Small Beginnings

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-By Kristy Attard

Babies – how can something so small involve so much work? There is so much to think about and do, it’s enough to drive parents crazy – Is the nursery ready? We have to buy more bottles! Do we have enough nappies? Cloth or disposable? Preparing for a baby can be downright daunting, stressful and financially draining. Bubs Baby Shops aims to make the transition into parenthood a little easier. Bubs Baby Shops is one of Australia’s largest baby stores founded and owned by husband and wife team Guy and Meagan Hinze. “We’re enjoying what we do, we love our job, my wife and I – and we’re a strong company.”

“In the early days we didn’t even know what markups to put on products, there was no computer onsite, everything was hand written, it was very difficult,” reflects former police officer Mr Hinze. Together with his wife Megan who was a head teller at the Bank of Queensland, they opened their first store in March 2000 with their four-month-old Rhylee top of mind. One year later Mr Hinze left the police force to commit more fully to the demands of the growing business. “Our first store was 160 square metres. It was basically a tin shed but it was a very homely well presented store…” The size of the store, which had actual floor stock, was a competitive advantage. At the time, competitor stores on the Sunshine coast were small and customers could only view products from a catalogue.

With no budget for advertising, customer word of mouth was critical and helped build the business. Suddenly disaster struck and the situation was looking bleak. “In March 2002 just on our second birthday a fire began in the tenancy toilet which pretty much devastated our building and the adjoining tenancy,” says Mr Hinze. “I guess starting the business with only $24,000 in stock we originally only insured our stock and our business for $30,000. ” However, over the course of the two years the amount of stock had increased with lay-bys and reinvesting capital back into the business. “I think we burnt down around $120,000,” estimates Mr Hinze. “That was fairly difficult. I remember when my ex-sergeant knocked on the door at four or five in the morning to tell me that the business had burnt down. The first thing that went through my mind was the insurance because it was our second birthday and the insurance was due and I was looking at it and going ‘Oh it’s only $30,000 I must do something about that’. That was quite hard.” The blaze was a “big, defining moment” in the history of Bubs Baby Shops, and the couple had to make a tough decision.

Despite this major setback, Mr Hinze was not ready to return to the police force. “After working for years after hours and fulltime in the business I did have a good feeling about it. You know that second year we were on track to double our first year’s turnover. Albeit that I think the first year after I left the police service my tax return was $14,000 but we knew that there was a business there. It was something that we could do.” One month after the fire, the couple’s second child Ethan was born. “I think we owed wholesalers around the $45,000 mark plus customers the lay-bys that we were holding for them that had burnt down.” It was a tough time financially although Mr and Mrs Hinze decided to pay back whatever money they owed. “I paid wholesalers on the pretence that they must support us and get us reopened when I found a new location and our major suppliers did.”

There was significant media interest in the blaze. Mr Hinze is the grandson of Russ Hinze and brother to supermodel Kristy Hinze. Mr and Mrs Hinze made sure that they got the contact details of every reporter who wanted to do a story on the family business burning down, so they could do a follow up story of the reopening. Although Mr and Mrs Hinze could easily have filed for bankruptcy, they started the long process of getting back on their feet by salvaging what they could. “We still have the countertop from the fire; we have the bar fridge that was in our little lunch area from it. It was by no means an easy time with a lot of anxiety, a lot of tears and a lot of brick walls put in front of us by council zonings and the like as to where we wanted to go to… it doesn’t get much tougher than that. I’d say to myself, ‘If I can get through that part everything else would be a breeze.'”

A few months later, there was a grand reopening in a new location with stock provided on consignment or 60 day terms. Kristy Hinze had just broken through with her modelling career and was present on the opening day. Friends from the police force, fire service and local football club came to the reopening; “we really made the reopening a big deal. I could have never have paid for the amount of advertising that we got,” comments Mr Hinze. “We had radio stations there, the courier mail, local TV stations and it even made the Brisbane and the national 9 news so those things helped us get back on our feet really quickly. And even though we lost two years of hard work it was about six to eight months into reopening the business that we were pretty much back to where we left off when we burnt down.”

As parents, Mr and Mrs Hinze know firsthand how frustrating it is walking into a nursery store, needing advice on something, only to be met by store assistants who don’t know what they’re selling. When customers walk into any Bubs Baby Shop across the country, they receive an excellent level of service from staff. That means service with a smile and zero pressure to buy. “I recently rewrote the employee handbook and I actually said in there, ‘I still believe that the customer is always right,'” says Mr Hinze. “Most businesses that I visit fail to instil this into their staff and I believe that customer service is more talked about in advertising than it is instore.”

Customers can get very emotional when they are shopping for baby care items so it’s important that staff are well trained. After all, one of the hardest parts about being a parent to a baby is knowing what is right for them. “I think we’re the first in the industry to come up with a training programme. My wife and myself particularly don’t like sales people, I never have. I’ve always tried to train our staff to be that information booth in a shopping centre if you like, the person that can give unbiased advice and point people in the right direction.” Having no-pressure sales tactics helps create a relaxed atmosphere in the stores. Honesty is important; store assistants at Bubs Baby Shops tell customers the pros and cons of the products and never push a particular brand. Staff must possess excellent communication skills, a love of children and passion for what they do. “Success means loving what we do,” explains Mr Hinze, “and if I can have my managers and staff feel that way too then that’s definitely my definition of success, having an atmosphere where people love coming to work and they love their job. “

Bubs Baby Stores are spacious, well lit and welcoming. There is a wide range of products available that have been selected for their quality by an expert team. “Our focus with our stores, because we have access to pretty much every brand in the industry, is our package deals. With the package deals we can make sure that our prices are competitive and the customers are happy with the deal.” Mr Hinze dislikes corporate call-to-action ads and says customers don’t believe in them. Bubs Baby Shops is focussed on offering customers consistently good prices and package deals.

Bubs Baby Shops has a large presence at the annual Baby and Children Expo held in Brisbane. Bubs Baby Shops is working in collaboration with its major wholesalers to assist with their stands and vice versa. Maintaining solid relationships with suppliers is essential to the business. Mr Hinze says that attending the exhibition is a good learning experience.

“We began with very basic beginnings… every year that we earn more than $14,000 is a blessing,” comments Mr Hinze. “We’re quite happy with how our business is going and the direction it’s taking so we’re in it for a long time yet.”

The nursery industry has changed over the years; there is now alot of interest from private equities and investors. Traditionally it was the domain of small family businesses, many of which have now been sold off or merged. Continuing to expand the business and offer customers good value and service is a priority. Don’t miss out on the Bubs Baby Shops March birthday sale: “come in and get a real bargain.” Mr Hinze encourages customers to “come in as many times as they need to, which is quite often 10 or 12 times, and go away with a little more information every time.” Customers can trust Bubs Baby Shops to stock premium brands at competitive prices with friendly staff. “Come in and pay us a visit and hopefully we can put our money where our mouth is.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 3:55 PM AEDT