Mesh & Masonry evolves through customer focussed formula

Mesh & Masonry moved its tools, steel and trade area to three separate buildings so it could extend its range in each sector extensively.

Mesh & Masonry Building and Industrial Supplies has served the regional town of Ballarat, in western Victoria, for over 30 years. In that time, owner Dean Candy says the business has evolved through constant reassessment of customer requirements, as well as evaluation of potential growth areas in-store.

Business: Mesh & Masonry Building & Industrial Supplies
Owner: Dean Candy
Location: Ballarat, VIC
Buying Group: Australian Industrial Supplies (AIS)

Although Dean has successfully run the business for the past 25 years, it is in the last seven years that he has thoroughly reassessed and grown the business by investigated the needs of Mesh & Masonry’s customers.

“We have reflected a lot on our stand out qualities in recent years and I think this can be summed up by the ongoing, convenient delivery of speciality products. ‘Convenient’ being the main word for us alongside a broader range, because we have been listening to our customers over the years, and really engaging with them on what they want to make sure we have everything they need,” Dean said.

General Manager, Ben Murphy was also brought into the business seven years ago to assist with the development of Mesh & Masonry and continue to grow the business.  

“Although I have managed the store for over 25 years now, I decided to bring Ben into the business because he has a strong accounting and commercial business background and he could assist in growing the business even further. Between Ben and myself, we now have the ability to make the high-level decisions to follow the company’s vision,” Dean said.

Extensive history

Jason Pebble and Dylan Lewis, with Operations Manager Leigh Paynting.

Mesh & Masonry established itself in 1989 by supplying to concreters, brick layers and builders before expanding its range into engineering supplies. 

One of the biggest changes undertaken by the business to date was when it evolved from having its tools, steel and trade departments under one roof, to dividing into three stand-alone specialty buildings, just over seven years ago.

“The tools store is about 1200 square metres of floor space, the steel centre is around 2500 square metres of floor space, while the trade supply and sales area now sits at around 1200 square metres of floor space, all on the same site in Ballarat. We created the specialised buildings to expand our range and give customers a designated building that is designed specifically to their needs.” 

Dean believes the three segments of the business all now trade on an even level, and intertwine exceptionally well as one.

“Initially we separated our steel department and installed overhead cranes, while we also expanded our delivery fleet to eight delivery vehicles in Ballarat and one in Hamilton, so we could ensure our customers had a convenient supply of product in that area. In our tool store we decided to expand our offer so we could deliver a better offer to our customers with a full ranging of products. This also goes for our trade centre and sales office, when we expanded office space for sales staff and made room for speciality areas and product. In the last seven years it has mainly been about expanding potential growth areas for our business,” he said.

Dean said the major changes to the store occurred after the business became highly proactive in managing the business via its customer data. 

“Through our data we established areas of growth within the business and then reinvested into the areas where we saw major opportunities. We also looked at the areas that were not growing and managed our data accordingly to continually expand. We have seen a lot of growth over the last 10 years just by managing our data properly,” he said.

Mesh & Masonry has also been a big part of the AIS group for over 20 years now. While Dean admits the store has had many offers to join other buying groups, AIS remains the perfect fit for Mesh & Masonry.

“We also like the fact that each AIS member has one share of the group and all of the members own the group. All profits go back to members and all the deals are transparent. AIS General Manager, Stephen Wallace, has been in the job for many years and has done an excellent job leading our members,” he said. 

Local competition

Mesh & Masonry has had to tackle many big brand competitors in the large town of Ballarat – which is the third largest inland city in Australia – including two Bunnings stores, Mitre 10 and Total Tools stores, as well as a Blackwoods and United Tools.

“As we continually trade in a heavily competitive environment, we have to make sure that our business remains a convenient option to our customers and continually extend our service beyond our competitors. We also believe in building strong relationships with our customers and listening to what they want. A significant key to the business is maintaining relationships and listening to our customers,” Dean said.

Ballarat is expected to grow and evolve in the years to come as more people move from Melbourne metropolitan areas to large towns such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, he said. 

COVID-19

Although Mesh & Masonry has moved its tool, steel and trade centres into separate buildings, the three business segments all work on an even level and intertwine well.

When discussing the COVID-19 crisis, Dean said while the last few months have been challenging for everyone, he is grateful hardware stores were permitted to continue trading, and also felt confident in the stimulus packages recently delivered by the Federal and State Governments during this time.

“There have definitely been many opportunities created through Government stimulus for us. We have found advantages and opportunities through these packages that will get us through. We have also been lucky enough to keep trading too, so we are very fortunate because there are others who are not so fortunate,” Dean said.

While Dean said there is still plenty of pipeline work currently in the construction industry, it is unknown what will happen once this pipeline dries up.

“We believe there may be a little dip in construction, but whether this hits regional areas as hard as metro areas, we do not know. I think the ripple effect is not as bad in regional as it is in metro areas, but we are not going to know for some time. This is a once in 100-year pandemic that we have never experienced before,” Dean said.

“There is a health crisis that will intertwine with an economic crisis so it is going to be very interesting times. Federal and State Governments announced a lot of stimulus so they are preparing for a dip of some sort. This is also why we have been working hard to seek out the stimulus and opportunities that the government is creating.”

“We have also extended our delivery fleet to cater for an increase in deliveries during COVID-19 and we plan to review our on-line presence because we have definitely seen more on-line traffic during the crisis. There is a fair bit of knowledge and capital that needs to go back into these sorts of projects, particularly with COVID-19 affecting how customers shop forever,” he said.

Looking ahead

(L-R) General Manager Ben Murphy with Nick Papanicolaou, Steve Doyle, Craig Hon and Rick Powell.

Despite the crisis, Dean said the team is always trying to innovate and review the business as much as possible.

“We are always looking to expand our footprint which is why we purchased a branch in Hamilton, last year, to support our tools and industrial supplies sector of the business,” Dean said. 

“The Hamilton store was a previous member from our buying group and the opportunity presented itself to buy the store so we jumped at it. So far business has been going great since the change of ownership and staff have adapted to new systems and processes well. We also re-branded the store to be the same branding in Ballarat, which is Tools by Mesh & Masonry.”

“The big one for us will be to expand our footprint and brand into Western Victoria for next year. We are right in the middle of annual review to reset for our next financial year,” he said.

In the mean-time, Dean said he is highly confident the business will be OK throughout the crisis as it has already stood the test of time, “and we are fighters when it comes to business.”

(L-R) Tools Manager Richie Palmer with Steve Miles, Liam Forest and Zara Micich.

“We would like to think we are up to the challenge ahead,” he said.