Judy Leishman talks to Rahul Bhattarai about her second Stihl Shop dealership, which she purchased right before the 2021 lockdown.
What does your business do?
Stihl Shop has branches nationwide with about 80 stores and they sell and service garden tools and other small engine equipment like mowers, chainsaws, hedge trimmers, blowers, generators, pumps, line trimmers, water blasters, chippers, pruners, sprayers and ride-on mowers.
We also sell top-quality brands, but our point of difference over the big hardware stores is that we service the equipment we sell.
What's your background?
My husband Peter Leishman and I have been in the industry of outdoor power equipment since 2006. Initially, we bought a small mower shop in Silverdale, and by 2010 had rebranded as Stihl Shop licensees, which also required moving to a more suitable site to provide a decent showroom worthy of selling the No 1 worldwide chainsaw brand, Stihl.
Prior to owning the shop, Peter had been a lawn mowing contractor, and before that, completed 20 years in the NZ Army with a mechanical qualification and experience as a workshop manager. My career route started as a computer programmer, taking time out for children then re-entering the workforce in medical centres, leading to two decades as a practice manager for a couple of different accidents and medical centres.
What was the motivation for starting it?
Over the last 15 years, our Silverdale branch has grown considerably, along with the population. We could see further opportunities and chose to open a new business in Browns Bay. The Stihl Shop format provides an appealing retail environment for customers wanting to access quality tools, and discuss their needs with informed salespeople. We wanted to bring that to East Coast Bays.
How big is the team today?
Currently, our shop is staffed full-time by our son Niki Leishman with administration support from me and assistance in-store from part-time staff who work at both stores.
How was your business affected by Covid-19?
Covid-19 delayed our opening. On one hand, level 4 lockdown meant that Silverdale store was closed and gave Peter and me time to work on our plans for our new Browns Bay store uninterrupted, but the delay also meant that the builder we had planned to use to erect some walls was then unable to commit to our job as he was held up on the previous job.
We lost a month though and were then paying rent without any sales. Online sales during the lockdowns, with home delivery, has helped and, even though we are no longer in level 3 or 4, we are already experiencing good steady online sales for Browns Bay.
The upside of being a licensee in an existing framework is that the Stihl Shop website was already operational and all we had to do was get Browns Bay added as an option for shoppers to purchase from.
Why would you open when many other shops are closing?
While many businesses are shutting down, it is a strange time to be opening a new one.
But the garden tools are selling well as Kiwis stay home and work on their properties. It wouldn't be easy if we were to have more lockdowns. We would need to heavily promote our online sales for income. As we had not started trading before the August lockdown, we probably weren't eligible, and certainly didn't apply, for any subsidies.
What's your focus for the next 12 months?
We officially started selling on November 1 and were able to open our doors properly and admit customers a week later. The focus for the future is to move more products and hopefully get some chainsaws under Christmas trees, and tools into the hands of the gardeners out there!
What are your long-term plans, and where do you see the brand in five years?
Long term, we see this store only growing in customers. We may look to extend the opening hours and increase staff accordingly. However, it is not easy to staff a Stihl Shop – there is an awful lot of knowledge required of a fairly technical nature.
It's not simply a case of putting a person on a checkout. Our Browns Bay store has a very handy, visible position between two major supermarkets with constant traffic. By having an upmarket store and great parking and availability it makes the shopping easy for the customer.
How does your business stand out in comparison to other businesses in the market?
Our marketing plan includes a range of promotion tools such as radio, digital campaign, print media and social media, and catalogue drops.
What advice would you give to people trying to start a new business?
Starting a business is not easy. Budgeting and financial resources are essential; as is cashflow forecasting. Staffing needs addressing. There are a lot of hours to put into the planning, and operations, especially initially. All the setting up of bank accounts, suppliers, legal requirements, IRD registration – forms and more forms to be filled in.
In some ways, again, Covid-19 has helped as we have not had any social events or sporting commitments to attend so why not work on the business! Long hours painting the walls, cleaning and setting up the store.
And all the fitout suppliers needed to come to the party at the right time like tech support, Eftpos, security alarms, signage, window grilles, flooring, cabinets and shop fittings. With shortages across many supply chains, and freight issues, we were incredibly lucky not to suffer delays, and all the parts of the jigsaw came together relatively smoothly in the end, albeit the Eftpos terminal was hand-delivered at 5pm on a Friday night!