The State winners for IHG’s 2021 Awards of Excellence all brought something special.
With so many Australians bitten by the home improvement and building bugs in 2021, it was a huge year for Independent Hardware Group members. These 2021 State winners for the IHG Awards of Excellence more than earned their stripes in a hectic year!
Resurgent Covid waves scuttled the group’s plans to hold in-person events, but in a typically nimble response, the state operations teams pulled together online ceremonies filled with respect, laughter and appreciation for so much hard work.
With a brief thanks from head office and lots of personal input from state teams, the winning store teams had a chance to show some of their individual flavour in each acceptance speech. Green screens gave each state a chance to showcase its treasures, with IHG staff ‘transported’ to iconic locations for presentations and local tourism promos.
WA’s awards were hosted by Warwick Keenan, who also showcased the Swan River in Perth and the Bungle Bungles, with Michelle Vincent visiting the glamorous Indiana Tea Rooms at Cottesloe Beach and the spectacular Horizontal Falls, while Ron Fuller called in from the red Pilbara, Hancock Gorge in Karijini National Park and soothing Turquoise Bay near Exmouth.
For South Australia and the Northern Territory, Vito Nocera was at the helm and let us into the secrets of the Balfours frog cake, Farmers Union iced coffee, the 2.2L Darwin Stubby and Coopers Pale Ale – roll the bottle before you pour! Mick Russo called in from the Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island, Blue Lake in Mt Gambier and the Murray River Princess. Catherine Violi appeared at Victor Harbor’s Granite Island, complete with a Little Penguin friend and the Adelaide Oval. Paul Vartuli sipped wine beside the d’Arenberg Cube in McLaren Vale, fought crocs at Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu and bathed in the power of Uluru.
In Queensland, Mike Gow took on hosting duties, reminding everyone that Queensland is the greatest state in the world, before taking a jaunt to the Great Barrier Reef. Julie Maxwell announced awards from Suncorp Stadium and then the Daintree rainforest, Vince Tebb came from the Big Pineapple and the Glasshouse Mountains and then Eddie Jones flew in with his presentation from the Qantas Founders Museum, Longreach, followed by the Dinosaur Museum at Winton.
For Victoria/Tasmania, Jackie Kersting wore the host mantle, joined by Lina Salvalaggio, who presented from the gorgeous Grampians and the art-covered Brim Silos, Nicole Collis cradled a Tassie Devil on Cradle Mountain and fish and chips on Constitution Dock, Rod Currie donned a bike helmet (but no lycra) to present from the Great Ocean Road, while Scott Woodward presented from Luna Park and Nathan Stewart shared the beauty of The Apostles. Brendan Roberts came to the presentation from the MCG – the G for those in the know – juggling a Sherrin and looking forward to the AFL returning.
Finally, NSW & the ACT had Ian Back at the helm and guest-presenting from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with Lisa Rochester making crosses from the giraffe enclosure at Taronga Zoo, while Shawn Benson sang the praises of the Sydney Opera House and showed off Parliament House in Canberra. Liam Collier rocked a mullet for his Mount Panorama cross, before heading to the Hunter Valley. Chantel Jackson wanted to get to Dubbo Zoo, but was stuck at home, so instead we saw her personal Grafton Zoo, including Leroy and Charlie the dogs and Lesley the cat – captivating! – before she donned a bright yellow homage to the Big Banana.
To finish of the ceremonies, a blooper reel of errors showed that even the schmickest presentations have their moments of tied tongues and prop failures.
Each state fielded a high-quality set of finalists in the multiple categories, with the state winners going on to compete at the national level. The Store of the Year (SotY) categories across the various store formats and the specialist trade centre, garden centre and Home Hardware store awards recognise excellence in trading and living up to the ‘best store in town’ motto, while the Village awards recognise the member communities who have come together most effectively through the year.
Here are the 2021 state winners in each category, with the national winners to be announced in the next few months.
SOTY: CONVENIENCE FORMAT
WA: Boddington Hardware & Newsagency An exciting update and transformation over the past year secured this victory. Neil Batterbee and his crew run a truly local store, with Neil accepting the award, saying they’d made it through the year, “heads down, tails up!” and grateful for the acknowledgement of the team’s hard work.
SA/NT: Shippy’s Thrifty-Link Hardware, Moonta The epitome of punching above their weight, Shippy’s provides an enormous range in a tiny space. John and Merridy Shippard keep everything attractive and accessible and have strong relationships with their customer base. John took the announcement call, which was captured in a cinéma vérité videologue, beginning with, “We’ve won an award? Surely not! We’re too busy – how can we win an award when we’re flat-out selling stuff?”, all the while walking around the immaculate store showing the range from barbecues and kitchens to pool noodles and power tools, congratulating his hard-working staff as he went.
Qld: Woodgate Beach Hardware With a focus on store standards that allows a large offer to be presented cleverly and clearly in a small space, this store sets the model and is a valued part of its local community. Owners Dennis and Di Ham described themselves as “over the moon” at their second nomination in a row. “It’s a huge achievement!” says Dennis, thanking Di and the hardworking team at the store who all work hard and cohesively, and also the IHG team for helping keep stock levels up.
NSW/ACT: Kootingal True Value Hardware Click’n’Collect and Click’n’Deliver have helped Paul Summers and his team to lift their sales over 67% year on year. “I’d like to say a big thank you to all my team members and my suppliers for all their support throughout the past 12 months,” says Paul, giving them much of the credit.
Vic/Tas: Poole’s House & Hardware, Ouyen Under new(ish) ownership, the range has been extended to suit the community, including a much-appreciated selection of plants and a reward program. Rodney Poole says, “Working as an employee for the previous owners, I could see the potential … and like most workers, I often thought to myself ‘if this was my store, I’d do that differently.’” So when he had the chance he did! Working with his wife and her good accounting sense, Poole honoured the store that had been part of the community for 47 years while putting his own stamp on it and shifting the tool and trade focus to new brands and products. A new light-filled layout has brought in more customers while retaining the old. “Just two years later, here I am nominated for an industry award: I didn’t do it on my own, I had my wonderful family and excellent team of staff!”
SotY: MITRE 10 SMALL
WA: Dunsborough Mitre 10 Owners Trent and Kristen Wilson put the last few years into perspective for most of us, first losing their store to an electrical fire in early 2020 and then, while they were rebuilding, their son Blake lost the battle with leukaemia he’d been fighting for years. Trent describes the fire as a blessing in disguise, giving them much more time with Blake in his final months and then letting them update the store. “Being in a small town our customers missed us, but we’ve seen a 50% increase in sales.” He thanks their close-knit team, particularly manager Matt Scorer, “who’s been an amazing support to us both personally and professionally.”
SA/NT: Strathalbyn Mitre 10 The sixth state award in a row for Brad Fuss and his team, thanks to a comprehensive local offer that means people don’t need to shop out of town and a new digital platform that’s quickly become central to their offer. Brad offers his congratulations to all the finalists, saying he knew what amazing work they’d done and thanked his team, “who’ve done an outstanding job, and we look forward to a slightly more relaxing 2022!”
Qld: Balshaw’s Mitre 10, Mundubbera Described as the pinnacle of customer focus, with highly engaged owners, Balshaw’s was a popular victor, with the local community valuing their support and commitment. John and Deb Balshaw were caught offguard by their win “Our community only has about 1000 people in the town, so it’s a great thing to see the small communities receiving recognition for their efforts,” says John. “This year’s been a pretty good year for us!” Some of the year’s achievements included strategic meetings for their staff and giving them challenges that both helped them meet goals and gave John and Deb some much-needed time off, which supported their wellbeing as well. Deb also talked about the difference it makes having suppliers come out to regional areas to work directly with stores.
NSW/ACT: Sunlite Mitre 10, Paddington In 2020, the store expanded into an adjacent building, allowing them to expand their shopping experience. Online sales grew almost 70% during Sydney’s official and casual lockdowns. Steven Czeiger says, “We had to spend a significant amount of capital in a time of so much uncertainty…” The new garden and lifestyle emporium that resulted took six months to complete and has boomed since opening. “Thank you to the exceptional Paddington team,” Steven adds. “This would never have happened without you guys!”
VIC/TAS: Camperdown Mitre 10 A full site review ranging from safety to strong housekeeping standards has helped the store lift its presentation and cemented the win. Retail manager Joelene Bailey accepted the award on behalf of the much-appreciated team, saying, “We’ve worked hard on creating a loyal customer base that keeps returning to us for our small town, old-fashioned customer service and the commitment our staff are known to deliver.” With numerous Victorian lockdowns, the team responded with technological solutions including click ’n’ collect and social media promotion to maintain connection to their stressed community and grow sales.
SotY: MITRE 10 MEDIUM
WA: York Mitre 10 With multiple new initiatives having been put in place recently, this store contains much more than its medium footprint suggests. CEO Glen Scott says it was “wonderful to be nominated for an award and even better we won, especially considering how many good Mitre 10s there are in WA!” He thanked everyone involved in the store’s major recent growth, which has also been rewarded with increased sales and positive customer feedback.
SA/NT: Pink’s Mitre 10, Clare Greg and Melanie Pink are the sixth generation of Pinks to run this store, which celebrated 160 years in 2021. After a year of enormous challenges, Greg says that, “To win an award and know you’re doing all the right things is fantastic!” He thanked IHG, the store’s staff, and most particularly, Melanie.
Qld: Ingham Manufactures Mitre 10 A core part of their local community, Gavin and Debbie Gusmeroli head up a team that Gavin says puts in 110%. He describes it as being difficult to keep up the store’s extremely high standard with the volume of sales over the past year – “But we have! Thanks to a great effort by the staff, seven days a week, full tilt!” The team were all delighted with the nomination, which Gavin described as a “turbocharge” after the past 18 incredibly busy months.
NSW/ACT: Kincumber Mitre 10 Owners Peter Steele and Steve McCumstie handed over acceptance duties to Matthew Steele and GM Matthew Maclure, who both masked up superbly to share their praise for their wider team, with Matthew Steele flagging that “What our team has gone through, personally and in store, makes this probably the best year to win this award!”and Maclure adding his gratitude to the local community, IHG and suppliers for their support.
Vic/Tas: Crameri’s Mitre 10, Maryborough Bernie and Stewart Crameri invested in a huge trade re-development this year, to go with their customer-focused store and emphasis on local famers. “We’ve had a long 12 months… but this just validates we’re on the right track,” says Stewart, before thanking the IHG team and his and Bernie’s families. Bernie was generous in sharing praise with the other nominees, saying, “It’s very humbling to receive this award because I know all the members have been doing it tough and worked extremely hard!”
SotY: MITRE 10 LARGE
WA: Margaret River Mitre 10 With consistently high mystery shopper results, regular new initiatives and a central role in the local Mitre 10 community, it’s no surprise Margaret River won this gong for the second year in a row, as well as Trade Centre. Store manager Paul Brown accepted, with owners Lloyd and Anne Shepherdson and Noelene Wilcox. “It’s such a privilege,” Paul said, describing the team as one big family. “We all say it’s the staff, but it really is!” Lloyd added.
SA/NT: Barossa Mitre 10, Nuriootpa Famous as a local flagship store, the team managed to deliver through enormous supply difficulties and keep the locals building. Business manager Craig Dodman said that it was an honour to be nominated in such a strong category and that the win belonged to his suppliers and particularly his team: “If anyone is looking at employing someone out of the supermarket industry, don’t hesitate! I would highly recommend it. My retail ops leader has led this team with purpose and passion and they’ve followed his lead with inspiration.”
Qld: Porters Mitre 10, Mackay City Famous for providing the Mackay locals with something different, this store contains a busy café alongside its garden centre, with comprehensive indoor and outdoor sections, even a specialty barbecue aisle. CEO Travis Cunnane said the nomination itself was a great honour and winning was a well-deserved accolade for the staff. “It’s great to get external recognition for the team and how we’re performing. It means a lot to the staff, you’ll be surprised what something like this can do for morale and energy after a challenging year.”
NSW/ACT: Johnson Bros Mitre 10, Mona Vale The Johnson family has spent decades helping the Northern Beaches build, garden and renovate, and are hugely popular winners. Ged Johnson says, “Coming off the last 12 months, this means even more to my staff and family. We’ve got through these last 12 months with exceptional support from IHG and from our suppliers.”
Vic/Tas: Holt’s Mitre 10, Sorell A consistent 5-paintbrush store, with great mystery shopper and e-learning results, this store is probably the only one in Australia with a working model train travelling around its roof, thanks to Graeme’s third great love (after his wife Brenda but possibly tied with hardware). Brenda and Graeme Holt have increased the store size five-fold in their 36 years at the helm “We’ve had fantastic staff who have worked with us and got the store to the current standard,” said Brenda, before thanking IHG for their many valuable programs and support, and the other local members who’ve provided a great sense of regional community.
SotY: HOME HARDWARE
WA: Home Hardware Karratha Famed for their collaboration and customer service, a long-serving and loyal team was central to the success of this regional store. Store manager Zana Salta accepted the award with Arielle Deveau. Zana, who has worked in the store for 10 years described a decade of constant improvement, saying they’re looking “upwards and onwards!”
SA/NT: Berry Springs Home Hardware Russell and Lindy Willing opened the NT store only a year ago but have been welcomed into their community, meeting local needs including a building supplies drive-through. “The most important thing to us is that our customers are extremely pleased with our new store,” Russell says, giving thanks for the help he has received from IHG with setting the store out and delivering popular programs like the loyalty cards, online systems and marketing, as well as the store’s three excellent staff.
Qld: Home Timber & Hardware Biloela Owners Tim Kessler and Kent Hutton also took out the award last year and over 2021 have invested in a new trade counter and trade layout to provide improved access for customer service. Kent describes the win as “Amazing… particularly going up against the other great Home stores in our state.” The hard work and effort from the staff and family support were very much appreciated and flagged as the key to the store’s success. Kent particularly thanked their suppliers, recognising how hard their year had been and what a great job they’d done, particularly sourcing timber.
NSW/ACT: Dipper’s Home Timber & Hardware, Moree Even in the harshest economic climate, Bec Diprose and her team reinvested in the store to ensure the community has everything they need in town. Bec showed us around the store by video, talking about the team’s journey through drought into Covid. “Our team has done an amazing job of adapting so quickly in really adverse conditions,” she says, before noting they are looking up. “We were particularly lucky to see a fabulous harvest late in 2020 and might even get a second one!” The team were central to the store’s success, Bec highlighted the work of Luke Cubis and Mark Baker and thanked IHG BDM Chantel Jackson for her sterling help.
Vic/Tas: Pretty Sally Home & Garden, Wallan Shane and Cathy Hemphill recently added a new trade counter to their store and have embraced other developments including digital sales. Keen participants in their IHG network, Shane was one of the first IHG members to experience Covid-positive cases in store, losing half his senior staff to quarantine at one point, which helped guide other stores in their responses. Surprised but pleased by the win, he says the win is very much thanks to his staff: “The team have worked tirelessly over the past 12 months … we’ve laughed and we’ve cried, but I can’t say enough about them. They’ve gone above and beyond!”
SotY: TRADE CENTRE
WA: Margaret River Mitre 10 Lloyd and Ann Shepherdson run a busy and popular store in the famed wine region. Paul Brown, Marcel Leiskalns, Bruce Biddle and Lloyd accepted the award with cheers, with Bruce saying, “These 12 months moved very quickly, as they did for so many people!” and Lloyd thanking his team, saying, “The biggest attribute we’ve got is how much you guys have communicated with our trade people so they’re in the same loop as us – that’s been a hell of a bonus!”
SA/NT: Barossa Mitre 10, Nuriootpa The high professionalism of all the finalists in a challenging year was noted. Barossa edged ahead with its strong record of deals, tradie breakfasts and growth. Craig Dodman accepted the award on behalf of his team, who he described as the reason for the win, saying, “I’m fortunate to work with a group of people who are committed to not only their jobs but also their colleagues. I don’t think it matters if you have the best display, best location or biggest store; it means nothing without having the best team.” He went on to praise his competitors who have all delivered remarkable performances through 2021.
Qld: Smith Bros Mitre 10, Longreach Marnie Smith and her staff have a dedicated trade team with a trade desk that’s always well-staffed, so tradies can get back to their jobs quickly. “We don’t do what we do to win awards, but it’s nice to be recognised for all the hard work we put in,” says Marnie, who turned the camera onto her team who described recent improvements from concreting the timber yard and upgrading the storage shed to changing some of the internals to make life easier for customers.
NSW/ACT: Gubbins Pulbrook Mitre 10, Moss Vale A destination for trade customers in the booming Southern Highlands, this store has everything they need to get in and out quickly and sorted. Ryan White, Nick ‘Gubbo’ Gubbins, Steve Pulbrook and Aaron Deegan accepted the award, with Nick saying “trade is a huge part of our business!” Aaron talked about the challenge of integrating the Truck Tracker delivery system, which has been embraced by the team, while Steve flagged the input of each of the trade members in conquering a difficult year. “Like everyone, we haven’t had timber, but our timber sales are up by 40%!” Nick joked.
Vic/Tas: Hume & Iser Mitre 10, Bendigo Not for the first time, Hume & Iser’s multigenerational store took home the gong. Stephen Iser described it as “another great honour for our family business” and gave thanks to IHG, suppliers and staff for getting everyone through an extraordinary period, which he hoped would soon be past.
SotY: GARDEN CENTRE
WA: Tuckey’s Mitre 10, Pinjarra Michelle Planken accepted the award on behalf of herself, Peter, John and the team. “It’s been a very busy 12 months with lots of customers doing home renovations and gardening,” she said, taking the opportunity to sit among the plants for a much-needed rest while she made her video!
SA/NT: McLaren Vale Mitre 10
With all the state finalists having solidly ‘grown’ their efforts, owner Mark and Fiona Loveday, Brian Lawrence and Linda Probiss had to pull out something extra to take home their third award. A new 200m2 display yard for pots, fountains and advanced trees did the trick. Mark thanked his garden team who do brilliant work, “I’m continually amazed with the audience our garden centre brings, congratulations to all the staff involved… they do a fantastic job.”
Qld: Emerald Mitre 10 A prior winner, the Emerald store is described as a benchmark store that “consistently delivers excellence”. Justin and the team took the honour extremely seriously, with Justin’s speech consisting of delighted laughter while he was wheelbarrowed around the carpark to the Benny Hill theme tune.
NSW/ACT: Gubbins Pulbrook Mitre 10, Moss Vale A sterling reputation for quality plants at the largest garden centre in the Southern Highlands helped owners Nick Gubbins and Steve Pulbrook with manager David Wansey secure the gong, with David sending out his “thanks to the locals who have continued to support us and the team who have worked so hard to bring the garden into this condition.” Nick added that he thinks “Everyone in the Southern Highlands has built a vegie garden over Covid, so we’ve sold a lot of plants!”
Vic/Tas: Diamond Valley Mitre 10, Diamond Creek Outstanding customer service put this store over the line once again, with the beautiful merchandising and excellent advice from the team being very well received by the local community. Paige Hastings accepted on behalf of the Diamond Valley team, happily describing them as “floored” by another win in her succinct acceptance speech.
This year’s state finalists for Village of the year were more hotly contested than ever.
WA: Western Warriors
SA/NT: Central Diggers
Qld: City, Coast & Country
NSW/ACT: Northern Independents
Vic/Tas: The Apostles
The national awards ceremony will be held online in mid-March – keep an eye on future issues for the winners, and congratulations to all the finalists!
Image: Each IHG state team ‘telecast’ from an iconic location, encouraging local holidays along the way. Some of the spots included (clockwise from top left) Suncorp Stadium, Mount Panorama, Victor Harbor’s Granite Island, the Grampians, Cradle Mountain, the ‘G’ (or MCG for those not fortunate enough to be Victorians), Uluru and the Pilbara.