When Rozelle stalwart Swadlings Timber & Hardware was forced out of the peninsula where it had served the community for over a century, it took the chance to design a perfect new site in St Peters.

WestConnex has seen several much-loved businesses pushed out of Sydney’s Inner West to make room for the road-building scheme. But St Peters has had one big gain. Swadlings Timber & Hardware, long a valued fixture in Rozelle, has moved to a new site at 21 Unwins Bridge Rd.

The timber professionals, who had operated in one guise or another for 130-odd years on the Balmain peninsula, have moved their entire operation, including an enormous timber yard, hardware and building supplies to what used to be a container yard, bringing a much-needed resource to builders in the city.

“We had three weeks to move in the end,” says Mark Swadling, managing director. “WestConnex had told us they wanted the old site, but it took a long time to find a new one that met our needs, and when we did, the development approvals took months.”

Late in 2018, building had only recently begun on the new store and Swadlings had applied for an extension, since WestConnex was nowhere near ready to start work in Rozelle. Instead, on 20 December, they were asked to vacate by 7 January.

“We opened for trade in St Peters on the seventh,” says Swadling, with a touch of understandable pride. It took three weeks of almost constant work: the hardware store and shed racks were ready, but none of the outside racks had been built, so Swadlings used the mill space to store all the timber and unpacked it over January/February as they built the sheds. “We put our fastest movers in the first shed, our second-fastest in the second shed and the slower-moving ones in the last shed we built,” says Swadling.

Regular customers weren’t aware of the juggle – orders were filled as usual and even special order moulding profiles were cut at the family’s other store in Annandale. The St Peters milling facility will soon be operating, which will improve the already quick service.

“Our biggest selling items are framing timbers for builders, but it’s our specialist hardwood knowledge that really sets us apart,” says Swadling. “That’s the stuff that we really enjoy. If customers need to match unique skirtings in the old part of the house and continue them in the new, we’ll make new cutters to produce those skirtings, plus match the timbers for them if needed.”

Famous brands such as Branch 95, Hyne, Parkside, Ironwood Australia and Tilling Timber are all selling from Swadlings, but Swadling also makes use of his brother’s timber mill in Taree: “He employs about 35 people and we sell a lot of his green and recycled hardwood – blackbutt and ironbark predominantly – which helps us when we’re trying to match things such as old posts and beams.”

A joinery shop is also being set up on site, to add benchtops, tables, shelves and staircases to the offer.

Time to celebrate

Early May saw the official grand reopening, with a gala event taking up the whole site, featuring live music, drinks, hot waffles and nibblies and a raft of industry faces. Norm and Judy Tillling as well as Brad Saunders and Andrew Chedzey from Parkside flew in for the event. Loyal customers were encouraged to wander around the new premises and familiarise themselves with the layout.

Mark’s indefatigable wife Nicola ran the opening – “He’s had enough on his plate this year!” she insisted, and the team were excited to show off the rebuild. While retail customers can come straight into the 60-spot carpark off Unwins Bridge Rd (or use nearby Sydenham station), deliveries can use the rear entrance on Bolton St, which has an easy drive-in, drive-out route, designed to speed loading and unloading plus keep trucks away from areas where people are likely to be walking through and minimise traffic on the residential road.

“The site is about the same actual size as Rozelle,” says Swadling, “but the functionality is much better as we’ve been able to design the layout from scratch.”

Several other parts of the business are similarly being upgraded. “Our delivery service is up and running, all over Sydney,” Swadling says, referencing a current job at the Camden Valley Inn where Swadlings is supplying CRE8 Carpentry with all materials.

“We open at 6am, which means people can get their timber and be on site by seven, even in Sydney traffic. Soon we’ll have picking and packing in place, where you can order completely online and just drive through to pick it up.”

The new online system is being trialled and should go live in the new financial year, along with a new website that is planned to be a one-stop shop for timber, including training modules as well as buying support.

Swadling is also educating local builders on the quirks of hardwoods. He says, “We’ve branded ourselves the Timber Professionals; I don’t think there’s anywhere else in Sydney you can get our range and expertise all in one shop. And if we don’t stock a product, we can use the mill to make it!”

For more, visit www.swadlingstimberandhardware.com.au

Image: Mark Swadling at the launch of the new St Peters store.