Purpose built HBT store takes out rural award 

Store name: Cooma H Hardware
Store owners: David van der Plaat, Elizabeth van der Plaat & Jannene Rixon
Buying group: Hardware & Building Traders (HBT)

New Cooma H Hardware is a purpose built HBT store, which took out the Regional Store of the Year Award for NSW, at HBT’s national conference held in Melbourne last month. The store has come a long way since three siblings took it over 17 years ago, when all had little to no retail experience.

David van der Plaat, Elizabeth van der Plaat and Jannene Rixon initially took over Cooma H Hardware when their father passed away in 2002, after he owned the store for three decades. Since this time, the business has outgrown its premises twice, the most recent being in January last year when the trio opened the new purpose built H Hardware store on a 22,000 square metre site.

(L to R) Cooma H Hardware store owners, Elizabeth van der Plaat, David van der Plaat, & Jannene Rixon.

The business has evolved from humble beginnings after it was purchased by the trio’s father, Hendrick van der Plaat, alongside his brothers in the mid 1970s. Before taking on the business, the siblings were all in totally different careers, with David working as a truck driver, Elizabeth working in child care, while Jannene worked in the production department at the local newspaper.

Humble beginnings

The business was formally titled Norton’s Building Supplies, when it was purchased from the Norton family and located in a small building in the centre of Cooma, a farming town 100 kilometres south of Canberra.

After taking over the store, it did not take long before the business outgrew its original premises, according to David.

“Just two years after we took the store over, we moved up into the main street into a 1000 square metre building with a 2000 square metre block, so we had four times the space. We stayed at this site up until last year, when we out-grew those premises and built the new purpose built H Hardware store,” David said.

The former store.

“We branded the second store H Hardware because we did not want to lose our identity with the move into our new purpose built premises, which opened in January last year.”

“The new store is located out of the main part of town, in the industrial area, which has worked really well for us. Our sales were up from the moment we opened the new store, so we have had very good growth, primarily with our retail customers,” he said.

Cooma community enjoys new store

The new Cooma H Hardware now attracts a 50/50 split of its retail and trade customers, where previously its customers were 80 per cent trade. Since the business moved to the new premises, the retail business has grown substantially, according to Jannene.

“Our customers come in and always comment on how beautiful our store is. It is a very clean, tidy and well-presented store. The store has also been built on a level site to ensure easy access for our customers, including a great big drive through. This is of course is backed up by our friendly customer service. The store not only has a large nursery, but also has an extensive garden-based gift-wear range. We have pretty much expanded on everything that we had before,” she said. 

The store has also significantly grown its team since it began with just three staff in 2002, with the business boasting over 30 staff today.

“When we took over the first store, we had just three staff in the business. In the second store we had five staff and I think now we have 12 staff in-store and another 15 staff in our truss plant. We predict we will need more staff in the hardware store in the near future, particularly to run our new café, where we intend to employ three more staff.”  

“Our new café will open in July, which will be located at the front of the store, and customers can access the café either from the nursery or the carpark. The café will be open from early in the morning, so tradies can take advantage of it, and then service our customers throughout the day,” she said.

Catering to the local community and beyond

Cooma H Hardware is well known for its wide variety of stock in-store, including its popular home-wares department.

Since taking over their father’s store, the siblings have not only managed to grow Cooma H Hardware into one of the best regional stores within the HBT group, but have also established a medium sized truss and frame factory, alongside the H Hardware business.

“We established the truss plant with the idea to provide a total package to the trade – as in supplying a complete house. So we manufacture frames and trusses on the same site as the new purpose built store, which now employs about 15 people,” he said.

“The truss and frame plant delivers into the south coast, the snowy mountains and the Canberra ACT region. We now have a big market for this which is great because we could not sustain a truss factory, of our scale,  supplying only to the local market.”

“The local Cooma economy consists of farming, retail and tourism, particularly with the Snowy Mountains nearby,” David said.

There is a Mitre 10 store in town, but Cooma H Hardware maintains a significant point of difference due to its many stand out departments, its garden centre, trade centre and well-presented environment in-store.

The HBT family

The trio joined the HBT group as soon as they took over the business in 2002 and are extremely happy with how HBT has supported them both professionally and personally over the years.

“When we joined HBT we were member 79, so they have achieved a lot of growth over the years, now with over 730 stores. Many suppliers have good, long standing relationships with HBT and the rebates that come from these relationships have convinced us to stay,” he said.

“When you talk to the suppliers, everyone raves about HBT. That is how we got into the group because the suppliers kept coming in saying how much we were missing out by not being a part of the group. The suppliers love HBT and the deals they have with the suppliers have also helped our business grow – along with the networking.”

“There are many other HBT members down the south coast and in Canberra, who have all become a great network for us. We share different ideas with each other, which helps to grow our businesses and is also why we have not missed a conference in 17 years,” he said.

Future plans

Local tradies love Cooma H Hardware’s drive through facility.

While the new store is only eighteen months old, David, Elizabeth and Jannene already have plans to grow and develop the business in the near future, with the store starting to build up the landscape supply side of the business.

“As part of continually growing the business, we have implemented bulk soil bins to build up the landscape supplies side of the business. Because of our large site, there is plenty of room to introduce new categories to the customer, which is what we will continue to do,” he said.

“The new site provides our customers with ease of access when it comes to our timber and bulk building supplies, as we now have a full drive through area so customers can easily pull up alongside whatever supplies they are after. This ease of access has really helped to grow this side of the business,” David said.

Over the next 12 months, the three also have plans to grow the business online, via the store’s website, which will initially be established as a site for customers to research products in-store.

Cooma H Hardware’s garden centre is a stand out department in-store.

“We want to have the website at a point where our customers can see what goods and specials are online and we can provide a lot more information to them this way. We may look at other options such as Click ‘n Collect in the future, but our website will definitely be part of our marketing strategy over the next few months,” he said.