07/04/2011 - 00:00

JH Wilberforce begins national move

07/04/2011 - 00:00

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JH Wilberforce has marketed and distributed decorative building products to the Western Australian cabinet-making and furniture industries for more than 50 years.

JH Wilberforce has marketed and distributed decorative building products to the Western Australian cabinet-making and furniture industries for more than 50 years.

The Perth-owned company has become Australia’s sole distributor of international brands such as Polyrey (a decorative laminate), QSTONE (used primarily for floors and bench tops), and CLEAF (a decorative covering for doors and walls).

Founders John and Harry Wilberforce sold the company to Perth accountant Dalton Gooding’s PIC Group, Crosby Tiles, and company accountant Barry Hunt in 2001.

Managing director Joe Vecchio had previously spent more than 20 years working for competitors GBI Group and Laminex Group.

He decided to buy into JH Wilberforce not long after it had lost its major decorative products supplier, Formica, in 2005.

“I know and love these products, and got to a point where I thought I could add more value by introducing good quality European brands,” Mr Vecchio said.

The company traditionally supplied building and electrical products but was forced to change its business model after losing Formica.

During a trip to Europe, Mr Vecchio found the Polyrey brand from Belgium and a manufacturer of stone in Italy, which the company has since branded as QSTONE.

Aware that the company had just lost its core cash business, Mr Vecchio thought the timing was right to introduce these two new products to the market.

“For 50 years the company was always a servant to Formica, but in 2005 our business model changed. Instead of us being reliant on a large organisation to bring in business we had to become that marketer and distributor,” he said.

Mr Vecchio said the company’s strategy involved marketing its products to buyers, namely stonemasons and cabinetmakers, but also to the ‘influencers’, such as architects and designers.

“We need to make sure we have a very good service offer for our trade customers but at the same time we need to market and promote our products to the influencers, which are architects, designers and builders,” he said.

JH Wilberforce’s products have been used in a variety of residential and commercial settings, including restaurants, universities and the new Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Polyrey and QSTONE have become its two best-selling products, and have prompted the company to expand its distribution base in other states.

Mr Vecchio said plans to expand JH Wilberforce’s branch network were under way, with a showroom and distribution centre to open in Victoria in July.

“I guess we are bucking the trend. Unlike our competitors, our head office for Polyrey and QSTONE will be in WA, which shows that the suppliers of these brands have confidence in JH Wilberforce’s ability to generate growth,” he said.

In Mr Vecchio’s opinion, the company has become highly competitive against the larger decorative product distribution companies.

“We used to be seen as just a distributor and reseller; now with our own brands and products the business model is similar to our two main competitors in the decorative surfaces industry,” he said.

Mr Vecchio said the most challenging aspect of running the business was getting its relatively new brands accepted into the marketplace.

“We introduced Polyrey and QSTONE and lost money in the first two years. When you bring in brands like that you have to start promoting and developing them with a significant amount of investment in point-of-sale material before your product is selected,” he said.

However, introducing the new products had paid off and enabled the company to increase its turnover by 70 per cent since 2005.

“We had the right people, the backing from our major shareholders and the trust of our overseas suppliers which gave us an opportunity to do what we now do,” Mr Vecchio said.

‘‘I hope that we can turn this into a national company that offers high-quality products and continues to attract good-quality suppliers.’’

 

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