New to the scene, Amber Gregory Hills in NSW is owned and managed by long-time industry professionals who understand the needs of their local market.
Franchisees Wayne and Nikki Marshall joined Amber just over nine months ago, but had been undergoing discussions with the group for over two years. Wayne explains, “My wife and I have been involved in the industry for some time and we admired Amber from afar, before more closely researching the group and ultimately joining the team. We decided to get involved a while ago but took our time and discovered what we think is the perfect area and site [for the store] that will allow our family to thrive into the future”.
Amber has traditionally been a retail company, with its main customers being “mum and dad” homeowners. “Our stores are set up to make customers comfortable, and our research shows us to be a trusted and reliable brand that gives personalised and friendly advice”, explains Wayne.
In addition, trade customers are consistently supported by Amber at each step of their purchasing process including specification and installation. “Our relationships with trades are vital and strong, and we work closely with them on a daily basis. Our store sales are still more heavily skewed toward our retail customers, while our trade business continues to grow,” he said.
Amber has always established its stores as being two businesses under one roof. It primarily sells tiles and accessories for interior spaces in a home, as well as pavers, stone and retaining walls for the outdoors. According to Wayne, this indoor-outdoor factor helps to differentiate his store’s offering and contributes to establishing trust with its customers.
“Once they buy tiles or pavers, they often come back when they want to purchase for another part of the home,” he said.
The company has ownership with an overseas tile supplier that provides Amber with leverage, when required, on specific product ranges.
As a highly engaged store owner and operator, Wayne is proud of the team’s merchandising efforts in presenting the store’s products. The hard work has begun to pay off. “We certainly aimed to have the best-looking store in the area, and we are confident we have done so, with our customers regularly giving positive feedback in this regard”, said Wayne.
Amber Gregory Hills is still a brand-new business at less than a year old, and Wayne admits to facing a number of challenges in getting started. However, Wayne and Nikki are happy with its progress and confident it is heading in the right direction.
“I don’t think it is news to anyone in the industry that the market has tightened, and sales are getting tougher at the moment. The last few years have been good for many, but the combination of pressure on house prices, elections and other external factors has led to price pressure and declining sales for some…,” said Wayne.
The store is located in Sydney’s South West corridor, a high growth area that is expected to gain approximately 300,000 new residents by 2031, based on the NSW state government’s Sydney Growth Centres Strategic Assessment Report (2010), and quoted by the Smart Property Investment website earlier this year. Craig Barnes from Australian home builder Sekisui House told the website: “Investment activity is evident and growth within the region is progressing at a rapid pace. Aside from Western Sydney Airport … localised infrastructure projects and amenity development are well underway, including major road and rail network upgrades, new schools, hospitals and shopping centres”.
The expanding area in Gregory Hills has attracted direct competitors to the store but the couple remain unfazed as they work hard with their growing knowledge base, skill set and back up from Amber’s support office.
In managing the store, Wayne and Nikiki have discovered that some of the “small things” they have done in terms of marketing have had a major impact and delivered excellent results. “We had a grand opening launch which was really … well received and exposed the store to many local trades, customers and suppliers,” said Wayne. Since then, simple things such as giving out handouts and sausage sizzles for tradies have been very effective for the store. “They still love them,” he said.
Other initiatives include product sample boxes, distributing Amber’s broadsheet “The Answer” that has lifestyle content and ideas for tile projects, and geo targeted digital campaigns.
The showroom itself has also been productive in terms of marketing. “We have good directional signage and display mechanisms to help our customers on their journey to find the right product for their home,” added Wayne.
They are aware that trends in the market have shifted towards an increasingly large format tiles and have seen the rising popularity of engineered stone products. “It makes for an exciting time ahead,” he said.
For now, Amber Tiles is all about helping to inspire customers and driving them into the store. This is their primary focus because the Amber website is not currently set up for e-commerce.
The brand’s strength and reputation has helped encourage customers to visit the store which is crucial for a retailer that is yet to celebrate its first anniversary. “We have learned it is then up to us to give the customer a great experience and appropriate advice. Customer satisfaction and a sale are key goals,” he explains.
Training and knowledge
The couple continue to learn about the retail side of the business and have been pleased with the guidance they have received from Amber. “It began with a placement in another store prior to starting in my own store, plus ongoing and multiple visits from support team staff.
“There has been training in products, systems and sales. It has been great, but I can see it will still take me some time to learn it all, even coming from a tiling background,” explains Wayne.
Prior to entering the world of retail, Wayne worked as a tiler and stone mason for many years with a large number of commercial and residential projects under his belt. “My body took a hit and the advice given to me was that it was time for me to get off the tools. At the same time, my wife Nikki has been in the bathroomware industry for many years, so it seemed like a natural fit for both of us to look at Amber. I manage the store most days, and Nikki does it when I get a day off occasionally!”, explains Wayne, while laughing.
Wayne and Nikki utilise their different specialities in tiles and bathroomware in their Gregory Hills store. They have employed staff to help with outdoor products, while they continue to learn about this category. “It is important to have a balance within the store, with some specialists while having broad knowledge across all the products we sell,” said Wayne.