On a recent trip out west, TimberTrader News visited Augusta, a town on the south-west coast of Western Australia, where the Blackwood River emerges into Flinders Bay.
It is the nearest town to Cape Leeuwin, on the furthest southwest corner of the Australian continent and has a population of just over 1,000.
Jody Jacques and Bob McFuiness have owned the business for the last four and a half years, after a horrific bushfire forced them from their home near Balingup, 45 km south of Bunbury on the Southwest Highway.
Prior to that, Jody and Bob didn’t exactly have a background in timber and hardware.
Bob has had a number of careers, working in aircraft maintenance at Jandakot Airport in Perth for 13 years and then two at a sheet metal workshop in Osborne Park.
In the late 1980s, he moved from the city to Balingup and worked as a tree feller for seven years.
“We had to stack those logs by hand,” Bob remembered. “This was 1989, before machines.”
Bob then started an earth moving business which he worked in for the next 15 years.
Jody’s background is in plants, dealing in identification of native seeds and plants. She initially worked for a company in Donnybrook, just north of Balingup.
Now Jody and Bob have a second business called Naturally Native, which Jody operates out of home, doing consulting and revegetation work for shires, main roads and the like.
This brings us to 2009, when Jody and Bob were victims of a terrible bushfire.
“We lost a big shed and all of its contents and half the trees on the property, all the fences,” Bob said.
“It was in the middle of February. We had the worst two days of our lives and decided enough was enough. That was 2009.
“There were a couple of other major fires at the time as well, so we decided to look around and live somewhere else, after 23 years. That’s how we ended up at the store.”
“It was something we could do together and be somewhere we wanted to be,” Jody added.
They took on a big challenge to turn the business around and have certainly done that, but it’s been hard work. In four years, there have been no holidays, and the store is only closed on Christmas day.
“In a tourist town, the people who come here come on weekends,” Bob explained.
“The people who have holiday homes come on weekends and expect to be able to do what they need to. We need to be open so they can do that.”
“It’s like public holidays, we can’t close public holidays. We just can’t,” Jody said.
Augusta is three and a half hours from Perth, which makes it pretty isolated but still accessible for a weekend. In fact, the isolation is a lot of its appeal.
“That’s the unique thing about areas like this,” Jody mused.
“That’s why people come here. They come here because most of the population doesn’t, because it is that little bit further.”
The permanent population is about 1,000, but Bob reckons it swells up closer to 10,000 over summertime. Much of the management of the business is being able to cope with the considerable seasonal variation.
“There’s a period that builds up, it’s a crescendo right through to December, that’s the biggest month,” Bob said.
“January’s nearly as big and then February it backs off because of school holidays, people head back. Then it drops off and starts coming down.”
Because of the nature of the town, most of the business’ trade comes from these mum and dad type customers who are down for the weekend. Trade makes up between five and 10 per cent.
“There’s only a limited amount of trade in town, and we’ve got most of the tradies shopping in here now, pretty well the whole lot of them,” Bob said.
Although there’s not much competition in town, there is a Bunnings 42km up the road in Margaret River, but it doesn’t seem to have affected the business too much.
“There was a Mitre 10 there before, so it doesn’t matter,” Bob said.
“It hasn’t affected us or the other stores up there either.”
Part of building the business back up was making sure that locals were getting their hardware from Augusta, and not from Margaret River where they might do a bit of other shopping.
“Customers were heading up that end, plus doing other shopping which affects other businesses,” Bob said.
“So it’s the missing link that’s now being repaired. But it’s a long healing time, to get a business back together again.”
Augusta Hardware is involved with Mitre 10 as a True Value store, and Bob and Jody say this has been a good way to go.
Although it’s been hard work, the couple have brought the business a long way in four years and plan to keep it going as long as they can.
“What happened to us over there, getting burned out as I said, it was the worst two days of our lives,” Bob said.
“But when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and here we are. But it all takes time.”