The recent 2020 IHG Awards of Excellence were the good kind of different.

There’s a charm and quality to good homemade products that the professionals can rarely match, simply because they don’t know their targets as well. This year’s IHG Awards of Excellence was the perfect example. Hosted by Jacki Kersting, IHG’s state sales manager Vic/Tas, and Greg McKean, national manager – joint ventures, along with multiple other staff members, the virtual ceremony was as perfectly fitting as a shirt made to measure by someone who’s been sewing for decades.

The show, which was filmed on everything from phones to professional cameras, celebrated every award with respect and affection – and more than a bit of humour, too. This year, it was very easy to see how much the IHG members came together as a group to drive the awards and celebrate success. So who won?

Supplier of the Year: Build

The awards opened with a well-known name: Hume Doors & Timber won this category with their mix of supply consistency and adaptability and their constant innovation noted as standout characteristics. Ian Back, state sales manager for NSW/ACT and Paul Whitaker, general manager company stores NSW/ACT, presented the award at Katoomba Mitre 10, but it was far from a standard ceremony.

Before the guests of honour arrived, Ian and Paul found the worst Hume packing door they could and Trev from the M10 team ran a forklift over it a couple of times. When Glenn North and Patrick Antoine from Hume arrived, they were given a friendly welcome – during which Glenn’s impeccable hand sanitising technique was caught on camera – then Paul sadly informed them that one of their products had had “a massive delamination problem. It’s pretty serious…”

The Hume team was dismayed but keen to sort things. Paul and Ian trotted out the ‘example’ and there were a few attempts to troubleshoot the problem, before the boys moved the Hume team over to the ‘other example’ and retrieved the award from its hiding place, evoking relief as well as happiness when the secret was out – as if a Hume Door would delaminate like that!

Patrick said the win was “awesome. We came up here to solve a problem and we get an award! This is absolutely great. Working with IHG is a pleasure. Right around Australia the members give us great support… they’re a very good business partner.”

Glenn thanked the wider Hume Doors team, “It’s been a very busy year, and a very tough year working with social distancing and wearing masks in the factory on very hot days under a lot of pressure. They’ve done really well to deliver.”

Paul emphasised that the award had been based on: “the big callouts, the quality and the innovation that Hume brings every year. Just above and beyond! We went through so many supplier issues but the whole group has been very happy with Hume.”

Seriousness aside, Patrick added, “How much better is it to walk away with this than a rectification? You had me going so bad!”

Supplier of the Year: Fix & Fit Out

The NSW state team wasn’t finished. Ian and Paul were called on again to surprise the winner in this category: Yardforce/Sumec. With a sales growth of almost 94% in its Yardforce brand, the Sumec team has supported the IHG group with a strong promotional program across both power garden and power tools, using a dedicated Facebook page and brochure range to drive business to the IHG network.

Paul and Ian were called on again to do the honours, this time hiding the award in a mower catcher. They lured Barry McCurdie, from Sumec out to “meet some senior Metcash executives”, noting he was likely to be disappointed when it was just them.

Barry was happily astonished when Ian pulled the award out and asked if it was a standard inclusion with the mower.

“It’s just simply amazing and frankly I’m overwhelmed by this award,” Barry said. “My congratulations go to my colleagues, both in Sydney and at our manufacturing plant. It’s been a pleasure to play a very small part in IHG’s growth!”

After checking there really was no one coming from Metcash, Barry declared the ceremony the “spoof of the year”.

Supplier of the Year: Finish & Exterior

Local supply was a strong advantage for Dulux Australia, who won this very competitive category. The company was also praised for staff availability and delivering a holistic partnership with IHG and members, which was agile and responsive during 2020, including when Covid lockdowns meant a last-minute reimagining of the long-planned Accent paint relaunch, which went on to see outstanding sales results last year.

In keeping with the secret squirrel trend, Kate Baker (business unit manager – finish & exterior) Geoff Harris (general manager merchandise) and Andrew Rumbelow (category manager paint & paint accessories) asked Helen Fitzpatrick and Pat Jones from Dulux to meet them at Tait Mitre 10 Mt Waverley store to shoot a corporate video.

In the middle of an insightful comment on branding from Helen to an interviewing Kate, Geoff jumped into frame and relieved Helen and Pat’s surprise with the coveted award.

“We’re really rapt and proud to be awarded this award,” Pat said. “We’ve won a few Suppliers of the Year awards in the more than 20 years I’ve been involved, but this year’s been a huge year for us with Mitre 10 and Home. For us to be awarded Supplier of the year in this new category is a great recognition of our business and our huge team.”

A clearly pleased and surprised Brad Campbell, who did much of the work on the Accent relaunch, added “There’s no better recognition than to be recognised by your actual customers.

Paul Murphy ‘Mighty Helpful’ Service Award

This award champions those who live the brand promise of being mighty helpful and was named in memory of Paul Murphy. Julie Murphy from Murphy’s Mitre 10 in Monbulk was this year’s presenter, with Chris Tsotra, general manager – sales & operations.

“Paul lived and acted by the mighty helpful slogan, both in business and in life,” Julie said. “He ensured the customer felt important and was treated in the same manner he would like to be treated.”

Chris noted that there had been nine nominees this year, highlighting the massive amount of work staff members had done to deal with Covid. Dianne Foat from Coopers Mitre 10, Byard Sheppard from Doncaster Mitre 10, Vanessa Rossen from Dongara Mitre 10, Christy Hose from Faggs Mitre 10 Wallington, Julie Samuelsson from Hastings Co-op Mitre 10, Alysha Somerville from TM&H Mitre 10, Dale Okley from Tuckey’s Mitre 10, Stacey West from Tait Mitre 10 and Jarrad Murfet from Becks Mitre 10 all made the shortlist.

Julie talked of a generous nature, can-do attitude and building trust with local customers to ensure they return as key reasons behind Vanessa Rossen edging ahead to win the award.

Haley Radalj, state sales manager WA, explained how the state team were all prepared to travel to WA to present Vanessa with her award when the state was suddenly plunged into lockdown. Instead, store owners Barry and Kim Wyse worked with the M10 camera crew to convince Vanessa they were filming a piece on how Covid has impacted their lives, then sprung the surprise on her – her first response needed a mild bleeping!

Vanessa managed to turn her second response, when she realised what award it actually was, into a ‘Holy shivers!’, quickly followed by heartfelt tears, and the resounding applause of her co-workers and the obvious affection of Barry and Kim.

Vanessa said that the award meant an enormous amount to staff. “This honour has just blown me away,” she said, thanking Barry and Kim for their continual support of their workforce, in good times and bad, as well as nominating her for the award.

Village of the Year

Tracey Ruka, The Hub customer service agent who spends much of her time listening to store owners’ experiences, introduced this award, which celebrates local stores working together to get through issues and drive innovation – and just help each other out in rough times.

In a year when Victoria had slugged it out under the longest lockdown in Australia, it was a fitting reward to see Melbourne Traders and Vic Pioneers jointly take out the title. They adapted to the sudden and enormous changes in their workplaces with sensible strategies that were shared and rolled out across the group with weekly conference calls helping them to collaborate on solutions and share frustrations. Implementing contactless services dramatically increasing delivery options were just two of the ways they kept Victoria building and DIY-ing through the lockdown, with stores’ social media communication booming over 2020, not to mention the quiet power of delivering some normalcy to the general community.

Tracey invited several village members to speak on their experiences through 2020. They included Ian Cornwell of Doncaster Mitre 10, who talked about the weekly Zoom meetings and how they helped to decipher the legislation changes and make sure they were all interpreting the rules as accurately and consistently as possible. Rohan Treasure of Beaconsfield and Drouin Home Timber & Hardware gave thanks on behalf of the Pioneers, talking about how valuable sharing information and more with the Melbourne Metro team had been, while Julie Murphy from Murphy’s Mitre 10 in Monbulk said the broader IHG support had also helped to get everyone through: “thankfully we were all kept busy and we were employed. It’s something we can all look back on now, smile, and say ‘We did it, and we survived.’ Well done!”

Garden Centre of the Year

This award is presented to the store that sets the benchmark for garden centre retailing and this year’s winner, McLaren Vale Mitre 10, is famous for its offer. Even with high sales demand during Covid, the store was able to maintain high stock levels and high quality. Garden centre manager Anthony Butz takes his expertise to social media as well as the store to help locals grow and problem solve.

Fiona Loveday and Shane Bond from the store accepted the award, thanking Anthony, and Mandy and Liz, the other two members of the garden team. “They’ve lifted the garden centre to the point where it’s now become a destination for people from outside of Adelaide to come here and buy their plants. On the back of that, we’ve been able to increase our giftware presence and homeware presence and generate a lot more profit for the business,” said Shane.

Store of the Year – Convenience Format

This year’s winner is the compact five-paintbrush store Manjimup Motors True Value Hardware. This WA-based store has a range tailored perfectly to their local area: power tools and hardware sit alongside bearings and industrial supplies that support the neighbouring mechanical business.

The small team is heavily involved in their local community, serving as a social centre – more than ever this year – in addition to being a key business, as well as keen participants in the IHG Group. Owners Jeff and Maree Hurley were delighted to take out the gong, with Maree saying, “Jeff and I are especially thankful to our staff, who have always supported us and who have helped create a fantastic team. They always go above what is expected of them and are the backbone of our business.”

Mitre 10 Store of the Year –Small Format

Described as the pinnacle of customer-focused small-format retailing, Sunlite Mitre 10 York St. This inner-city Sydney store completed its Sapphire transformation in 2017 and keeps its stock turn high with strategic placement and community-engaged sales reps.

Store owner Steven Czeiger said he was “Honoured and grateful” to accept the award on behalf of Ching Ching and the York St team. Based in inner Sydney, with two stores in the CBD, he spoke of lockdown’s effects: “Our York St and Pitt St stores were hit hard by the impact of Covid 19, however, we continue to serve our communities every day with a smile on our faces, delivering outstanding service every time.”

Steven spoke of the strong relationships between stores and their communities in hard times, far beyond just retail. From Covid-safe supplies and service to the simple act of being there for customers finding these times difficult, he emphasised the role of his staff – and the other members as well – in getting their communities through a uniquely challenging year. “I’m grateful to be part of an industry that helps our customers live better lives,” he said, with understandable pride.

Home Timber & Hardware Store of the Year

With owners who consistently reinvest for growth, Home Timber & Hardware Biloela recently underwent a store refresh that has helped lift standards in the store to a new level and seen sales across both trade and retail rise. Using Facebook to keep the community involved with sales, catalogues, birthdays and their Christmas lights competition, store owners Tim Kessler and Kent Hutton also healthily co-exist with a local M10 store, keeping the area strongly independent.

Tim accepted the award on the store’s behalf, describing it as “an amazing privilege. Without [the staff], we wouldn’t be able to do the things that we do. They’ve pulled all stops out and, over the past 12 months, the customer service has never slipped, no matter how tired we all were.”

He also thanked the IHG team, including the order pickers who make sure their stock is always there and keep the business going – especially during the shortages of the past year. “I’m glad I sell the stuff and I don’t have to pack the stuff!” he said.

Suppliers who had also worked hard and communicated well during a difficult time were also appreciated: “You guys have shone through in very trying times!” and Tim finished by thanking his and Kent’s families, who had put up with some long absences from them in 2020 with unfailing support, and their highly engaged and supportive local community and businesses, who have continued to support the independents who know them well.

Mitre 10 Store of the Year – Medium Format

John Ponting and Pam Madner, owners of this category’s winner Pontings Mitre 10, Warrnambool, have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to investing in their business and finding new and innovative ways to deliver for their community. It’s been rewarded with sales figures up 42% year on year and high customer satisfaction.

Operations manager Kat Ross joined John and Pam to accept the award, with Pam thanking the store’s “exceptional leaders” for managing the store through such a difficult year. Kat said they were nothing without the store’s 55 staff members: “You are the ones providing exceptional service to our customers and ensuring their continued support.” John agreed, adding his thanks to the whole community.

Trade Centre of the Year

One of the most hotly contested of all the store awards went to Hume & Iser Mitre 10, who turned 140 in 2020. This Bendigo stalwart is absolutely embedded in its community, and the recent upgrade has made it a safer, easier – and drier – shopping experience for tradies and retail customers alike, without sacrificing any of the wide range this regional centre is renowned for.

Stephen Iser thanked the IHG group for all its support and the many suppliers who had helped the store trade through 2020’s constrained supply. In particular, he thanked “our family of staff who in these challenging times have been committed 100% to our business. The past year has been one of challenge and change for us all and hopefully soon we’ll begin to do business normally again – and our way of life!”

Mitre 10 Store of the Year – Large Format

Fought for by five of the biggest and best hardware stores in Australia, the award was taken home by TM&H Mitre 10 in Moe. Just over 12 months since its Sapphire transformation, the store now trades in two parts, one a trade-only site. Both deliver incredible results and have helped to buoy the trade businesses of Moe, as well as supporting other stores in their region, the IHG network and their wider community and multiple charities.

The award was accepted by James and Jeff Hitchins and Laura Town on behalf of the family. James said they were humbled just to be nominated, “because we know how high standards are at stores through all the group and the other nominees so we’re very grateful.” Jeff said he “was very grateful for our team and how we’ve come together, with the community supporting us every step of the way.” He noted that the success of Sapphire had gone well beyond their expectations. Laura called 2020 the year from which they’d remember “those who showed up and supported us. It was a year in which we saw great leadership and growth, and incredible kindness.”

Blue Blood Award

This award recognises an IHG support staff member who demonstrates all the best qualities of the group. CEO Annette Walsh listed the nominees: Joanna Poon from Supply Chain, Paul Nagl from IT, Taryna Roa from Finance, Sarah Hewson from Marketing, Steve Bocjevski from the Derrimut DC, Chris Menezes from IT, Richard Walker from Merchandise, and Paul Bordonaro, Kimberley Gittings, Brent Riddiford, Noel Greem, Nicole Sexton, all from Store Development, as well as Oliver Krumins from Queensland State Operations.

Annette described them as all very worthy of the nominations by their teams, with the winner epitomising the ideals of being mighty helpful to both internal and external customers. “For 10 years, this year’s recipient has delivered outstanding solutions and innovation, quietly and consistently.

“He has been unwavering in his dedication to delivering solutions that are fit for purpose and that make life easier for our members and are low-cost, efficient and sustainable,” she said, before naming Paul Nagl, the IHG IT manager as the winner.

After leading the business through integration and development on a minimal budget, Paul has announced that he will be retiring, so Annette gave her heartfelt thanks for his successes in the group before showing the video of herself and Louise Haskins, general manager commercial, surprising Paul with the award.

Canny as ever, he walked through the door of the boardroom in which they were waiting, spotted the camera crew and declared, “It’s a set-up. What’s going on?” Annette handed over the award, to his delight, and let him know he had been recognised for the level of service and support, as well as the energy, initiative and engagement that he had delivered, with the list of his achievements too long to enumerate.

“I’m really surprised and humbled at receiving this award,” Paul said. “Particularly in a business where what you’re doing is helping support people who have put in their own hard-earned cash and are looking to grow their business and support their financial future. It’s an honour to be able to support that.”

From his earliest days at Mitre 10, when there was still duct tape holding the carpet together, Paul has watched the business grow and was pleased and grateful to have played a role in that. He thanked the teams he has managed, flagging that the award recognised them, too.

“A year ago, I thought I’d just about seen it all,” Paul said, “and then what we’ve had to deal with in the past 12 months has been just amazing. To see the business prosper in that sort of environment makes me really confident about what it can and will achieve in the future.”

Hall of Fame

This year’s inductee joins the roll of those key members who have helped build the IHG network over decades. Gary Woodruff has been at the forefront of Mitre 10 for over 15 years, shaping the business and the trading model that exists today. He followed his father John into the hardware sector and spent 16 years running stores with his dad – up to five Mitre 10 stores at one point. Gary has had huge success finding stores that needed help and investing in them to get them back up to full potential, including Benalla Mitre 10, winner of the 2019 Mitre 10 Store of the Year – Large Format.

He’s worked on multiple group committees and the Mitre 10 Board, helping turn the old co-op around and being a part of the Metcash purchase, where the rights of independents were protected while they gained the stability and power of the Metcash investment. Gary helped to steer the members through this change and then moved to growing the group’s powerful focus on delivering to the trade sector, all the while continuing to develop stores and to educate and train IHG staff in trade and other areas of his expertise – up to the CEO level, as Annette testified.

The team at Benalla helped Annette to sneak in store and surprise Gary. “You’ve taken the Mitre 10 business on such a journey and been through all the ups and downs and we would not be where we are today without you,” she said, before announcing his title.

With his wife Jan and his colleagues beside him, Gary said, “It has been a hell of a journey, when you think about what’s been done over the last 10 years by many people, it’s quite amazing. It’s wonderful to see the Mitre 10 brand where it should be. And it’s fantastic to be appreciated and recognised.”

Jan’s wide smile made her admiration for the man who lovingly calls her The Boss clear. “It’s been extraordinary,” she said. “He’s transformed many hardware stores over the years. He’s been very hardworking, diligent and honourable in every dealing that he’s ever had in business, and I’m very proud of that.

“The biggest thing he’s done is to transfer what was the old buying group of Mitre 10 into the entity that is now IHG. He deserves every accolade.”

Image: Benalla Mitre 10’s Gary Woodruff is this year’s Hall of Fame Inductee, with his wife Jan, ‘The Boss’.