Relishing the Challenge

Managing Director Jarlath Mullane and Robert Costello from Sales and Marketing sat down with The Hardware Journal to catch their breath following a challenging but hugely successful rebrand of General Hardware Supplies Homevalue (GHSH).

Change is never easy. The comfort of familiarity and routine can make thoughts of upheaval and reinvention jarring. General Hardware Supplies down in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick had been trading for the past 20 years and – while small changes and developments had materialised over that time – nothing could prepare the team for the massive step forward they were about to take.

Originally a tile shop which was opened in 1999 by Jarlath’s father Joseph, together with former Fianna Fáil Minister Michael J. Noonan, the store had slowly migrated to DIY supplies and construction materials. In more recent years, a surge in the focus on timber trading had positioned the General Hardware Supplies name as one with few equals in the region.

Jarlath had witnessed first-hand this gradual development, beginning his career carrying out deliveries shortly after the store first opened. From there, he progressed to the shop floor, then on to buying in product, continually acquiring knowledge and responsibilities until eventually taking the reins himself.

All along, the site had been rented, until two years ago when the company decided to buy it outright, solidifying their autonomy and control over their location. This would signal the
start of General Hardware Supplies’ accelerated journey towards new horizons, and an eventual partnership with the Homevalue brand.

While the main store itself has come under the Homevalue umbrella, a sister company remains independent in the form of McMahon Concrete Products, a company growing rapidly and actively looking to expand on its site current site. McMahon’s main function is supplying agricultural products both nationwide and overseas to the UK.

General Hardware Supplies was a member of the National Hardware/ARRO group at one point, before leaving the group in 2009. However, they’ve come back on board with the group within the last 12 months and have already noticed a largely refined and improved operation that offers visible benefits to their business.

Staff

Robert came on board in November 2017 and since then, both he and Jarlath comment on the noticeable pick-up in both business and in-house morale. Having grown from four or five staff in 1999 to a roster of 17 today, the strong focus on staff has been complex but worthwhile.

At least one of the current team has been in situ since the store’s inception in 1999, but many more have not made it so far. Jarlath admits that it took some tough but essential decision making to revamp the staff, streamlining the roster so that only the most motivated and enthusiastic remained to help drive the business forward.

“We brought in a lot of new staff, people with new ideas,” explains Jarlath. “We want people who are interested to be here. My ethos is if you’re not interested, we don’t want you here – it’s a simple as that. And I’m very direct about that.” He defers to Rob for agreement. Rob nods with a wry smile. “I’m just about off probation at this stage,” he laughs.

Rob speaks enthusiastically about the strong emphasis placed on training. Having only arrived in the door in November, he immediately kick-started an intensive four-to-six-week training period on all products; imported timber, slate, plywood, the whole range, with the idea being that everyone becomes multi-talented and well-informed enough to assume the
responsibilities of anyone else in their absence.

Both men agree that the business ethos is simple – be driven. “We want people who are interested and who want to be here. People who go the extra mile here are looked after,” says Jarlath.

“There’s a great staff morale” adds Robert, who describes the very open and approachable atmosphere among the team, where anyone can literally go to anyone else with a question,
query or request for assistance and it’ll be met with enthusiasm.

Also from a staffing point of view, the company is actively seeking to recruit a Retail  Manager to help grow the shop side of the business, with trade currently making up 65% and DIY consumer 35%.

Timber

Although a fine all-rounder in terms of builders providers, General Hardware Supplies Homevalue really excel when it comes to timber. Heavily involved in the importing of timber
from countries such as Sweden, Germany and Latvia, the team have seen their sales grow massively in this category, with regular deliveries blanketing all of Munster and spreading
beyond too. The store is also actively involved in the wholesaling of timber to merchants across the country.

Robert explains how imported timber is really starting to take over from the native timber. He has noticed how people are willing to change based on the GHSH team’s recommendations, with a current emphasis on the superior quality of the imported
timber over native.

A sense of a real affiliation with the heavier end of the business (specifically with selling timber) permeates the large and tidy yard out front. Lengths of up to 40 feet lay neatly arranged on a massive storage unit at one end. Stock is never an issue for the GHSH team, with approximately 250 bales of timber in stock at any one time. Indeed, the company are looking to expand their storage capacity, aiming to consolidate their existing two yards into one significantly larger one.

Rebrand

Both men concur on the rebranding process being a challenging period. The store didn’t fully close at all, with sections being completed as trading continued. Disruption was inevitable, and taking longer than expected to complete didn’t help matters. However, the (almost) finished product is certainly a joy to behold. Walking through the entrance, one is met with a well-lit, easily navigable rectangular shop floor. The lighting and medium height
shelves allow the customer to scan the entire floor, with bright and clear signage (in Homevalue’s signature red and white) guiding customers to the areas they seek.

Finishing touches still outstanding include some display TVs and an in-store radio system, but as it stands the store has improved in leaps and bounds since its previous incarnation, with the difference between before and after photos astonishing.

Robert confirms it as being a complete overhaul of the store itself. The volume of sales has increased on a Saturdays in particular, with the team seeing a dramatic rise in footfall from
the casual DIY user. Customers have also remarked upon the new layout as being far more browser-friendly, and word-of mouth has seen new enquiries rain in on the team from new
customers asking about products, ranges and services they weren’t aware the store provided.

Jarlath recalls when discussions about the rebrand first started, and recounts how everyone had an input, a chance to air their views. It seems to have been a real team effort to make the decision and then work hard to implement it successfully.

From the get-go, Jarlath says that they were very open to the idea of the rebrand. “I just like getting things done,” he declares. “Make the decision, make it happen, move on.”

Now that the store is under the Homevalue brand, it offers far greater visibility. After much scrutiny of the pros and cons, the end decision was easy.

Feedback and Performance

Jarlath invokes Richard Branson, and an image of listening at the counter, overhearing customer feedback. The chatter has been overwhelmingly positive, with the rebrand and new layout offering customers a more relaxed, friendlier and more vibrant environment to shop.

The walk-around is a big element too, where staff members take the time to bring a customer around the entire store and yard, to show them the different products and more importantly the alternatives they can be getting for every aspect of their project.

Slates are a product category performing well at the moment, owing to their superior quality. Robert explains how customers don’t mind paying a little more when they understand that difference in quality. Offering an alternative is a huge element of their customer’s satisfaction too.

General Hardware Supplies Homevalue also has a dedicated sales team chasing up business by phone, which the team find works better than via e-mail as it adds that personal touch.

In store, there are regular promotions, and more than 15,000 new flyers was recently distributed far and wide, containing over 40 products and received with great success. Branding-wise,everything finally transitioned by the end of August, with the publishing of a new catalogue pushing heavy side (foundations to roof), to middle sector of doors, floors, stoves, -all brand-new departments set up.

This is combined with regular advertising in local papers and magazines, as well as  involvement in sponsoring local initiatives.

All in all, the team can be immensely proud of what they’ve achieved so far, but there are still plenty more tasks to tick off the list. But as Managing Director Jarlath says: “I just like
getting things done.” And that, the General Hardware Supplies Homevalue team does with aplomb.