Super Centre

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-By David Barratt

Centre Com began as a computer hardware provider fourteen years ago with one retail location, but has since grown into one of Australia’s premier privately owned hardware providers, currently encompassing eight retail locations, a massive web presence, and plans for the construction of a series of “superstore” locations across the country. With over 70 million dollars in sales last year, big developments can be expected from the company.

Centre Com’s Narre Warren store is set to open by the end of the year, and with the success of its large scale superstore, Centre Com is set to see significant growth over the next few years, with an increase in physical retail space as well as many new employees to welcome to the fold.

Raymond Huang and his partner launched the company fourteen years ago, and quickly saw the franchising potential of the format. It wasn’t long before a handful of their close customers were offered the use of the Centre Com name and opened franchise locations of their own. Operating as a buying group with the new franchise owners allowed Centre Com to grow across the state in the days before large scale online commerce and marketing.

When discussing his business, Co-Founder Raymond Huang is particularly proud of his company’s commitment to providing excellent consumer support, the value of his employees, and the business’ continued growth and expansion within Australia and beyond.

Centre Com enjoys a varied customer base which ensures that the company sees stable sales performance throughout the year. “We have about 150 people and we have a mix of retail oriented stores, and now corporate users, the education sector, and government.” Centre Com does service the education and corporate markets heavily, but includes retail as a major focus, where the customer base is a mix of Mum and Dad shoppers as well as gamers. These groups represent the greatest percentage of the company’s business.

“In terms of custom built machines, sales have died down in the Mum and Dad market as they move towards our prebuilt machines – they don’t need a custom build,” says Raymond. Custom builds cater to gamers, who are very serious about their hardware and very particular, whether it’s the CPU cooler, right down to the type of ram.”

So, as a segment of the market moves toward the simple solutions offered by pre-built machines, a certain segment of the enthusiast market continues to grow, by as much as 30 per cent over the last few years. Gamers represent a significant market segment, so much so that Centre Com has created a web resource specifically for these enthusiastic customers. “Gamers enjoy their computers and they tend to bring their friends to the store to build or buy components. We’ve actually launched a website that caters directly to the gamer market.” Australia as a whole has a large gaming community which has grown significantly over the last two years, and the trend has led to an increase in the sales of high-end computer hardware.

“Having a different mix of customer,” says Raymond, “allows us not to rely on one specific area. Retail has seasons which dictate sales. Within education for example, business is booming in September.” Raymond recognises the importance of retail “seasons” and has worked to ensure that the company caters to the full spectrum of its customer base. “Our business is always very stable because of the mix of our customers, which we realised from the beginning. We said, ‘if we’re going to do good business, we need to cater to a diverse customer base.’ We’re looking for stable growth.”

In order to achieve this growth, Centre Com has invested heavily in market research and online marketing in order to understand how customers search online for the products in which they are interested and how best to get those customers into the physical retail space. Centre Com’s web team has grown from one member in the past, to seven more recently, representing major growth in this realm of the company’s marketing. “We invest a lot of money in web marketing and Google search results, and we’ve tripled our investment in the last two years. Online marketing is very important to us; we do sell products on the website, but our focus is online marketing for our physical retail sales. Online marketing has helped bring people into the doorstep.” Once inside the physical retail space, customers are won over by Centre Com’s helpful and knowledgeable employees.

Centre Com has found one new formula for growth and success in the form of “superstores” – centres with an incredible amount of space to showcase entire product lines from the largest tech companies in the business. Most of Centre Com’s current retail locations are about 100 square metres, while its new super centre stores will be as large as several thousand square metres.

“We normally have a very small store front of about 90 square metres,” says Raymond, “but we’ve opened the 500 square metre store front with only computer components. We found that the superstore format is the way to go, and our new stores will be 500 square metres or more.” Centre Com’s newest building, in fact, will include a large storefront as well as an extensive warehousing solution, and will provide about 5000 square metres of usable space for the company.

Customers appreciate the wide selection of products on display in the company super centres. “In our superstore, we actually have sections devoted to particular brand offerings such as Toshiba, HP, and Samsung. We work to carry all the related products by a particular company.” Of course, the product selection available at the super centres is just one of the benefits that customers enjoy. Having access to Centre Com’s unique team of sales support personnel – chosen for their enthusiasm and interest in what they do – is a huge draw and a significant value-add to the shopping experience.

“We are specialised in computers, and all our sales people are highly trained and interested in the products. Our sales people are different from the other guys.” The “other guys” Raymond refers to include the sales staff of some of Centre Com’s largest big box competitors, whose service and knowledge base often leave much to be desired by customers.

“We did field tests in other stores and found that salespeople weren’t necessary knowledgeable in the products they were selling. We work to make sure all our people have detailed information about the products and are able to offer the best service and support possible.”

And it is Centre Com’s employees and the company culture he has helped to shape that Raymond is most proud of. He describes the organisation as “open and supportive” of its employees, allowing them great flexibility and mobility within the company. Employees who show initiative or are looking for a change of pace are encouraged to gather experience in other roles within the company.

“Our employees need to be happy to come to work, and we talk to them every week to make sure they are. And they can come to me with anything they need to discuss. We make sure that the smallest complaint or issue is dealt with right away.”

Raymond encourages employees to express their opinions and voice their needs so that they are satisfied in their roles within the company and can offer customers the best possible service. “If I was just starting out, I would want to work in this kind of environment that I’ve created – I’d be happy to work for a company like this!”

Centre Com invests similar effort in understanding the buying behaviours of its customers, and its exceptional customer service has created a demand across Australia. As such, the company fully expects to offer a truly national experience in the near future. This growth may include locations in Queensland and New South Wales over the next few years, as well as other branches nationwide, and the business is gearing up to handle it. “We just implemented the SAP management software computer system, because our internal system software was not capable of larger scale operations. This new system will allow us to organise and grow. We plan to be a truly nationwide company, but we’ve had to make sure our internal systems are able to handle our growth.”

With his company’s new superstore locations opening this year, Raymond is excited about the future that he sees for Centre Com, including continued growth into new locations across Australia and the development of many new positions within the company.

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December 16, 2018, 6:42 AM AEDT