In this issue of Flooring magazine, our ICON is Bob Hoskins from Hoskins Carpet Gallery in Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs. Bob is the true definition of a family man and his career and family-owned business in Blackburn is a testament to his hard work and determination. With a true community-minded spirit at its core, the business and Bob are undoubtedly shining lights in the flooring world.

I was born in Ballarat. My father owned and operated a retail store in Sturt Street. We moved to Melbourne when I was sixteen years of age and we lived in Blackburn, a fast-growing suburb. Orchards were making way for many subdivisions and hundreds of houses were being built. Most of these were being purchased by first home buyers and a typical house and land package cost around 4000 pounds ($8000). They were sold completely empty without floorcoverings or curtains. The shopping centre was half developed prior to WW2, however the post war influx of new residents saw a rapid increase in new shops and other commercial properties.

My father had retired in his sixties and played bowls at the local club with a friend who was a real estate agent. This friend had an auction of a commercial block in the main shopping centre opposite the railway station. My father decided to walk past at the time of the auction just out of interest. I can honestly say that that was the only reason my father went along. When he returned home, to my mother’s amazement, he confessed that he had bought the block! He had no idea what he was going to do with it, other than to hold onto it for a while and then subdivide it. While at a family wedding, he was discussing with my uncle the property he had just bought. My uncle worked in a furniture/floorcovering store on the other side of Melbourne. He explained that they were sending furniture and floorcoverings every week to Blackburn to accommodate the growing community. He mentioned that my father should consider opening a store. It was at that point, at the age of eighteen, that my career took shape. We opened our store named Hoskins Furniture on October 28th 1954.

The business grew quickly and we soon started employing staff to help us. One of our employees had previous floorcovering experience and set up the floorcovering department for us. At that time, we were dealing in mainly 27” woven Axminster or felted carpets and linoleum which all disappeared in favour of 12’ wide tufted carpet and vinyl.  Our laying service was very basic with deliveries being made and goods unloaded in the car park behind the shop.  The carpet was then “made up” either in the back of the shop or in our layers garage where it could be sown together the night before the job.  We had no shortage of customers due to the population booming and the settlement of Melbourne Eastern Suburbs and as a result, the business thrived.

My father retired in 1964 and from then onwards, I ran the business. In 1990, my son Peter joined me and on my retirement took over the reins of running the business. In the 64 years the business has been established, it has had four name changes: Hoskins Furniture, Hoskins Furniture and Floorcoverings, Hoskins Carpet Choice and lastly Hoskins Carpet Gallery.

The 1950’s were very opportunistic to commence any business as the population was booming and products were in short supply. The downside however was that suppliers were reluctant to open new accounts. However, we found that once we could convince a supplier to do so, others that had previously declined, then followed suit. Like most businesses, we have had our ups and downs over our 64 years in business. As the larger furniture companies opened up along Whitehorse Road, our small furniture store struggled to compete. We made the decision in the mid 1990’s to stop selling furniture and expand our floorcoverings. Today, there are also many large flooring companies out there but Hoskins prides itself on its many years of experience and good old-fashioned service. We have many customers who have bought carpet from us and then come back years later when it needs replacing.

I miss the contact and friendships made with the rep’s which were forged during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s as most have long retired. I definitely miss the social aspect of the business the most.

Prior to opening the business, neither my father or I had any flooring experience. I still remember him saying “We will soon learn”. Dad had many years of retailing experience in other areas and because of this, I always knew that retail was where I wanted my career to go as well.

As I mentioned, it was fairly easy to start up a business in the 50’s. These days, it is much more difficult. Today, any business has to start up in an already very competitive market. My advice to any young entrepreneur would be to get as much experience as you can; working in the industry that they are hoping to start up. I would also suggest that they try to have a point of difference and not just be price orientated.

I had a major setback in the May of 1960. I had only been married for seven months when I had a very serious car accident that resulted in my being in the Box Hill Hospital for eight months. Both the business and my family life suffered. We did manage to keep the business going and continue making a small profit. When I finally returned to work, I was determined to put my accident behind me and rebuild the business back up. I always regarded the business as the engine room of our family lifestyle. My wife and I had four growing children and we were determined to give them the best life we could. I gave the business top priority and as a result, put in many hours and a lot of hard work to build it into a successful business.

Over the years I have enjoyed having many people in my life who I have regarded as mentors. For one, my father and his previous experiences in the retail industry. Also, sometime around 1970, we joined the Newfurn group. The chairman was a wise gentleman named Len Butler.  He took Jack Swinton and myself under his wing with lots of encouragement and advice.  I don’t think Jack or I realized at the time that he was grooming us to take over from him as chairman. (I for a few years but Jack for many more). Later Newfurn split its flooring division to become Carpet Choice with Jack Swinton as Chairman and myself as Deputy Chairman.  This worked very well as Jack was in Swan Hill and I was in Melbourne so we shared much of the administration. As mentioned in a previous ICON article, we recruited Paul Amos as CEO.  He taught us so much as to how to run a large organization. He contributed a great deal to the Groups’ success. I was greatly saddened to hear of Paul’s recent passing. He was a tremendous asset to the flooring world and also a very good friend. I will miss him a lot.

The company is now run by my son Peter and his wife Amanda. They have made many changes, modernising the store and focusing on our core customer base.  They specialise is quality wool carpet, timber and vinyls and pride themselves on keeping up to date with all the newest looks in flooring.  Our sales staff have decades of experience and knowledge in all aspects of flooring and will always go above and beyond to give our customers the best quality service and products.

I would not describe the flooring industry as a united force. However, it has definitely improved over the last decade. Most retailers have more respect for one another. An example of this is at events such as the recent Variety Charity Golf Day. Many suppliers and retailers got together and it was a great day.

Our main focus will continue to be to work with good people, both staff and suppliers and to sell products that we truly believe in. We will continue to produce excellent service and products that will meet and exceed our customers expectations. This attitude has taken the business to beyond 60 years.

I actually officially retired from the business 10 years ago but I still enjoy coming in to help Peter and the team out when needed. At 82 years old, the coming years will probably see me in the store less and less as I move onto the next phase of my life. My wife Beverley and I are shortly downsizing, leaving our family home of 47 years. We will definitely be staying in Blackburn though. I look back on the last 64 years of retailing in the flooring business and the people I have met and the friendships formed will be something that I truly value.