A stand-out in Central Victoria’s gold mines region, Castlemaine today stands as a little piece of Australian history, more commonly known for its agriculture, arts and tourism industries.
Nestled between fellow former gold mine towns Bendigo and Ballarat, this quaint town with a population of approximately 6,700 is famous for its abundance of history and culture, and is the home of this month’s profile on the renowned local hardware and timber business, Tonks Bros Pty Ltd.
I caught up with the General Manager of Tonks Bros Pty Ltd., Jason Mills, who was more than happy to chat about the business, Castlemaine, and give TimberTrader News a little more insight into his family business operating out of this unique pocket of Central Victoria.
A COLOURFUL HISTORY
The history of Tonks Castlemaine stretches back to early history of the town itself, as Jason explained. The tracks left by explorer Major Thomas Mitchell passing through the town in 1837 is where the Tonks timber yard now stands.
Early on, the McBean family set up a Hardware and Ironmongery shop on the site, which was purchased in 1901 by Harold and George Tonks.
In 1963, local builders from the area, Johnny and Doug Mills and Bob Bathgate, from E.H. Mills and Sons, purchased the business freehold, and, at the request of Mr George Tonks, kept the name of Tonks Bros. Partners.
Up to the time of buying Tonks, E.H. Mills and Sons had run as a civil construction business in the area – building several schools, school extensions and also the Castlemaine Swimming Pool.
“They also ran a sawmill that cut timber mainly for their own use. They bought the hardware store when they saw profit in civil building being eroded by large competitors,” Jason elaborated.
It was late into the 1980s when Doug and Rita Mills, together with their sons Jason and Alan, took over the business that operates today.
Jason is the current General Manager and manages the retail sector while brother Alan manages the timber yard.
In recent years, the business has certainly kept in tune with the times, while still maintaining a sense of history that Castlemaine is renowned for. The business services up to 20,000 people within a 30 km radius, so it’s important for Jason that he ensures the store can survive the wide competition.
“It has always been a competitive market, but in 1989 when I first became Manager, competition was isolated to Castlemaine. Now competition comes from every corner of Victoria and it’s a full-time job just knowing where the market is for our ever-increasing range of products,” he said.
Tonks Bros Ltd. is set to go through even more change; there are plans to join the Mitre 10 chain.
“This is in its infancy but this will be part of some very big changes in our business,” he said.
In addition, the store will open a new trade centre in the coming months.
“It’s a very exciting time, as in the next six to eight weeks we will open our new trade centre, which will incorporate a very large recycled building products business.
“This business is very exciting for us, as it ensures the diversity of our stock and will open our market up to a national audience,” Jason added.
Even with all of this change ahead, Jason said the businesses’ primary focus is to give customers a fulfilling experience with great service, great information and great products.
“A saying we teach our staff is that retail customers come to us with a problem and it’s our task to solve that problem with a hardware and timber solution,” Jason concluded.