The IHG National Expo is about to roll into Adelaide again, bringing together the biggest gathering of hardware retail experts and suppliers in the country.

Once a year, the Independent Hardware Group (IHG) gathers its members, the people who own and operate the Mitre 10, Home Timber & Hardware, Thrifty-Link and True Value stores across the country, together for the IHG National Expo. More than just a chance to celebrate successes, the event is part professional conference, part supplier fair, part networking bonanza and all opportunity for the participants.

The IHG National Expo, 18–20 February, is considered one of the flagship exhibitions for the home improvement, timber and building supplies industry. Last year’s Expo had over 2000 attendees representing over 500 independent hardware and trade businesses, and this year’s numbers look set to match or exceed that.

Proceedings kick off with a day of talks about business insights and workshops for IHG members. These are designed to flag practical responses to current industry issues (in many cases these responses include IHG and peer-driven processes, training or technical support that members can take advantage of in their businesses.)

Then, for the next two days, the Adelaide Convention Centre is filled with everything hardware. Over 220 exhibitors from all DIY and trade categories will be showing their wares, offering exclusive deals and volume buys, and also bringing technical staff who take advantage of the opportunity to speak directly with top hardware retailers, flagging new products and highlighting new directions in the marketplace. In 2018, over $18m in sales were placed by members across the two days of exhibiting.

Evenings are filled up with social functions where networking and catching up on industry goss take over amid good food and a spot of drink, before the final night’s Awards of Excellence ceremony.

Time to come together

In 2019, the Expo theme focuses on Uniting Independents and celebrating what it means to be proud, locally owned family independent businesses.

“IHG’s primary aim as a business is to unite independents and collectively offer the Australian shopper a genuine alternative to the big box,” says CEO Mark Laidlaw.

“Independents as a united force can be very powerful. We started this journey with the merger of the Mitre 10 and Home Timber & Hardware businesses. The last two years have been about bringing together and integrating the businesses under our four brands and helping all members become the Best Store In Town.”

The Expo is an important hands-on part of this goal. IHG brings participants from their bannered stores together with opportunities to help them build on success, whether that be through new business opportunities, new products or new strategies and logistical tools put forward as part of the Expo’s Learning Labs and Business Session.

While IHG is collectively a $2 billion organisation, most of the member businesses are small- to medium-sized enterprises and face the same difficulties as their counterparts around the country. A raft of administrative, legal and regulatory requirements constantly take up valuable time and energy, which can leave little left over for researching future directions for your store. Even the best business can become stagnant if it doesn’t have the chance to grow with changing conditions. Add to that this nation’s bias towards big business at many levels (including taxation) and it can be very hard for independent operators.

This was the thinking that drove eight independent hardware stores to come together in 1959 to form the buying cooperative that became Mitre 10. In one move they increased their buying power and their ability to negotiate without sacrificing their ability to cater for the specifics of each local customer base.

The same ideals have driven the growth of the Mitre 10 brand and led to the 2016 merger with Home Timber & Hardware to form IHG.

The national group is in some ways very similar in ethos to the 1959 co-op, but its size and professionalism means that it can roll out programs in staged releases throughout the network, trialling new initiatives and concepts in various types of store to give the best results for all, with minimal risk to any one. And, of course, the group now represents a buying and lobbying force to be reckoned with, able to attract as much attention in Canberra as it does from hardware, timber and building/landscape suppliers around the country.

As Laidlaw says, “We have spent too much time and money fighting each other. Now it’s time to move beyond this and build a successful model that protects and, we hope, grows all independents in the long term.

“Big box is an independent’s only true competitor. Independent buying groups have a common cause and at some point, we all have to come together, to help all members to become the ‘Best Store in Town’ and give Australian consumers choice versus this large and formidable competitor.”

Celebrating accomplishment

One of the most exciting parts of the Expo is the recognition of stores and individuals who have achieved great results or done exemplary work for the wider group.

The Awards are broken down into categories that recognise the variety of independents in the group. The 2017 (last year’s awards) Home Timber & Hardware National Trade Store of the Year was Provans Home Timber & Hardware, Melbourne’s premier timber specialists whose huge store spans three buildings and features a food van in the hangar-like tradie drive-through.

By comparison, the National Mitre 10 Store of the Year (Small Format) was Sunlite Mitre 10 in Paddington, a short drive down Oxford Street from Sydney’s CBD, where the neat little store features a strong retail offering and staff who know how to help willing but often unable DIY-ers so they not only buy the right tools and products for the job, they leave with encouragement and advice that will get the job done.

Between these two extremes there are stores across the IHG membership spectrum that focus on tradies, others that cater more for the family DIYer and many that combine the two. They range from local shops designed for that ‘last-minute’ item needed for a weekend job to huge, multi-town businesses that form the backbone of the building sectors in those regions. All have their categories for recognition.

And it’s the people, too. You can’t run a single business, let alone a national group, without leaders who are willing to go out and take risks bringing in new ideas, trialling new models and modifying concepts to make them easily workable across the board. Just as important are the people who turn up and do the actual work, contributing at a Group or Village (the IHG term for regions) level year after year and those who bring credit to the Group’s brands through their ongoing focus on service.

Named in honour of the late Paul Murphy of Murphy’s Mitre 10, Monbulk, the Mighty Helpful ‘Paul Murphy’ Service Award celebrates the individuals who create the sort of customer relationships that businesses dream of. The Blue Blood Award is for people who live and breathe hardware and who show the way for building business success, while the CEO Recognition award is given to people who have advanced the cause of IHG and its independent members.

These awards are the highlight of the ceremony, as the winners are enormously well-regarded by their peers, none more so than the Hall of Fame recipient, whose work represents decades of excellence.

Supportive structure

With the Australian home construction and renovation markets less certain than they’ve been for the last few years, IHG members will be welcoming the strength of the national network displayed at the Expo.

As Laidlaw says, “The Expo is our members’ unique opportunity to meet with 200+ suppliers, hear about new products and innovation and access exclusive supplier deals. It’s also about sharing strategic insights with our members and learning together, exploring new and proven ways for independents to be successful in their markets.”

Among the new paths to success for Mitre 10, the Sapphire Store Transformation program is continuing its rollout, helping large stores to provide their offerings in a well-designed layout that adds ease to the expertise the brand is already famed for, along with a suite of logistical upgrades to help each business.

For other stores, there are the bargains to be had from suppliers and cross-fertilisation of ideas both in official sessions and in the informal gatherings. Opening day learning sessions are followed by casual drinks at Adelaide Oval, where there’s more chatting than drinking going on and copious business-card swapping.

Each exhibition day opens with a breakfast and includes a lunch where, once again, casual conversations can equal chance opportunities. The Independence Dinner on Tuesday night is an informal affair where it’s not uncommon to have 20 people table hop to join a conversation about different delivery models (after they’ve had a bite, the food features top South Australian produce and no-one wants to miss any.) Finally, the Awards dinner sees everyone in their best, ready to share in the acclaim.

At the end of the day, attendees are energised by the fellowship and integrity on show. Laidlaw says, “IHG’s culture is built on being a low-cost, transparent business partner. We stand united in our promise to fight hard for our members… that’s because independence is always worth fighting for”

And if you’re at the Expo, drop by the TimberTrader News stand and say hello! We’ll be covering all the news, including behind-the-scenes insights into what it takes to pull together such a large scale event and all the winners of the IHG Awards of Excellence.

For more details visit


Awards of Excellence Nominees


2018 Mitre 10 Store of the Year – Large Format

Johnson Bros Mitre 10, Mona Vale NSW

Diamond Valley Mitre 10 VIC

Manjimup Mitre 10 WA

Barossa Mitre 10, Nuriootpa SA

Porters Mitre 10, Mackay QLD


2018 Mitre 10 Store of the Year – Medium Format

Kincumber Mitre 10 NSW

Crameri’s Mitre 10, Maryborough VIC

Dongara Mitre 10 WA

Waikerie Mitre 10 SA

Smith Bros Mitre 10, Longreach QLD


2018 Mitre 10 Store of the Year – Small Format

Sunlite Mitre 10, York Street NSW

Rochester Mitre 10 VIC

Streeter & Male Mitre 10, Broome WA

Strathalbyn Mitre 10 SA

Byron Bay Mitre 10 QLD


2018 Home Timber & Hardware Store of the Year – over 1000m2

Gubbins Home Timber & Hardware Moss Vale NSW

TM & H Home Timber & Hardware, Moe VIC

Margaret River Home Timber & Hardware WA

B & S Hardware, Alice Springs NT

MacKenzies Home Timber & Hardware, Goondiwindi QLD


2018 Home Timber & Hardware Store of the Year – Under 1000m2

Blacksmiths Hardware NSW

Pretty Sally Home & Garden VIC

Jurien Home Timber & Hardware WA

Peterborough Hardware SA

Killarney Co-Op Hardware QLD


2018 Store of the Year – Convenience Format

Do It Yourself True Value Hardware, Bomaderry NSW

Trafalgar True Value Hardware VIC

Bindoon True Value Hardware WA

Port Broughton Thrifty-Link Hardware SA

Cardwell Traders True Value QLD



Johnson Bros Mitre 10, Mona Vale NSW

Provans Home Timber & Hardware, Clifton Hill VIC

Thornton’s Mitre 10, Denmark WA

Barossa Mitre 10, Nuriootpa SA

Bowen Home Timber & Hardware QLD



Gubbins Home Timber & Hardware, Moss Vale NSW

Diamond Valley Mitre 10 VIC

Two Dogs Home Hardware, Merredin WA

McLaren Vale Mitre 10 SA

Porters Mitre 10, Mackay QLD



Western Planers NSW

North East Rangers VIC

Central Diggers SA


Other award categories presented on the evening include:


2018 Supplier Of The Year – Logistics

2018 Supplier Of The Year – Trade

2018 Supplier Of The Year – Living

2018 Supplier Of The Year – Fix



2018 Mighty Helpful ‘Paul Murphy’ Service Award

2018 Blue Blood Award

2018 CEO Recognition Award

2018 Hall Of Fame