven or eight years, just continually stocking up the store and building up that trust with customers to make sure we had everything they needed.”

“It was good timing for us as well because those first few years of building up the business also coincided with the mining boom, which meant that we could afford to keep stocking up. Also meaning I could afford to provide people with exactly what they wanted. In saying this, stock levels adjust all the time. I played with margins as well and made sure I adjusted them until I had the right numbers to maintain profitability while growing,” Tony said.

Just some of the segments Tony grew and expanded during the first 10 years of operation included abrasives and safety gear.

“When we first took on the store, we initially did important deals with Klingspor and Paramount Safety and we now stock a wider range and greater volumes of abrasives and safety gear than any of our competitors. These segments would easily take up about 30 per cent of our shop and warehouse. We pride ourselves on dealing with the best suppliers selling quality products and trusted brands throughout the local industry,” he said.

Long-standing staff members

BOSS Industrial not only prides itself on its expansive range but also the extensive experience of its staff members. Store Manager, David Watson has had control of BOSS Industrial and has done a great job growing and evolving the store over the last seven years, according to Tony.

“BOSS Industrial’s head sales manager, Harry Van Der Velde, has worked at the store for over 25-years now. His incredible range of knowledge makes a huge difference because customers will come to the store so they can talk to him and know they are getting the best advice available,” he said.

“Merindah (or ‘Min’) has worked at the store for 18 years and she looks after purchasing within the store as well as the merchandising. Myself and my wife Sue have also now been at the store for over 17 years and each of our other staff members have vast experience within the hardware industry and have been with us for over 10 years, apart from four new young staff members who bring a heap of enthusiasm,” Tony said.

Local competition

Competition in the industrial area is quite intense, according to Tony, who said there is always a competitor trying to move in on our customers.

“We have always enjoyed intense rivalry with competitors coming into the area in recent years in an effort to take on our customers but we have found our customers are quite loyal. Our staff’s expertise, combined with our extensive range, stock levels and pricing as well as our delivery offer to all customers, ensuring orders are delivered to them quickly has assisted us in remaining highly competitive despite the fierce competition,” he said.

“Our customers know where our deliveries are heading and at what time of day, so they can easily gauge when their orders will arrive and when to get their orders in. The customers also prefer to interact with certain staff members and they know people like Harry and David are familiar with their business and the products customers order on a day-to-day basis, which also helps up to combat competition,” he said.

Joining with HBT

BOSS Industrial became a part of the HBT group just over five years ago and was also awarded HBT Store of the Year within just 12 months of joining the group.

“The HBT group is so good, I just wish I had joined the group a lot earlier when they initially approached me. We have also bannered the shopfront with the ITT colours and logos together with the BOSS Industrial signage and we now portray a look as professional as the business we conduct,” he said. 

“Now that I am a part of the group, not only can I see that the rebates are fantastic, but the HBT/ITT team also offer extremely good advice. This has particularly been the case in the last couple of years with HBT continuing to grow and expand its team, under Chief Executive Officer, Greg Benstead. The group has become extremely professional but still retains a personal touch. They have an amazing business model, I just look at it and think that it is perfect,” Tony said.

COVID creates record growth

The COVID pandemic also had a powerful effect on the growth of BOSS Industrial because the global impact of the virus saw a lot of demand being placed on local mining, according to Tony.

“Twenty or thirty years ago if the farmers did well it would flow through and all of the local businesses would do well. This is the same for mining. If it does well in WA then this flows through to the fabricators and to retailers like me, then through to all of my suppliers. Our sales grew significantly last year due to COVID so we just had to be ready for it,” he said.

“There have been challenges with continuity of supply due to COVID and we have had to work hard to access stock to keep our customers productive. This is where our great relationships with key suppliers has helped us remain competitive throughout the past year or so.”

BOSS Industrial’s storage and layout has changed dramatically since owners, Tony and Sue Smith, first bought the store.

“The business has been particularly busy again this year with plenty of new customers coming on board. We do not need to chase them at the moment and we are opening new accounts every week, I believe our great reputation is creating interest. We have been around for a long time and we also provide great service, good pricing and we always have plenty of stock,” Tony said.

The business now boasts at least 95 per cent trade with the majority of sales on account. 

With the shopfront sitting at around 500 metres square and the warehouse covering an area of over 1200 metres square, Tony said that while he has not changed the store’s structure since taking on the business, he said storage and layout has changed dramatically, while growing and adjusting to meet the demands of customers.

Looking into 2021, while it seems every sector of the hardware industry remains highly competitive at the moment, these are still good times, according to Tony. For now his future plans include continuing to work with the brands he and his customers know and trust, while listening to the needs of customers so that stock and staff knowledge remain front of mind.

14/05/2021 By Christine Bannister