Adelaide retailer’s secrets to success

| November 11, 2019

A former farmer with no previous retail experience has become one of South Australia’s most successful franchisees – recording top sales and receiving industry recognition.

Dave Strutton runs Howards Storage World at Mile End – one of the best-performing businesses in a franchise network that includes 34 stores nationally.

At a time when some retailers are struggling amid a slump in consumer spending, Mr Strutton’s business has posted strong growth in the past two financial years.

Mr Strutton believes some business owners are suffering because they are neglecting their core customers.

“Some retailers have lost sight of who their target customers are and they’re trying to be all things to all people,” Mr Strutton said.

“They’re spreading themselves too thin marketing to a wide range of customers and continually offering discounts, instead of value,” he said.

“It doesn’t work and that’s something I’ve certainly learnt over the years.”

Mr Strutton said his focus from the start has always been to deliver good customer service and good quality products.

“It’s that philosophy that attracted me to Howards in the first place. We have not strayed away from that.”

Mr Strutton was an almond grower living in the small South Australian town of Swan Reach in 2007, when he and his wife decided to move their young family to Adelaide.

“We had both spent our childhood in Adelaide and we wanted to give our children the same opportunities we had as young kids,” Mr Strutton said.

“At that stage, I’d been working as an almond grower for 12 years and had started running guided tours for busloads of visitors around our property. I discovered I really enjoyed the customer interaction and sharing my knowledge.”

“I spotted a newspaper advertisement about a new franchise opportunity in Adelaide for a Howards store earmarked for construction, so we took a leap of faith and signed on the dotted line.”

The Strutton’s franchise was the only Howards store in SA to survive after the franchisor went into voluntary administration at the end of 2016.

A new owner bought the franchisor out of voluntary administration in early 2017 and the Mile End store has continued to thrive.

“It really was a case of survival of the fittest, but we have gone from strength to strength,” Mr Strutton said.

Howards Mile End achieved substantial growth of around 20 per cent in the 2017-2018 financial year and was also named Howards Franchised Store of the Year in 2018, an award it had previously won in 2009.

In 2011, Mr Strutton also picked up a state award from the Franchise Council of Australia.

While running a franchise can be challenging, Mr Strutton believes success comes from focussing on the following:

  • Never lose sight of your core customer: Don’t waste your time and money on widespread marketing campaigns. Understand that not everyone wants to or can be your customer. Know exactly who your core customers are and focus on delivering the best possible value to them. It’s important to remain true to your brand. Don’t pretend to be something you are not, as shoppers will see straight through that.
  • Service your local area: You may be part of a franchise network, but that doesn’t mean that every store can operate in exactly the same way. What works in Bondi doesn’t necessarily work in Mile End. Tailor your products and services to suit your region and its residents.  
  • Innovative products: Customers are making more conscious choices because of the war on waste and as retailers we need to recognise and respond to their changing demands and shopping habits. While quality has been the hallmark of Howards from the beginning, we are also continually adding innovative products to our range. Our customers are prepared to pay a respectable price for products that are designed to last.
  • Share your knowledge: Customers want to make the right choice and will be grateful if you take the time to share your expertise. As well as offering advice when a customer comes into your store, consider running workshops and other events that allow you to share your knowledge of particular products and services. Our wardrobe and pantry organisation workshops are particularly popular with customers.

With 16 staff members and a customer base that stretches across South Australia – and to places like Mildura and Broken Hill in neighbouring states – Mr Strutton has no regrets about moving into retail.

“We have built a strong business, have dedicated staff and loyal customers. I love doing what I’m doing and am committed to remaining in business,” Mr Strutton said.

“We’ve certainly gone through some interesting times, but overall the journey has been a good one.”