Theatrical nursery sees McLaren Vale Mitre 10 bloom

After taking on McLaren Vale Mitre 10 in 2017, owners Mark and Fiona Loveday, along with former colleague Brian Lawrence and family friend Linda Provis, have overseen significant growth and improvement in their customer offer over the last three years.

Business: McLaren Vale Mitre 10
Owners: Mark & Fiona Loveday, Brian Lawrence and Linda Provis
Location: McLaren Vale, South Australia
Buying Group: Independent Hardware Group (IHG)

The secret of success, Mark says, lies in having the enthusiasm and foresight to continually grow and evolve the store. He believes the day retailers think they have got it all figured out is the day they need to hang up their keys. Since taking on the popular store, Mark and his team have not only expanded the garden and trade centres, but have also taken on new departments never seen in-store.

New markets

One of Mark’s stand-out qualities as a retailer, is his willingness to innovate and seek out new markets to explore. It is also the reason why the store continues to attract new customers, while winning back-to-back state store awards, as well as National Garden Centre of the Year in 2018.

Store owners Mark and Fiona Loveday, along with former colleague Brian Lawrence and family friend Linda Provis, have grown and evolved the store since 2017.

“I speak to Mitre 10 head office on a regular basis and I ask them which store is the best at homewares, or paint or whatever it is, and it can be a store in any state. I then touch base with that store and ask if it is OK to visit the store and have a chat to the owners. I have not had one ‘no’ yet. They give me a walk through and then I bring what I have learned back to my store to help run it better. If someone is doing it better than us then I want to know about it because it is going to make my life so much easier,” Mark said.

The McLaren Vale Mitre 10 team will continue to improve the store by learning and evolving as much as they can for many years to come.

“You have to ask yourself, why complete a four-year apprenticeship if there is someone that can help you be a tradesman in six months? The ones that are doing things well have already made all the mistakes so why not learn from them and it does not have to be a Mitre 10 store. You can source ideas from any retailer. I recently implemented a reasonable range of homewares, including pots and pans. I got the idea when I visited a local department store. I saw how well they delivered this department and realised there is no one in the district that does this,” he said.

McLaren Vale Mitre 10 also recently implemented a full giftware department, taking inspiration from the many South Australian nurseries and gift retailers that are considered best-in-class across Australia. 

“Our state absolutely leads the way in both boutique and large-format garden centres. I learned a lot from visiting these businesses which helped me to dabble in giftware. It has gone really well. I know that whatever we do, we try to do it to the best of our ability because it always reflects on our sales,” he said.

Getting to know your customers and who shops at your store is also very important when implementing new store ranges, because this is the only way retailers can get a feel for which initiatives might do well, according to Mark. 

“We started small in giftware two Christmases ago and continued to expand year-on-year. Today we are very much of a destination for giftware and home décor. But I had to be willing to learn to achieve this. The minute you stop wanting to improve, is the minute it is time to get out of what you are doing,” Mark said.

“I also knew giftware had potential because the same customer that buys plants, is the same customer who buys the giftware. By not having the giftware, customers will buy the plants from us and the giftware from someone else. We are just making our store a one stop shop. We also knew we could not do this if our garden centre was not top notch because it brings a certain customer into our store. Our customers come for miles to speak to the garden staff and buy the plants,” he said.

Stand out garden centre

The correct implementation of stock, along with a high level of plant knowledge from staff, as well as stunning displays in-store, now sees customers travel from all around the district just to visit McLaren Vale Mitre 10’s garden centre, according to Mark. 

Since the store was first taken over in 2017, the green life department has grown 60 per cent in three years, and is 36 per cent up this financial year alone.

“One thing we did invest heavily in our garden centre was our benches, which have totally changed the look of garden. When you go to a big box garden centre, you will see they run a metal frame which can look very sterile, while a lot of hardware independents have pine planks sitting on top of Besser blocks. We made a $20,000 investment on presentation materials alone, including merbau decking to display our plants, which is beautiful and classy. The seedling rack alone you would have in your house as a feature, it is so stunning,” Mark said.

“Our store layout also ensures that customers walk through giftware to get to the garden centre. Mitre 10 also suggested we install themed bird music but instead we put live canaries around the nursery. So you can hear them chirping away as you walk into the store and towards the garden centre. It immediately puts all our customers in a great mood. We also have about 12 running fountains throughout the garden centre, so there is an enormous amount of ambience going on.”

“I have also placed South Australia’s popular Beerenberg Sauce in the giftware section to keep the husbands happy when they see how much their wives have spent in the garden centre. I often see the wife reaching for a bottle of sauce, so hubby gets to take something home, while the wife loads up with plants.”

“This financial year alone we have sold over 1000 units of Beerenberg Sauce. Our customers will always buy about three or four bottles at a time. You are not going to retire on it but it is about the theatre of what we are doing in the garden centre and giftware section. I am happy to share my ideas with any of the members because then we can all benefit from what I have learned. When you learn from others, you benefit yourself,” he said.

Store history

When Mark and his co-owners took over the business in August 2017, Mark had worked in hardware retailing for over 25 years and was well known throughout IHG for managing and building award winning stores.

Brian was part owner of an irrigation business for over 45 years, while Linda is a farmer from the west coast who is also a partner within the business. Mark’s wife, Fiona, also worked in hardware retailing for about 20 years, primarily in garden.

“I was good friends with Brian and we worked together at a previous Mitre 10. We had always discussed how we should put our retailing skills into a store of our own. One day McLaren Vale Mitre 10 came up for sale – so here we are,” Mark said.

When the new owners took on the business, the store was initially expanded extensively, but it was a significant extension that happened by chance.

“When we got here, we realised Tradelink were sharing our property, trading here in a shed which was around 1000 square metres in size. I asked the landlord to let us know if this shed ever came up for rent, we would be interested in taking it over, as we wanted to use it to build a new timber yard. At this stage the timber yard was in the original hardware shop. I thought it would take a couple of years before it would happen but we were only in the shop three months and it became available,” Mark said.

“So we took on the challenge of transforming the empty back shed and turning it into a trade centre. By taking on a new building you also have to take on more staff, more rent, more expenses and more of everything. You also do not have the traffic nor sales to warrant it at that time because it is so new. But we had a fantastic staff member, Wade Galpin, who has worked really hard to drive the growth of our trade area and he has continued to build up sales over time,” he said.

Local demographics

With a Bunnings store located just a three-minute drive away, competition is fierce in the local area, but Mark believes the store continues to do well because it dabbles more in the rural and handy-man trade. 

“The local area could be classed as semi-rural as we have a lot of vineyards nearby. The town has a population of about 4000, but a lot of tourists come into the area also. Our trade customers come from all over because there is a lot of maintenance work and renovations locally, rather than new builds,” Mark said.

Although the store currently trades heavily in DIY, with around 75 per cent of sales DIY to 25 per cent trade, Mark aims to bring this number closer to 60/40 because he believes it is important to balance sales as much as possible.

“If you have a run of hot weather, you are not going to sell too many plants or giftware. You really need different areas to fire around the store when other departments are slow,” he said. 

2020 challenges

As was the case for most hardware stores, McLaren Vale Mitre 10’s has experienced a spike in demand during the COVID lockdown and this is reflected in both increased foot traffic and sales. Mark said he felt very lucky to be in an industry that has been able to continue to trade and provide an important service to their community, as people found themselves spending more time at home.

Investing heavily in the garden centre’s benches by installing merbau displays has completely changed its look.

“When the lockdowns hit, I was working seven days a week constantly changing all of my orders behind the scenes to try and keep up with the demand. Replenishing product on the shelves was our biggest concern and will remain an area we need to focus on for some time I think,” Mark said.

“One example, my normal weekly order prior to COVID on seed packets was around $300. In March, I placed a weekly order of $10,000 on seed packets and these were still all gone by the Friday. It was like this with so many things. But I was so lucky because we could continue to trade.” 

“I do all of the ordering for the store, aside from green life and timber, so it means I am across all of my stock all of the time. If you are on top of this it takes a lot of the stress away, particularly when you have 22,000 lines in the building. I also go for a store walk every day, along every aisle and then you never miss too many orders. I take my floor cleaner with me so I can complete two jobs at once. I believe that store owners need to spend 50 per cent of their time in the office and 50 per cent of their time on the shop floor. This way you are in control of your store and the staff see that you are just as willing to get your hands dirty as they are,” he said.

Staff training

Management recognise and compliment staff members who consistently put in extra effort. 

Working as a family and constantly recognizing staff members who consistently put in extra effort is important to Mark, who said he also invites all of his staff to have a drink together at the end of the day and chat about any issues, store ideas or just relax after work. 

“If someone has completed a re-lay out on the floor that needed doing, we will have that drink in the area where the re-lay was done. This gives everyone a chance to look at the work that was done and provide feedback or learn from it,” he said.

Future plans

Even though Mark believes the McLaren Vale Mitre 10 team is very good at what they do, his future goals include continuing to improve himself and his team, so the store will grow and evolve. 

“Years ago, one of my bosses said if you can get all the one percenter’s right in-store, your sales will grow. A one percenter could be getting all the live ordering correct behind the scenes. I often start ordering at 7am and finish at 1pm on the same day. But I have worked at stores where separate staff place the orders for each department. You then have ten staff spending five hours doing their own orders, which adds up to 40 hours a week of man hours, but I can do this in five hours. I save a lot of man hours by being as efficient as I can, so ultimately, I save dollars. It also frees up staff to serve and maintain the store. The more efficient you become, the more profitable you become as well.”

McLaren Vale Mitre 10 continues to grow via new initiatives in-store.

“Throughout 2021 and beyond, my aim is to remain passionate, energetic and always try to improve because if I do this, then I build my staff up with me as well,” Mark said.