The ceremony may have been virtual but the celebrations were real when the IHG family came together to celebrate the 2021 National Awards of Excellence.

With a cracking set of Scott Cam and Catriona Rowntree impersonations from hosts Brett Martin, IHG’s business manager – trade operations, and Shelley Buick, local area marketing controller, kicking off the night, it was clear the 2021 IHG National Awards of Excellence were serious about celebrating their worthy winners, but not 100% serious about everything else.

After the pandemic once again scuppered an in-person Expo, the online awards were presented by members of the IHG team and acceptances filmed by a mix of IHG’s own film crew and the winners themselves. Which made for a much friendlier and more entertaining ceremony than some of this year’s awards shows (looking at you, Oscars).

A quick look back at the Covid years (see some of the photos from the recap below) in stores with masks, codes, Zoom meetings and customer-friendly supplies of loo paper – not to mention a lot of wine – began the telecast, followed by the much-awaited winner announcements.

Throughout the night there were pauses for  special moments, including honouring members who have passed away through the year. There was also the launch of the latest Built By Families campaign, this time featuring the Fagg family, who have been selling building materials to the Geelong region since 1854. Keith and Barry Fagg provided a potted history of the store, from its earliest days to being the second or third store outside of Melbourne to join the Mitre 10 group. Everything that led to that decision back in 1965 remains strong today and the Fagg family were also able to celebrate their beloved community and the work they do to help its members.


One of the key personal awards of the night, this one acknowledges, as Shelley said, “exceptional attributes in a family or individual who, by their contribution or achievements, help support the growth of the Independent Hardware Group.” Current CEO Annette Welsh was very proud to announce this year’s winner: Mark Laidlaw, as she described him, “the person who has had the most impact on our business over the last 10 years.” The former IHG CEO oversaw the group’s transformation into a large, trusted network with a commitment to investing in stores’ future, championing the independent brands and celebrating that spirit and all the people within the group.

Annette had previously filmed the award handover at Mark’s home. Clearly thrilled, he declared, “I’ve won my own award!” as it had been an invention of his early on in his 10 years as CEO. Apologising for his lack of prepared speech, Mark emphasised, “The best thing I’m proud of is the team, you guys are continuing where I stopped!”

Multiple colleagues gave their thanks for Mark’s work, with David Woodman from Beenleigh Mitre 10 saying “In my nearly 50 years in the mining and hardware industries, I know I haven’t worked with a finer executive.”

Finally, the Laidlaw family paid tribute to Mark, with kids Anna, Jack and Grace talking about their pride in him, gratitude for his support and how glad they were to have more of his time now he has retired and wife Claudia quipping, “When you retire, you switch bosses from the one who employed you to the one who married you.”


Brett acknowledged that these had been the hardest years he could remember for the Group’s suppliers, but the winners had gone above and beyond in dealing with supply issues, booming demand and keeping everyone going.

Supplier of the Year – Build: ITI Australia was a worthy winner, ensuring supply of traditional pine and LVL lines plus bringing innovation like the new FlameFIXX product. Tony Matteo, business unit manager build, lured ITI’s Germano Tomassetti to the new Design 10 show room at Tooronga to hand the award over and was met with some delighted swearing, followed by huge smiles.

Supplier of the Year – Fit Out & Fix: Stanley Black & Decker Jacque Derksen business unit manager fit out & fix presented the award, citing multiple reasons for the win, including strong promotional programs from the SB&D team to drive foot traffic into stores. Filming at Tait Mitre 10, Derksen had to improvise to hide the camera crew when Greta Lambrechts and Jim Kaneleas from Stanley Black & Decker arrived early, but expressed their joy at the win, saying they’d been chasing it for years.

Supplier of the Year – Finish & Exterior: Cabot’s Brett Meehan, business unit manager exterior & finish also used Tait Mitre 10 as a venue to surprise the Cabot’s team. He described how products including Universal Timber Oil and the Ceetec pre-oiling machine align perfectly with IHG timber sales and how the companies have worked closely on exclusive promotions. Jemma Carison and Rebecca Moulton accepted the award, calling it an “amazing honour!”

Supplier of the Year – Logistics: Cochrane’s Transport The renowned South Australian company has kept materials moving for over 25 years with IHG, with recent expansions improving things even further. Rick Sola, general manager supply chain & logistics announced the win and Vito Nocera, state sales manager SA/NT, snuck into Cochrane’s under the guise of producing an educational video. Martin Robb and Peter Cochrane were all set to explain their logistical systems when the award was announced and they didn’t mind having their lecture derailed one bit: “It’s been a great association,” said Peter, “We’re more than happy with this!”


Larry Roberts, from Gubbins Pulbrook Mitre 10, NSW Chris Tsotra, general manager sales & operations, was very happy to announce the award, highlighting the testimonials that had been received from the Gubbins Pulbrook management team and Larry’s builder clients. Owners Nick Gubbins and Steve Pulbrook praised Larry, saying he’s spent “46 years in the hardware game and lived and breathed it all the way through” and there’s “not a more fitting person to win this award.”

Steve pointed to a beautifully restored vintage blue Ford ute in the yard, saying “It’s an exact replica of what Larry’s like as a person … it’s a classic, just like Larry.”

Gubbins Pullbrook Group’s Ryan White said, “I’ve met many great trade account managers across the state, but hand on heart, I can definitely say that Larry’s the best I’ve ever seen. The way he connects with his builders and ingrains himself inside their business is second to none.” He shared how Larry is always happy to go that bit further for the customer with an extra sale or delivery, so much so he’s sometimes called Captain Chaos for the effect his efforts can have on schedules.

All four were on hand at a special dinner in Bowral where key staff and builders were invited under false pretences: when Chris announced Larry’s win, the cheers nearly raised the roof!


The Apostles, Vic Chris Tsotra also presented this award, describing how all the villages have worked together to make life easier for members through the pandemic, so these winners are truly exceptional. With a whopping average 21% sales growth throughout 2021, the members of The Apostles have come through hard lockdowns with aplomb, tightening relationships with customers and building a strong, supportive network that has kept everyone’s chin up through some hard years of trading.

The award was accepted by Joelene Bailey of Camperdown Mitre 10 and Terang Co-op, Paul Bast of Permewans Mitre 10 and Liz Riordan of Faggs Mitre 10, with Paul describing The Apostles as “fantastic stores and a great group of people who get together to organise promotions – this is well deserved by the whole team!”


McLaren Vale Mitre 10, SA Doris Maffia, ranging manager, had the enjoyable task of talking about what set this garden centre apart, citing the redeveloped grassed areas, a 200m2 display area for pots, fountains and advanced trees and the addition of birds and water features to make the customer feel as though they are relaxing in a garden.

Owners Mark and Fiona Loveday and Brian Lawrence took over the directorial duties for this acceptance speech, with Mark saying, “The team of Mandy, Fiona, Liz and Anthony do an excellent job. I help out occasionally doing the watering and the only instruction I give them is to stick to a budget of plants. But come to think of it, they don’t ever do that!”


Woodgate Beach Hardware, Qld Introducing the award, Tracey Pieronczik, customer service manager at The Hub, talked about how convenience stores had played a core role in keeping people going through Covid and benefited from shop local behaviours. Owners Dennis and Dianne Ham have exemplified this, becoming a central part of their small tourist town.

“The last 12 months has been hectic to say the least – at least we didn’t have to suffer lockdowns…” said Dennis with a bit of relief, before going on to thank his staff and the IHG team who support them and signing off with hopes that all the member stores have an easier 2022.


Sunlite Mitre 10, Paddington NSW A sixth award for Steven Czeiger’s Sunlite Group in seven years, this time it was the revamped Paddington store taking victory. Learning solutions manager Neil Sullivan presented the award, describing how the Sunlite Paddington team was famous for innovating quickly and being responsive to its large loyalty program membership. The rewards of this were clear this year with a growth rate of almost 70% and a great reception for the expanded garden and trade offers.

Steven described 2021 as “challenging for us all in different ways, constantly adapting to a changing retail environment. I’m so grateful to belong to an industry that for the most part has remained open and able to trade and assist our customers through challenging times.”

He promised to keep setting the bar higher for the Paddington community and to show what a local hardware store can be.


Berry Springs Home Hardware, NT Alex Dalidakis, digital product owner checkout & fulfilment, described the winners as “a wonderful example of business owners who saw an opportunity, moved at pace to make it happen and continue to recognise the value in reinvesting for further growth.”

Russell and Lindy Willing had been long-term owners of an IGA supermarket in the same shopping precinct when they had an opportunity to open the hardware store. Since its launch in August 2020, it’s gone from strength to strength.

Russell accepted the award on behalf of his team, saying “We couldn’t have done this without all the fantastic IHG support that helped us reset the store. It’s been fantastic!” He also thanked Ben the store manager and team members Jud and Allana who are deeply connected to the community and do a great job of making all the customers happy.


Crameri’s Mitre 10, Maryborough Vic Andrew Steele, accounts receivable team leader – wholesale, had the honour of announcing this popular winner. A famously well-organised store that’s had 30% sales growth in recent years, Crameri’s invested in a full trade redevelopment in 2021. This saw a major overhaul, with new trade drive-throughs, shed expansions and more. Bernie and Stew have managed to sign up over 86% of Maryborough to the Mighty rewards program, possibly because they sell beer and bike parts on top of their standard range.

Owners Stewart and Bernard Crameri accepted the award on behalf of their families and teams, thanking the Mitre 10 network for both broader programs that have helped them to succeed and specific relationships with their business managers.

“The Mighty Rewards program is just the icing on the cake,” said Stewart, “Continued communication with our loyal customers is the basis for our business.”

Bernard thanked their wives, Mandy and Jessie, for the strong support they give.


Margaret River Mitre 10, WA Brendan Sloane, trade sapphire transformation manager, has worked with stores around Australia to help them lift and grow their trade offers. He described Margaret River Mitre 10 as one that leads the way in being “nimble and considered in their approach to supply chain issues.” More then three years since its Sapphire transformation, the 2600mstore is still exemplary, featuring a well laid out drive-through with undercover timber and building supplies.

Key members of the Margaret River team were on hand to accept the award, including owners Lloyd and Ann Shepherdson, Noelene Willcox, trade manager Bruce Biddle and Paul Brown. “Even to be nominated in the same group as these other stores is overwhelming for a small country store in south-western WA,” said Paul. “As to how we did it, it’s been a lot of hard work with a fabulous team and our builders and customers have made it all possible.”

Bruce described how the store has “relied on our relationships and our suppliers have helped us a great deal over the past 24 months. Without them, we couldn’t be where we are today.” He added, “the store team has brought is all together. They’re a fantastic mob who work for us and without them, we’re nothing.”

Ann and Lloyd thanked Noelene, Bruce and Paul, saying that they had been vital for the goals kicked by the store. “The three people in this room have done so much to keep our business together,” said Ann.


Barossa Mitre 10, Nuriootpa SA Brent Riddiford had the honour of presenting the final store award of the evening. Another sapphire transformation manager, Brent spent much of 2021 on the road and so has a closer understanding of stores around Australia than most.

“I’ve been in hundreds of stores over the past few years,” said Brent, “and I’m always impressed by the exceptional work rate of our members to continually seek improvement to become the best store in town, investing in their business, their teams and their community.”

He described owners Barossa Co-Op as leaders when it comes to both retail and trade standards and investing in all aspects of the store and the customer experience.

Store manager Craig Dodman accepted on behalf of the Co-op and store team, saying that it couldn’t happen to a better group of people. “The team I am working with at the moment has something really special about it.”

He listed most of the team members personally, apologising for any he missed along the way and acknowledging the experience they had brought from diverse backgrounds and the strengths that worked so well together.

The recent addition of a design service has increased what the store can offer to both trade and retail customers, too.

Craig thanked the suppliers for their “commitment to my team in what has been another very challenging 12 months.”

He also thanked the Mitre 10 marketing, buying and management teams for their efforts in keeping Barossa and all the other teams growing strong.


Stewart Family, Barrow & Bench Mitre 10, Malvern SA Brett and Shelley set the stage for the final award, with Brett saying, “This award recognises the contribution and legacy of individuals and families within our industry… They give their time, expertise and counsel to the group.”

Annette Welsh announced the latest inductees, saying “Ian and Marg Stewart embarked on their hardware journey in 1978, and quickly established themselves as stalwarts of the independent hardware business in South Australia. Together with their sons, Paul and Michael, they have fought fiercely to represent the brand well across four suburbs in Adelaide and regionally in Mt Gambier. What is striking about the Stewarts is service. Not just to their customers but to the broader independent network. Ian served as Chair of Mitre 10 SA and sat on the Mitre 10 board. Taking the service cue from his father, Paul has been the SA Chairman of Hardware Australia, and currently sits as the National Chairman for the same organisation.

“Over the years, they have won many awards. And whilst Michael has now stepped away from hardware, those awards were a direct result of his high standards and desire for excellence, particularly at Glenunga. Amanda has taken this to a new level at Unley, where the Garden Centre continues to place in the top five in the country, and she steadfastly pushes local councils to raise sustainability as an agenda item in her community and was a key driver in establishing our own IHG sustainability action group this year.

“The Stewarts lead from the front, quietly but assuredly. Each and every one has played their part in making our brand relevant in the South Australian market. The Stewarts have been generous with their time and their expertise, they have reinvested regularly, taken risks, and through their amazing customer service ethic have reinforced the values of Mitre 10.”

Annette concluded, “I could not be prouder to award the Stewart family this recognition, it is so well deserved.”

Before the ceremony, Annette took a camera crew out to present the award to the Stewarts in Adelaide and brought much of the family, including two very happy golden retrievers, together to make the presentation.

“I’m really blown away by this occasion,” said Ian. “It was in 1978 we bought an old service station on Unley Rd and that was the beginning of Barrow & Bench. I think the first day we took $250-odd and it rained like mad – we didn’t have enough buckets for all the leaks in the roof and we thought ‘what in the hell have we got ourselves into?’

“We’ve really enjoyed serving this community and I think we’re now very much entrenched as part of the Adelaide and certainly the Unley and Malvern community… In my later years there’s a certain amount of satisfaction seeing the business continue. Paul and Amanda have contributed significantly.”

Paul laid the praise back with his parents, saying “The fundamentals of what you started, we just haven’t changed. It’s about the people and having stock on the shelves, a clean store and providing a service.”

“What an honour,” said Marg. “I think we’re just a bit blown away, so we’ll process it all and have another glass of champagne to celebrate.”

Amanda summed up the gratitude of the second and third generations of the family: “It’s been such an honour for our family to win this award, particularly for Marg and Ian. They have left such a great legacy of hard work and community and we are very honoured to continue that legacy. We couldn’t do it without the support from our Mitre 10 State team or Head Office, they are amazing. They know how we work and they support us every step of the way.”

Image: Three generations of the Stewart family, IHG Hall of Fame inductees, at home in Adelaide