Narrogin is a town of 4,500 people in Western Australia’s wheatbelt. If anyone on the east coast needs a point of reference, it’s right between Pingelly and Wagin.
While we were in town on our swing out west recently, TimberTrader News stopped for a chat with Bill and Toni.
“We got frosted two years in a row and I knew the bloke who owned this business here,” Bill said.
“We’ve got three daughters that would have had to be boarded out, and this bloke told me he could make as much money from the business as we could on the farm. The numbers seemed to stack up so we said yeah.”
Bill and Toni sold their farm where they had grown wheat, oats and lupins about 15 years ago and moved to Narrogin.
Narrogin is about an hour’s drive west from where their farm was – in Western Australian (WA) terms, just up the road. The couple explained that lifestyle was a big part motivation for the change.
“Bill needed a hip replacement and the girls were ready for senior school,” Toni explained.
“We didn’t really want to leave the land but farming’s a dodgy lifestyle at times. Everything sort of dovetailed together and after weighing up buying a business here or in Albany, we settled on this one.
“We were familiar with the community and we’re halfway between Bill’s parents in Gardiner River and mine in Perth, so it was good. We knew the school was good.”
Timber is not regularly a large part of Toni and Bill’s business – apart from some Porta Mouldings – although if a customer wants something they can order it in and send it straight out.
“There’s a Makit store across the road – they basically do trade, and we do retail,” Toni clarified.
Makit – again, for everyone on the east coast – is a hardware store backed by CPS, a WA buying co-op.
Hancock & Sons is a branded Home store, but it was actually a Mitre 10 store when Bill and Toni first purchased it.
They changed about 18 months into their tenure as owners, about two years after Home first moved into the WA market.
“We changed to Home because we were having trouble with the warehousing side of things,” Bill said.
“This was 13 years ago, I think it’s changed a lot now, but back then it was hard as a smaller store to get supply.”
Their experience with Home, Bill and Toni said, has been excellent.
The company employs three people other than Bill and Toni, and it is open five and a half days a week. The opening hours, they said, are typical for a town of this size.
“It was always five and a half days,” Toni said.
“We decided to stick with that when we bought it. It’s changing a bit now, but in a country community on a Sunday, everybody plays sport. No one is interested in shopping on a Sunday.”
“You can fire a cannon up the main street and not hit a soul,” Bill added.
“The nursery next door traded seven days for about eight years, and they no longer trade on a Sunday,” Toni continued.
“Besides, staffing is so hard, and we didn’t want to do that – we’d already done that with farming, thanks! And we believe lifestyle comes first.”
The business is open seven to six during the week and seven to 12 on Saturdays. Toni reckons if people can’t get organised in those hours, they’re probably not getting much DIY work done anyway.
Hancock & Sons has a pretty mixed make up of stock and caters to the DIY market as well as smaller scale trade and agriculture customers, offering advice to the hobby farmers from the city.
Being just two hours out of Perth, the big boxes are still competition. That being said, Bill and Toni reckon they’ve developed a relationship with the locals that keep them coming back.
“The real locals, the farmers and the people who live down here all year round, they very much value shopping locally,” Toni commented.
At the moment, Bill and Toni have some vague plans about retirement, perhaps in the next five years or so.
It didn’t take long for them to feel the call of the land again, and they have been building a house on 400 acres they’ve purchased a little ways down the road.
“That’s a bit of a retirement plan,” Toni said.
But given they have chosen to build in solid stone, construction will take a little while. That being said, the couple make a good team, and enjoy the work.
“We naturally divide the work and it works, it’s been good like that,” Toni said.
“Toni tells me what to do and I do it,” Bill quipped.
“Bill’s very good with the public, so he handles the buying and the customers, and I do the office and the backup. And it works well,” Toni concluded.