Over three generations, a family-run Victorian joinery firm has grown steadily to become one of the nation’s leading trade and building supplies outlets.
Bayswater Mitre 10 is known today as a multi-award-winning trade business supplying the Melbourne region, but in 1956 it started out as a more focused entity.
“My grandfather started in the 1950s purely as a joinery shop,” says Mick Vanderkolk, one of the generation currently running the store along with his brother Neil and cousins Derek and Rob.
Joinery was the family trade: before emigrating to Australia the Vanderkolks had been well-respected joiners in Holland for generations, and Mick and his father both followed suit in Australia.
A willingness to supply the best customer service to their clients led to the business naturally expanding over the decades. “We were dealing with all the builders making windows and doors and we thought ‘we’ll sell them a bit of timber, bit of hardware…’” says Vanderkolk.
“We expanded the range and it slowly took over. We did more and more work on the timber side and less and less on the joinery, but we kept the machinery and we brought it with us when we moved to this site 10 years ago. Now we have a small joinery shop. It’s not a major part of the business but it’s yet another thing we can offer and a good point of difference.”
Breadth of offer is one of the reasons for Bayswater’s success. With over 30,000 product lines, the offer includes sand and soil, timber, steel, fixings, bespoke windows, garden materials, DIY supplies and outdoor living products.
“My father purchased a garden supply years ago,” says Vanderkolk. “That’s the site we’re on now. That business supplied sand cement, steel reinforcing, mulch, soil, concrete stumps … the whole range. When we moved here, we kept everything, so we’re now effectively several businesses rolled into one, all on the one site.”
The 5200m2 store supplies virtually everything needed to create a home: from foundations through frames and fixings to landscaping supplies.
Knowing the market
Another key to success is management’s investment in staff, with an average workforce of 45 members. Working in three main crews – timber, hardware and sand and soil – the staff are a mix of specialists and generalists but all receive training from product experts to keep them up to date with the best options for customers’ needs.
“We tend to keep staff for a very long time,” says Vanderkolk, “so they get to know the tradies who come in and out, which lets them build personal relationships as well as getting good feedback.”
That feedback is shared among staff, providing valuable details on how products work in real-world situations, with local conditions sometimes being quite different to those expected by the manufacturers.
And it’s not only tradespeople who provide insights, Vanderkolk says: “A lot of our long-term customers are DIYers. They’re doing some sophisticated stuff and looking at the same product lines the tradies are, but then they live with the results, so they can tell you how something performs over its lifetime, or alert you if there are unexpected issues.”
Elements in the store that were designed for either the trade or DIY market benefit both. “The hardware side of the shop alone is about 2500m2,” says Vanderkolk. “So we have a lot of signage and explanatory labelling. The tradies might not like to admit it, but they appreciate all of that. They like to get in, grab their stuff and get out, and so the easier it is to find the right things, the better for them.”
Meanwhile the expansive drive-through zone with multiple lanes and cantilevered racking allows orders to be assembled and collected quickly and easily for all customers doing their own pickups, while a fleet of 14 trucks cover site deliveries across Melbourne and the broader Peninsula.
That fleet has been recently upgraded with GPS in all vehicles. “It’s one of the better things we’ve done lately,” says Vanderkolk. “We can see where the trucks are at all times and give precise delivery times to our builders. If there’s a pickup that’s needed, we can reroute a truck that’s coming in from a job and get them to do it straight away.”
The Vanderkolks joined Mitre 10 in 1992, and have seen the brand evolve with its purchase by Metcash and the emergence of the Independent Hardware Group (IHG).
“The way the market is heading with consolidation, you have to be part of a group,” says Vanderkolk. “IHG is doing good things. They really have it together with their national marketing and buying and it works well for us.”
It’s a two-way street. In the early days of working with Mitre 10, Bayswater was able to encourage the group to look towards trade as an income stream. “They’d traditionally spent a lot of time on the hardware side of things, whereas 50 per cent of the business comes from trade,” Vanderkolk says.
His family have found Metcash particularly responsive to the benefits of moving beyond DIY. “They’ve really listened to us about the importance of supporting the trade side. Some of the technologies the Mitre 10 team are trialling now to help us service the tradies better are really exciting.”
Supplying The Block
For the last two seasons of Channel 9’s The Block, Bayswater has been the timber and building materials supplier to the show.
“It’s a lot of stress and a lot of running around, as everything is very urgent and TV schedules very tight, but we don’t mind that!” Vanderkolk says. “It’s good for our local brand and the staff get a bit of a kick out of it, especially the truck drivers who appear on TV. We get the contestants coming into the store now and then, too, and the customers get a buzz out of that.”
The Block is running again in 2018 and Bayswater is prepared for the whatever the demands of TV production throw up. “Luckily, with the number of vehicles we have and the stock we have on the floor, we’re able to deal with whatever they need, even if we don’t have a lot of notice.”
For more information, go to bayswatertimber.com.au
Image: The Vanderkolk family, from left, Rob, Neil and Mick. missing is Derek, who also runs the business with his brother and cousins