A bit of tautology to start proceedings!
Having just produced our up-dated book ‘Sixpence for a Piece of Timber’, covering 1894-2019 (125 years) I needed to remind myself not to get carried away with what was. Richard Bowen’s achievement in starting this business (now 128 years ago) I’m eternally grateful for. His migration from Ballarat to Melbourne at the age of 17, his 10 years labouring around Melbourne and finally creating Bowen & Pomeroy, is a gift my entire family appreciates and understands.
While I have this passion for the history surrounding Bowens, I also need to be cognisant of the effort to ensure the future health of the business. The shareholders and employees are dependent on our ongoing success and not what happened years ago nor what happened over the last months or weeks.
We don’t plan to have a book ‘launch’ as such. In this article for the Builders Bulletin however, I want to do a bit of reminiscing and touch on the good things we have learnt, and the not so good things that must ‘never be repeated’!
Most of Bowens older customers and staff would be aware of the origin of the book’s title. Legend has it that on the first day Bowen & Pomeroy opened for business Richard Bowen’s wife Mary Ann, was waiting anxiously to discover how the new enterprise had fared. Her worst fears seemed confirmed when Richard finally returned home and confessed that during the entire day, he had sold only one piece of timber for sixpence. Nevertheless, he refused to be downcast, proclaiming confidently, “it will be better tomorrow”.
For the financial year 2021/2022, Bowens/Timbertruss sold over $500 million of timber, building materials, hardware and prefabrication products. At the same time, recently, the company has opened a new branch at Warragul and a new business in Melton. I did a bit of a Mary Ann and ‘waited anxiously to discover how each new enterprise had fared’. That I was nervous about the opening day of branches 17 and 18 cannot compare to how anxious Mary Ann (and Richard) had to be with No 1!
“For the financial year 2021/2022, Bowens/Timbertruss sold over $500 million of timber, building materials, hardware and prefabrication products. “
Plenty of businesses have had the same sort of sales growth in 30 years (more or less) than we have had over our 125 years, but there is more to it than that, isn’t there? Building sales is important but building the infrastructure, the people and our reputation are the bigger parts of the overall game plan. My greatest satisfaction is exactly what I witnessed only yesterday – enthusiastic, hardworking and happy young people at our North Melbourne branch.
“Building sales is important but building the infrastructure, the people and our reputation are the bigger parts of the overall game plan.”
North Melbourne – where the business started, and where Richard Bowen found equal enjoyment in his team of 1894! That’s what I love today … that Richard’s great grandson is maintaining exactly what Richard created so many years ago. Leadership by example continuing through John, Andrew Bowen and another great grandson, board member and director, Peter Hart.
In the 17 years since I stepped down as managing director, and John Bowen took over, the business has grown exponentially in sales, in management efficiency and expertise. A great decision by me to retire! Mine and John’s attention to finding and retaining the best people to run our branches, our Prefab plants, our Distribution Centre and our Support Office continues. My part will continue to be a ‘watching brief’ with some emphasis on our people – their wellbeing, their engagement with the company and their fellow employees. Respect for one and all is our creed and has been for the last 128 years.
The last 28 years has seen the demise of branches at South Melbourne, Rosebud and Bundoora – experiments that didn’t work – but success stories with Epping, Brunswick, Pakenham, Port Melbourne, Geelong, Laverton, Phillip Island and Shepparton, all trading well as at October 2022. Add Melton Timber & Hardware and Warragul which started trading in October – plus Cheltenham, that will open February 2023. The period under the leadership of John Bowen has seen Bowen & Pomeroy move from a marginal business to one that has established itself as the leading Independent Timber, Hardware and Prefab business in Victoria – In prefab, maybe Australia!
Unlike our first 100 years, in the last 25+ years, John Bowen, the Lead Team and the Board of Management/Directors have certainly ‘upped the ante’ with a better planned and professional approach to the demands and risks involved in building the business. More thorough planning including building excellent operational teams before launching a new branch or manufacturing facility. Lessons had to be learnt by the failures of the past through both poor branch selections and preparations, and our inability to successfully launch new businesses with a prefabricated door system (1998) and windows/door manufacturing operation (2009).
“Unlike our first 100 years, in the last 25+ years, John Bowen, the Lead Team and the Board of Management/Directors have certainly ‘upped the ante’ with a better planned and professional approach to the demands and risks involved in building the business.”
However, John’s initiative with the Timbertruss purchase in 2011 was momentous. The difference here was a business that was the best in Australia and managed by two very competent people who have ‘lived’ the business since it’s inception. Consolidating five leased sites onto our own 12-hectare site at Corio and building a world class facility has been the ‘icing on the cake‘.
The Bowens Timber and Timbertruss teams are the best in the country and are allowing us to grow profitable new stores and ‘re-invent’ some of the old. I would include in this professional approach the growth of our e-Commence division under Andy Bowen and his team – a ‘different’ approach to selling our basic building materials but giving great support to our 18 bricks and mortar outlets.
The current company management structure has a quality Lead Team that has allowed the accelerated growth of the business in recent years. This structure is a far cry from the structure in my time and a necessary progression from the day Richard Bowen sold one piece of timber for sixpence!