New strategy helps NSW family timber business fight competition in a tough market

A family-run timber business serving the Newcastle and Hunter region of
New South Wales decided to reinvent itself to survive and thrive in a tough
market.

After almost seven decades providing a dependable service in the region,
the Carroll family’s timber business was under pressure with competition within
the hardware market beginning to affect demand and profitability. Retail giants
such as Bunnings and Masters were engaged in a price war to win market share, but
small companies such as the Carroll’s were feeling most of the pain.

Five years ago, John Carroll, son of the founder and now CEO of the
timber company decided to take some concrete steps to safeguard the business.
The new strategy was based on the thinking that they needed to find products
that didn’t compete head to head with the big guys; have efficiencies that
would allow them to react more quickly to their customers’ needs; and also
ensure they were able to get prices and product to them quickly.

The Carroll family decided to shift the company’s focus from retail
sales to wholesale, rebranding the business Carrolls Wholesale Timber (CWT),
and changing the product mix by introducing a new range of almost 20,000
different timber offerings suitable for selling to building companies and other
timber merchants.

The response was positive and Carroll soon found that by providing niche
products he could attract customers from further afield. Within a short time
the company was receiving orders from up and down the east coast of New South
Wales as well as from interstate.

Over the next couple of years, Carroll kept a careful eye on the
business, monitoring the needs of his new customer base, changing processes to
better support them and provide a level of responsiveness that would
differentiate his business from other suppliers.

Having only five employees on the rolls, one of CWT’s biggest challenges
was keeping the business going when everyone was out delivering orders leaving
the office unattended. Carroll recalled that they needed to find a way to do
more work on the road, take calls and check inventory, book orders and secure
stock for clients while being away from the office.

Pricing was another major challenge with the wholesale business having
to frequently deal with much larger orders and larger customers. To negotiate
prices and secure an order, it was necessary to have ready access to exact
costing, margin and inventory information.

The software being used by the company to manage finances and inventory was
outdated, causing errors. Being too expensive to fix, Carroll replaced the
software with a cloud-based small business accounting package but it lacked the
mobility features and the margin information urgently needed by CWT.

Following some research, Carroll finalised two cloud systems that could
work cooperatively to deliver to his exact requirements. These included the
Unleashed inventory system and Xero’s accounting solution.

Carroll explains that the Unleashed inventory software offers the
ability to view margin on every product from any location, eliminating any
guesswork by CWT staff when negotiating with clients. The Xero accounting
software is a brilliant program that works seamlessly with Unleashed.

Between October 2013 and February 2014, Carroll worked on the Unleashed
and Xero software systems, getting them ready to run his business. In the
process, 20,000 products were entered into the inventory system.

Following the implementation of the Unleashed and Xero systems, Carroll
is confident he has the right technology to support CWT’s business strategy and
future plans. Carroll says the business has expanded very successfully with
new customers up and down the coast and a whole new market in Sydney.