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Bob Partridge – Local Business

How do you renovate a business? Find out as we talk to the happy hardware guru: Bob Partridge from Trademark Mitre 10.




As I arrive at Trademark Mitre 10, I can see Bob Partridge, and he looks the picture of happiness … but then, why wouldn’t he? After all, it’s the first sunny day in weeks. Or maybe its because he’s come straight from the gym; either way, the greeting is genuine, and it’s infectious. I’m greeted like an old family friend, but I have Bob’s measure and can see his strategy, because he’s just being nice to disarm me. I decide to meet him halfway and up the ante, by congratulating him for being in the best business, “How good is it running a hardware store?” I ask. “Pretty good,” he replies, beaming even more.

A former bank executive, Bob joined the other owners Brian Burgmann and Dennis Shepherd (who had previous hardware experience) to launch the Trademark Mitre 10, originally located at the Shores retail centre in 1989. But in 1996 it was time to move to Barton Crescent, which was a vacant lot at the time. Bob admits that his conservative nature has probably been an asset, but without him saying, I get a sense of customer focus too. From the very early days, Bob, Brian and Dennis mapped out their plans to succeed, and they knew that before too long, serious competition would arrive – and predictably it did, on the old Telstra site.

To their credit, the three owners,had already identified how the business would change and developed two marketing strategies that have proven to be enormously resilient and effective: segmentation and differentiation.

“Firstly, we were determined to build strong relationships with the trade,” says Bob, reminiscing as if it were yesterday, “because they are the bread and butter of the building supplies industry, so we deliberately got to know them.” To this day, much of the operation is designed to meet the needs of builders and tradies who want sharp prices, the latest in new products and quick deliveries. Bob chuckles when he illustrates this with the story of a builder who called to order a truckload of cement: “When would you like that delivered?”asked the rep. “Now,” replied the customer.

The other side of the business is the retail store that you and I visit for paint, hardware, power tools and timber products. Armed with the knowledge that the chain’s arrival was imminent, a point of difference was needed.

No prizes for guessing what Bob and his fellow owners chose: customer service. It’s not hard to notice several staff on the floor helping shoppers as we walk past. An intuitive and astute idea, given that 10 years on, it’s still working. To me, this is a classic case of creating a successful niche due to engaged staff. They who know that customers need hardware and building products, but more importantly, they want attentive and knowledgeable service. Says Bob, “Some of our staff have forgotten more that I know.”

Except for one thing, doesn’t the internet provide all the knowledge that DIY buyers need? Don’t they browse online then go and buy it online from the cheapest store?

“They might do that in fashion, but in hardware customers prefer to look, feel, touch and see before they buy, and that’s where our staff can help them to make the right choice,” responds Bob.

It seems that I’m not the only one who has a head full of questions when buying a shower rose or a tin of varnish, but clearly they are onto this. They are also onto new products and services too and the area that’s taking big leaps forward are power tools, which are becoming lighter thanks to smaller batteries, more powerful and easier to handle. There are also so many of them, it’s quite amazing. I don’t know what they’re for, so why do I want one? (Thanks for showing me now, Bob; Father’s Day has just passed)!

I wonder if some of these changes are designed for women in mind, having noticed some of the ladies’ fine efforts during The Renovators competition recently. Bob agrees that female enthusiasts represent a considerable buyer segment now –substantial enough to run information nights just for ladies.

In retrospect, like most good ideas, these strategies seem logical; yet as we know, creating plans that deliver sustained growth is far from easy. Bob explains that the business benefits from transparency between himself, Brian and Dennis, where each of the owners have their responsibilities, yet consult each other on most decisions. So turning to the future, how does Bob see the building supplies trade and hardware in Port Macquarie in years to come?

“This place will go through the roof,” he indicates.

Although not happy with the slow release of land, there is a note of optimism that the attributes fuelling our growth now are sustainable. As an example, Sovereign Hills is mentioned, and I’m forced to ask what the value equation there is. Like many of us, Bob is not sure. Enough said.

Expect the new Woolworths’ brand Masters to arrive sometime soon, after they get a site. They will have a nice little battle with Bunnings, but this does not seem to worry Bob – which is wise, because he knows he can’t stop them. What Bob, Brian and Dennis will do is continue what Trademark Mitre 10 does best, and that is look after their customers.

You feel this when entering Trademark Mitre 10. It’s much like being greeted as that old family friend.

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