Retail update

Hastings Co-op has a new CEO

The current economic climate and rising operational costs is affecting small, family owned and operated businesses like Ibis Siding Garden Centre which recently closed

Community-owned co-operative Hastings Co-op has appointed Nick De Groot as its new CEO, following the passing of CEO Allan Gordon in March this year. Mr De Groot will start in the role in early May.

Retail World reports that Mr De Groot brings more than three decades of diverse management experience to the Co-op. This includes senior leadership roles with KPMG, Essential Energy, the Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW, Mid North Coast Local Health District and most recently I-Med Radiology MNC.

He holds a Bachelor of Financial Administration and Graduate Diploma of Applied Finance and Investment. Mr De Groot was previously a non-executive director with Bundaleer Care Services, Port Macquarie Chamber of Commerce and Hastings Co-op (since November 2022). Commenting his appointment, Mr De Groot said:

I'm very excited about the appointment and appreciate the significance of leading Hastings Co-op into the future. Having been on the Hastings Co-op Board, I have a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities we face and the Co-op's importance to the local community.

Hastings Co-op has a long history in Hastings and Camden Haven, in the mid-north coast region of New South Wales, since 1916. According to its website, the co-op employs 400 people across eight business units including: supermarkets, hardware and rural supplies, liquor stores, fuel, department stores, condiment manufacturing and car hire.

There are three hardware and farm supplies outlets in Wauchope, Comboyne and Kew, operating under the Mitre 10 and CRT banners.

Ibis Siding Garden Centre

Kym Gilbert, owner and manager of Ibis Siding located in Goolwa, part of the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, said his business's biggest financial drains were wages, electricity and insurance. This had been the straw on the camel's back following COVID-19 and the floods. He told The Victor Harbor Times:

At the end of the day, there's simply no profit.

Mr Gilbert also claims large players like Bunnings, which opened in Victor Harbor in July 2018, have drained much of the prospective clientele from smaller businesses. He said:

Bunnings setting up in Victor takes clientele away and that stings. I don't know how many more businesses are gonna close down on the Fleurieu, but it's happening.
If you lose your small businesses, you lose tourism. The Fleurieu region's country towns depend on local business, no one wants to come all the way to Victor Harbor to shop at Bunnings.

Mr Gilbert said he had a real estate agent from Adelaide approach him to sell the back four acres of scrubland of his property for $1.4 million, but even this sum could not tempt Mr Gilbert back into opening again.

At the end of the day, with overhead costs the way they are, we'll just continue to go backwards.

Ibis Siding opened in July 199 and was a joint venture between the four Gilbert brothers - Kym, Chris, Lee and Jim and their mother Christine, who passed away in 2012.

At its height, the centre stocked over 2000 plants - potted and seedlings, most of which were grown as tubestock at Currency Creek on the Gilbert family farm. Mr Gilbert said:

We started the business together, we specialised in natives, such as Geraldton waxes and wattles, with a real focus on natives specific to the region.

Mr Gilbert was a beekeeper in the 1980s, which has given him a well-rounded knowledge of the region and how to work the land best.

Local knowledge is being lost, it's really sad.

Another concern he has is the loss of sponsorship opportunities for local sports teams, which small business supports in regional areas. Mr Gilbert said:

We always sponsored the footy club, Goolwa footy club and the netball club and we've always done the raffles, pub events and supported the CWA. I served the community for a long time, it's a bittersweet departure.

Mr Gilbert wishes to thank his loyal customers for supporting Ibis Siding over many years and his staff.

Business Victor Harbor chief executive officer, Colin Shearing said small businesses local to the Fleurieu have been somehow holding off their rising operational costs in the current economic climate, but believes this will not last long.

Businesses have weathered increased costs [such as] dramatic insurance increases (particularly those businesses now deemed by insurance companies to be in 'flood-prone' areas up to 150% increase in premiums), energy cost hikes, supply shortages, wages increases, increased fuel costs and 'fixed term' interests rates are being turned over to variable rates.

As regional towns like Victor Harbor and Goolwa with expanding populations become targets of national and international retail enterprises, fewer profits are funnelled back into the community. Mr Shearing said:

Small to medium sized businesses contribute $617 million to the local economy... the big national and internationally owned retailers do not re-invest their profits back into SA in the same way.

However Bunnings area manager Justine Burrage said the connection it has developed with the locals in the region is important to the business. She told The Victor Harbor Times:

Supporting the community is at the core of what we do. Our teams do a tremendous job of providing ongoing, hands-on and grassroots support, whether that's through our weekly sausage sizzle, heading out to help with a community garden or painting project, product donations to local organisations or hosting DIY workshops in store.

Bunnings does sponsor local sporting teams or purchase direct sponsorship packages. Ms Burrage said:

...we support them through our sausage sizzles, hands-on support with projects like upgrading facilities, as well as general product donations.

Referring to the concern raised by local small business owners, Ms Burrage also said Bunnings usually employs staff from within the region.

Our teams live and work in the communities we operate and we always strive to provide both ongoing employment opportunities in regional areas and quality, localised advice to customers.
  • Sources: Retail World Magazine and The Victor Harbor Times
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