SSS Bargain Builders Supplies’ unique selling style
SSS Bargain Builders Supplies Owner, Neil Smith, has grown and evolved his store for over 25 years by selling a wide variety of building products to his customers in a unique style, which he says could be seen as an “old-fashioned” way of retailing, but may just be the key to fighting Big Box competition.
Business: SSS Bargain Builders Suppliers
Owner: Neil Smith
Location: Broadford, VIC
Buying Group: Hardware and Building Traders (HBT)
While Neil says he knows he cannot compete with the Big Boxes, he also believes they cannot compete with him because they do not deliver the customer service or range that Neil’s business does.
“We design every aspect of a home build or renovation. We design builder’s verandahs and we also do pool testing, blinds, water tanks – you name it, we do it. We are in a small country town of 5000 people. If I did not do all this, I would not survive. I do not have the luxury of having a one-line business where you are selling plaster only. This then becomes a vulnerable business which is why we do things such as wood heaters in winter. It is not rocket science. If you know what a product costs you, you can sell anything.”
“I am not saying this is the right model for everyone, but a lot of stores are stuck and this model should be a part of their existence because it costs them nothing. They do not have to stock it, they just have to think about selling it,” he said.
Incredibly, Neil had no retail experience when he first opened his doors in 1994, however he was armed with a strong focus on introducing an extensive range of building products to the Victorian town of Broadford. Today, SSS Bargain Builders Supplies is completely structured around selling all building products required to build, renovate and repair anything inside a home, while also offering building services, installation, site inspections, project management and any customer requests related to the building sector. The business now attracts a wide variety of customers including builders, tradies, owner-builders, government entities and DIYers, all looking for building products and services from one location.
“Our primary goal is to sell to customers what they want, not just what is available on the shelf and this is why we are not a typical hardware store. Although we do sell most building products, we also offer a comprehensive range of services,” Neil said.
Neil’s selling technique is considered unique by other store owners because he and his staff engage with all customers personally and provide a hands-on approach. Neil said the business is unusual because he sells most things that are not in stock.
“This is because customers come in and they do not have a clue how to approach their project. Our goal is to remove this guess work for customers through personalised service. This is our major strength. Our approach is face-to-face customer liaison, offering product specifications, advice and project assistance. The majority of our products are pre-sold and paid for prior to us placing the order. This then alleviates the outlay costs for in-store stock,” Neil said.
“We sell the entire range of all our suppliers. My suppliers are my experts and retailers need to utilise this expertise. You do not have to be the expert, you just have to know who the expert is and utilise their knowledge. Most hardware stores only sell what is on their Point of Sale. This is our strength. I will also go to a customer’s house, take photos and write up a scope of works and I will make up a design, then sit down with the customer and ask them for their choice of products. I then put it all together, which also includes organising the plumber, chippy, tiler etc. and I give them a price for the whole project. The project is then no longer price driven because we provide everything, from start to finish.”
“We also focus on introducing customers to a vast array of building products through our Selection Showroom. From there we offer suggestions and advice. We are happy for our customers to pull up a chair in one of the offices, and we offer them a cuppa and let them take as long as they require to arrange all the products they need for their building project. We make sure they feel they can come back as many times as they wish, and ask as many questions they need to ensure the outcome of their project is exactly what they are aiming for. Our team is extremely knowledgeable on all facets of the building industry and are always up for a chat on all things building,” he said.
Neil believes that a lot of hardware independents are not selling their strength, which is their knowledge.
“This is something the Big Boxes cannot offer and those store owners who have been in the industry for many years are far more knowledgeable of their products than their customers. Yet they do not use this knowledge to sell products to their customers.”
“When a customer comes into the store, I ask them ‘what do you want’ whether it is bricks, roofing, or water tanks. We do not stock any of it. I have only got two packs of timber sitting in my backyard, yet timber is one of my biggest sellers. I say to the builders ‘give me your list of either timber, plaster, roofing, windows and tell me what date you want it delivered’. I have a truck that goes to Melbourne twice a week who will travel to 15 different places to pick up stock and usually there is a two day turn around on all orders,” he said.
Most recently, Neil developed a computer-based Builder Project Quotations Package which provides a comprehensive program for new projects and showcases on an abundance of building products, along with product pricing.
“This can include bricks, timbers, windows, doors, door furniture, tiles, paints, skirts, insulation, wall cladding, lintels, roofing and the list goes on. These quotes are then forwarded onto the builder or tradie who then place orders when required. These quotes remain on the computer system indefinitely. If at a later date they ring to confirm the quote, all pricing is immediately and automatically updated with any price changes. Builders can also send in their customers to make all product selections and these quotes are then given to the builder or tradesperson and orders placed as required,” Neil said.
Meeting facilities are also available in-store for local builders, trades people, building and planning inspectors, as well or drafts people to utilise for client meetings. The concept was implemented by Neil so that professionals can arrange to meet clients face-to-face, instead of phoning clients from the car.
“It also ensures potential customers have easier access to local builders while also allowing builders to have a presence in the local town. They can meet with prospective clients and then utilise our showroom for product selection and inspiration. Our team also use this area to network and make sure customers are provided with the best solution for their building project. All those who utilise our services are more than welcome to access the meeting rooms,” Neil said.
Today the 1300 square metre property boasts around 800 square metres of floor space, a large showroom, building selection centre, trade section and meeting room facilities. Hardware sales and stocked products are located at the rear of the showroom, with vehicle access for deliveries and pick-ups, while outdoor products are located in a rear yard. The front showroom is large and is full of displays and inspiration for customers.
SSS Bargain Builders Supplies was established in 1994, after Neil found it extremely difficult to source building products locally, while building his own home in Broadford. Through this frustration, Neil’s concept evolved into the thriving business it is today.
Initially the store was predominantly a showroom, with Neil travelling to Melbourne every second day to collect customer’s orders, and returning in time to open the shop at 8am. As stock levels and customer needs increased, the business slowly outgrew the corner shop and the stock side of the business expanded into a local warehouse, whilst the corner shop remained as a showroom.
Ultimately the business also outgrew the showroom, which is when SSS Bargain Builders Supplies moved to its current premises in High Street. The business continued to grow over the next 26 years, with Neil attributing this growth to employing reliable, knowledgeable staff who ensure that the style of retail selling remains successful.
“We have continued to introduce a massive range of building products and services. We also believe that building and renovating is much easier and less stressful if you have access to a sales team that guide customers through their requirements. Our sales team have a wealth of knowledge and offer product advice that is often not available through on-line sales. Quite often a customer comes in to purchase a certain product, only to be told that it was not appropriate for what they were trying to achieve. Our customers really appreciate this type of positive interaction. We back up and endorse our products, which gives our customers confidence when purchasing from us. They know they can always pop in and ask a question or get advice on any aspect of their building project,” he said.
“We do not believe in showing our customers just a couple of options. If they come in for a vanity, they will also be asked if they want doors or drawers, and whether the drawers are right or left hand. We also ask if they want handles and which colour. What bench top they want and if they prefer a drop in vanity bowl, freestanding bowl – one or two. This is the same for all our customer’s selections. We give options to ensure they purchase the right product for their intended application,” he said.
The business now has a strong customer base which extends into Metropolitan Melbourne.
Located just one hour’s drive north of Melbourne’s CBD, Broadford is part of the Mitchell Shire, considered one of Victoria’s fastest growing regional municipalities, and a part of the Hume Regional Growth Plan. This will see the Lower Hume Corridor experience rapid population growth within the next few years, according to Neil.
“Many families will call the Mitchell Shire home in the near future, which will see an increase in housing developments. We are mindful of this and we are always increasing our range of products and ensuring metro trends are available to our customers. We have a great reputation within the Mitchell Shire and gain a lot of new customers purely through word of mouth recommendations.
Joining HBT in 2002, SSS Bargain Builders Suppliers wanted to be a part of a buying group that predominately focused and supported smaller outlets around the country, according to Neil.
“We joined HBT to gain access to a list of valuable suppliers, and also access the pricing structure that HBT has been able to secure for its members. The support, promotion and accessibility HBT provides is an added strength to hardware independents. HBT also has a proven track record of encouraging substantial growth for its members, which in turn encourages more suppliers to get on board and support us independently owned stores. Being a part of the HBT group is a win-win all round,” he said.
Looking into the future…
SSS Bargain Builders Supplies recently purchased another delivery truck to keep up with order demands and will continue to grow and expand as the need increases, according to Neil.
“We are always adding new products to our ever-growing list. If a customer comes in for a particular product and we do not have it, we will endeavour to source it through a new supplier and the range of products that we sell increases – yet again.”
“As our shire grows, we will grow to accommodate. Most importantly, listening to our customer’s feedback and their individual building requirements is what we always hold in high regard and is what will continue to grow the business in years to come,” Neil said.