Each month we will be interviewing our board and members to find out more about them and where they see the future of the hardware industry in Australia. This month we had a virtual catch up with our Chair Paul Stewart, who together with his wife Amanda owns Barrow & Bench Mitre 10 in South Australia.
How did you get into the Hardware industry?
I have been immersed in the hardware industry since childhood. My father was a carpenter, later establishing a hardware store. Like the children of many family businesses, I worked in the shop as a school student. With no intention of a career in retail, I undertook a carpentry apprenticeship and then worked for myself for around 5 years. When I received a phone call from Dad offering me a job, I realised how much I missed the social aspect of working with people. Six years ago, in 2013, I purchased the business with my wife Amanda. We now employ around 40 personnel, ranging from salaried full time staff, to school students who work as casuals for stock fill.
Do you have one area of the business that is more successful? If so, what do you think makes it better than others?
Our garden department is certainly the strongest part of our business. Homeowners in our demographic take great pride in their gardens. We fill a niche market offering plants across all price points from cheap and cheerful potted colour, through to advanced trees and clipped topiary. Our garden department adapts quickly to changing trends and customer requirements. For example, in the last 5-6 years, we have expanded our range of indoor pots and plants, as well as our organic garden care options.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your business?
A constant challenge in our business is the staff. Finding the right people; keeping them; communicating to them and inspiring them to keep helping others, even when times are difficult isn’t always easy. Keeping abreast of workplace legislation, OH&S, training, and so on are all part of that challenge. I would have to say operating throughout the COVID 19 pandemic has also had its challenges. In the early days, before strict health guidelines were introduced, keeping staff and customers safe was a huge concern to us.
What is the one business tip you would like to pass onto other hardware store owners and managers?
Talk to other people within the industry, either at a state level if you are comfortable, or to people interstate. Understand that others do things differently, and seek to find out how and why they do that. Likewise, share the things that work for you with others, and be generous with your time. Just one idea out of ten shared could save you time and money.
When did you join the Hardware Australia committee?
I was invited to join the SA State Committee (HASA) around 2005. In 2011 took over the role as President of that committee from the very capable Rod Evins. As President of the HASA, I sat on the Board of HA (formerly known as HFA). I have remained on the Board, in various capacities, since 2011.
Where do you see the future of the hardware industry?
Helping people find solutions to home renovation and maintenance remains integral to living in a property, whether you own it or not.
I believe there will always be a need for home hardware and DIY solutions in one form or another. As a business, I feel we need to continually challenge ourselves and the way we operate. It’s important to look at our competitors, and at how other industries are managing these challenges. Of course, hardware, like all industries, needs to be receptive to the changing needs of their customers. At the moment having a strong presence online, together with trusted advice in store, allows you to help people find solutions to their problems.
What do you think is the biggest benefit of being a member of HA?
There are many benefits in being a member, and it’s very hard to list one, so I will keep it short and list a few
- Networking – As I mentioned before talking to other people in your industry is extremely valuable. I believe ‘People need People’. It’s where we get our energy, our ideas, and our support.
- Having easy access to some basic legal advice is important – there is no excuse for not understanding the awards our industry operates under.
- Being part of an industry body gives us strength so that we can have an impact with our decision making.
What do you get up to in your downtime?
When I am not working on our hobby farm, you will generally find me mountain biking or trail running my way across the Adelaide Hills. In the warmer weather, when the wind is just right, I try to get to the beach for a spot of windsurfing.
If you could change something in the world, what would it be?
Tolerance of other people’s views.
Are you involved in any other community organisations?
When our children were younger I was very involved in local sporting clubs, however, my Hardware Australia obligations remain my only community commitment at the moment. This allows me to work on the imminent upgrade of our own store, and to focus on our business after Bunnings opened their largest store in Australia just 10 minutes drive away.