Local, personal, loyal formula breeds business success for Hank's Place
How do businesses future-proof themselves? Richard Davison takes a look at older businesses in rural community to find out what keeps them ticking along.
Sometimes succeeding in business isn't rocket science but typically it requires a similar level of dedication.
The intriguingly named Hank's Place – in rural service town Lumsden – has been quietly baulking the trend towards the gradual creep of urban retail domination for 25 years now.
Key to its steady, organic growth in the ever-changing agricultural hardware sector has been a determined "keep it local" attitude from successive owners, allied with the sort of personalised service that independent retailers often seem better adapted to provide than their, occasionally impersonal, corporate cousins.
Owned and operated today by farming couple Robyn and Darrin Day, Hank's Place was originally founded on the site of a former Flora St garage by fellow locals Jill and Evan Hankey in 1992 – their surname giving rise to its enduring brand.
The Days took over in February 2003.
"We saw good potential in the retail business which also complemented our own farming operations, and another business we owned and operated at the time called Bayswater Feeds. Since then, we've ushered in many changes that have resulted in steady growth," Robyn said.
Influencing those changes, front and centre, has been their loyal northern Southland customer base.
"Our customers are our greatest asset. Being locally owned and operated means knowing your customers, knowing what they need, and having the knowledge to help them find the right products. That's what Hank's Place is all about," Robyn said.
The well-seasoned, knowledgeable Colin Walker supported Robyn in-store as full time shop salesperson.
"We work hard to meet customer needs with quality, proven products, delivered with prompt, personalised service," she said.
Loyal Southlanders themselves, the Days' farming background had always helped provide insight into the particular needs of their rural customers.
"Northern Southland is one of many great places in the south," Robyn said.
"With a strong sense of community in all the districts, owning and running a business in a rural area has both advantages and challenges, but we wouldn't be anywhere else."
Not least among those challenges was keeping up to speed with technological developments in the multi-faceted ag sector – although it was a challenge she relished.
"You have to stay relevant to your customers – knowing what products they want you to stock and delivering follow through with any queries and questions asked of us," she said.
"A large part of that is keeping up with technology and product development, as that changes all the time. I use past sales data and figures, customer requests and enquiries, field days, magazines and websites to source new product ideas. Plus sales reps are always introducing us to their new product innovations."
That had led during time to a wider selection of product stocked instore, necessitating an expansion into neighbouring premises to give an additional 3000sqm of space in 2014.
"The lease came up when Great Southern moved on, and we jumped at the opportunity. It gives us further retail and display options, plus storage," Robyn said.
Not afraid to innovate to stay ahead, Robyn and the team installed point of sale and stock control computer software in 2006 and, more recently, developed and launched the all-new Hank's Place web site.
"This was only launched last month, after a period of design and development by [Dunedin web developer] Turboweb, but already the response has been very positive," she said.
"The decision to have a website was due to people having full-time access to the internet to browse for stockists of product, so we wanted to showcase what Hank's Place stocks, business hours and so on. It's great to have our website to give people who don't already know of us an insight."
With a brand conveying reliability, integrity and loyalty, it was critical to match those attributes on all sides of the business.
"Having an independent rural-based store competing with the corporate rural stores, it's important to continue a strong relationship with our chosen suppliers – we've developed a great relationship with our suppliers built on loyalty," Robyn said.
That extended customer-side to support of local good causes, too.
"Hank's Place has always supported local sports groups, school and community events through different forms of sponsorship. It's about building trust with your customers."
It was a time-honoured formula for business success that maybe wasn't rocket science, but nonetheless required a similar, singular focus, and dedication of time and energy to reach for the skies.
"If you're starting your own business? Be prepared to learn to wear all the hats: salesperson, bookkeeper, problem solver, tea girl. And always take pride in a good job, well done."