Paint Place members head ‘Back to the Future’ at Townsville conference

by | Apr 13, 2022

“Can you feel it? Now it’s coming back. We can steal it. If we bridge this gap.”

Paint Place Conference 2022

These were the opening lyrics that welcomed Paint Place Group of Stores members to their Townsville conference held from March 18 to 20, as the opening song ‘Geronimo’ launched General Manager, Gary Liddicoat into his opening address.

Stepping up to the podium to open the 2022 Paint Place Conference, Mr Liddicoat referred to the inspirational song, pointing out that the lyrics were very relevant to the Paint Place journey over the last few years.

Upon addressing delegates Mr Liddicoat said, “I will tell you what is coming back to us as a group, more share of the retail market. We are going ‘Back to the Future’ if you like. There is no doubt Paint Place was at its best when we were more focused on retail.”

The theme of the conference focused on learning from the past and looking at when the group was most viable. Mr Liddicoat believes the group now has an incredible opportunity in retail just waiting to be discovered.

“Before Bunnings came to the East Coast, our the largest supply partner did not do particularly well with Bunnings so they focused on trade and led us down that path. We took our eye off the retail game and we gave it all to Bunnings, sort of by default. But we have refocused. Can we steal it back? Absolutely. We are never going to get it all and we do not want to fight with Bunnings but we can steal back a per cent or two – which is nothing to them but it is a lot to us,” Mr Liddicoat said.

Paint Place General Manager Gary Liddicoat with wife Bev, getting into the ‘cowboy’ theme at the trade show.

“In the meantime, if members continue to do the small things well, this will make a big difference to their businesses including delivering great service, product knowledge, installingdigital platforms, and delivering the total package for ‘Painting Australia’. We have bridged the gap in the last couple of years so now it is time to fill the gap,” he said.

Referring to the opening song Mr Liddicoat recited, “We rushed it – we moved way too fast that we crushed it, but it is in the past.”

“We rushed it alright, rushing to find someone to fill the gap that was left by Wattyl. The group did rush into what they believed at the time were good opportunities. But this is in the past. We now have the partnerships and the relationships with the suppliers we need in this room, right here right now, for us to be successful moving forward.”

“We will start to reclaim some of the retail market while still servicing the trade, where required, with our supply partners. Let us focus on what we do well, which is retail and let our major paint supplier focus on what they do well which is trade and we will help them service that,” Mr Liddicoat said.

Market recap

Outgoing Paint Place Business Development Manager, David Lindsay then took to the stage to reflect on his time with the group over the last six years and into the future as he takes on a new role interstate. During his time with Paint Place Mr Lindsay said he witnessed the demise of Masters, the GFC, and also saw manufacturers come and go. 

“But here we still are, the last truly independent paint specialist group still standing with our core values of supporting the member with services and systems and having proactive partnerships to enhance the competitiveness of their stores. We offer the members and consumers choice by being a multi-branded group.”

“We need to ensure our stores are valuable, diverse and relevant. What has occurred over the last few years has proven our stores and our model are valuable – yes sometimes to the detriment of store numbers, but more importantly that store owners who sold their businesses found they are indeed valuable,” Mr Lindsay said.

“Looking at the past this group was built as a retail buying group – it was never trade-focused. Never was. Still isn’t, which looking to the future is where this group needs to be.”

“What was missing in the original foundations was a binding system that allowed the group office to give every member’s front of house and back office the ability to pull overview data and to help our preferred suppliers at a high level. I think we have ticked that box. Having a private label is also essential because it is an exclusive margin maker that members can make a great margin on and be of a quality that would ensure repeat customers,” he said.

In closing, Mr Lindsay acknowledged the group’s incredible achievement of now having 70 per cent of stores on one retail management system, achieved in just two years, but said Paint Place did need everyone pulling in the same direction. 

Chairman’s address 

Usually, the Chairman’s address is a reflection of the past 12 months, however this year Danny Slade went ‘Back to the Future’ throughout his presentation to reflect on a time when group members were much smaller than today and delved deep into how the group grew from its humble beginnings.

“Paint Place was initially formed with the backing of Taubmans who were conscious of being overrun by the bigger groups which went to war with paint. Paint stores often felt the brunt as margins reduced and marketing budgets were pilfered. With the help of Taubmans, Rokset, Norton and many others, members banded together using their initiative, intimate knowledge of the industry and expertise to grow and prosper with the help of suppliers who realized the many benefits of a strong independent channel,” Mr Slade said.

“Independence was paramount to their success and ensured their survival against the corporate models. While the struggle continues, I want to send a massive thank you to our suppliers who not only support every member every day but support us as a group and a family unit and understand the importance of our existence. They realise the role we play in the industry and the knowledge that we deliver and impart.”

“As we continue to endure the spinning wheel of our industry and the dust settles once again, I am confident that the corporate models and franchises will crack and a need for a greater independent channel of specialists will be a focus,” he said.

Fair pricing, great advice and great service remain the firm focus of the group for now with Mr Slade pointing out that although the group has endured hard times it is rebuilding during the good times with the vision from its inaugural members keeping Paint Place in good stead. 

“Some of the changes evident are the technological ones, not only in IT and comms but in the technology within the coatings and substrates of our industry,” Mr Slade said.

“Growth is our reality as we continue diversification of our product range and seek further opportunities in diversification as corporate and franchise models close the doors on many suppliers to have greater control over brands and manufacturers,” he said.

As Paint Place continues to seek opportunities for its members, associated building products are also fitting the group’s model perfectly.

“Our model allows us to move swiftly and adjust to markets much more quickly than others which is why I invite every member to ask suppliers what opportunity is available in the making for them.”

While Mr Slade admitted that although some of the deals may not be the cheapest on offer every time, members needed to consider the value suppliers offered to the group including, “The support of the conference, promotion of the brand and the support from their own teams who share our vision understanding and knowledge and continue to support your group office team, who in-turn support this family.”

Mr Liddicoat then returned to the stage to close off initial presentations, and remind members that there were plenty of opportunities they have to look forward to this year, including aligning themselves with a hardware group.

“We used to work closely with the ACE hardware group in the US who would often share their thoughts with us as our industries are closely aligned. However, they are in the US  so we started chatting with a hardware buying cooperative in Australia.  Stephen Wren from CPS (Central Purchasing Services) has a very similar model to ours but in the hardware and industrial sector and will share their insights on the market with us tomorrow.”

“This is relevant when you consider the big fluffy dog is getting its paws into roof coating businesses, texture coating businesses and concrete coatings and are aiming to sell a finished job rather than just a can of paint in the future,” he said.

Paint Place has what others want, Mr Liddicoat affirmed, imploring members to not undervalue what they have and the strength of their brand.

“While there is strength in numbers, we need quality over quantity and we are pursuing every avenue to grow our numbers but we will not put your brand at risk just to gain store numbers. We are well down the track with a strategy that we believe will bring much more strength to the brand along with professional structure and security to ensure your futures will become much clearer.”

“Part of getting ‘Back to the Future’ is that we do have inaugural members with us who already put us in good stead for the future and I encourage you to spend time with these paint historians,” Mr Liddicoat concluded.

Four rotating workshops were then held soon after the opening presentations which included new product insights from Tenaru, PPG Architectural Coatings, Concept Paints and Sequence/Rokset.

In the afternoon, local talent and keynote speaker, Bill Zammit highlighted the importance of practicing confidence when communicating throughout all aspects of business, including looking confident and experienced when talking to customers about product.

Leading POS provider Striven then undertook an e-commerce presentation before the trade show opened once again, after initially opening on the first night of the conference as delegates mingled with suppliers in a casual and friendly atmosphere.

Gala Dinner – Store Awards

As dinner guests gathered in the Grand Ballroom at Rydges Southbank for the 2022 Paint Place Gala Dinner and Awards, proceedings kicked off quickly with Mr Liddicoat and Mr Slade presenting 10, 15 and 30 year anniversary awards with the following stores recognised:

10 years – Paint Place Campbellfield, Victoria.

15  years – Paint Place Cranbourne, Victoria.

15 years – Paint Place Rosebud, Victoria.

15 years – Paint Place Morwell, Victoria.

15 years – Paint Place Bunbury, Western Australia.

30 years – Paint Place Noosa, Queensland.

Official awards for 2021 were then presented including:

Rep of the Year: Troy Christiansen – Luxury Paints – This award does not get any easier to choose, according to Mr Slade, who said Paint Place appreciated every one of its reps, even those who have only been with the group for a short time. 

Personality of the Year: Jon Matthews – PPG Architectural Coatings –The award was presented to PPG Architectural Coatings General Manager, Anne Neeson, on behalf of Jon who could not attend due to illness.

Store of the Year: Peel Paint Place, Mandurah Western Australia.

Best Paint Place Own Brand Supporter 2021: Paint Place Sandgate.

Winner of Travel in ‘LUXURY’ competition ($4000 travel voucher from Luxury Paints): Peel Paint Place, Mandurah, Western Australia.

Although Mr Liddicoat recognised that several award-winning stores could not attend the conference and receive their awards in person due to staffing and flooding issues, he said it was great to see so many enjoying the night’s festivities.

“I would like to give a huge shout-out to all of our preferred suppliers and sponsors. A special thanks to Tenaru for their Diamond Sponsorship for the second year in a row and also to our Chairman, Danny Slade, for his passion, belief and unwavering support of the IPS channel,” Mr Liddicoat said.

Dinner guests and award winners then danced the night away to a live Vegas Show, including dancers and three incredible singers that performed everything from classic ballads, to rock ‘n roll.

Final conference day

An interactive supplier and member workshop along with a trade and finance presentation kicked off proceedings on the second conference day, with Joel and Jayden from credit and payment platform Shift presenting details of its commercial trade credit portal.

“All accessed online, Shift is a trade credit stores can offer to their customers. Shift also removes the risk for members as a solution to trade credit problems by inviting customers to apply for trade credit via the portal. Terms can be set via the retailer, is free to join and is a safety net for retailers, when offering credit to their customers,” Shift’s National Sales Manager – Construction and Trade Joel Pennington said.

Marketing recap 

Marketing for the year ahead will see Paint Place promote more loyalty within its VIP members by introducing more promotions through VIP as well as more online marketing through social media, Paint Place Marketing Manager Maddy Robinson outlined in the final address for the conference.

“Some successful campaigns throughout the year included the Paint Place Black Friday Campaign where VIP members were offered triple points when participating in the campaign along with a December/January brand awareness campaign. Paint Place continues to use its history to leverage campaigns, showcasing the wealth of knowledge within the group as well as hundreds of years of knowledge. Future campaigns will be based around automotive paints as well as a winter promotion in June/July,” she said.

Central Purchasing Services (CPS) General Manager Stephen Wren then went on to present an extensive overview of the hardware market in the past 12 months, with all details published in this edition’s Behind the Counter section on page 12.

Mr Wren’s presence and involvement in the conference’s proceedings were an indication that Paint Place and CPS have become closely aligned in supporting each other, particularly as both business models depict such similarities.

The Paint Place AGM closed proceedings on the final day. Delegates and suppliers expressed their excitement to be a part of the first official events for the industry for 2022, saying it was great success, particularly the trade show which achieved impressive numbers and attendance with both suppliers and members keen to interact on a personal level once again.