In the Face of Adversity, a Strategy of Change

Dahlsens Building Centres

Since the 1877 gold rush, the family owned and operated company of Dahlsens Building Centres has provided building materials to consumers in Australia. That year, Danish Immigrant J C Dahlsen saw the advantages of shipping as a means of transport, especially between Bairnsdale, Victoria and the town of Lakes Entrance. The flagship of the Dahlsen fleet was the JCD, named after its owner John Christian Dahlsen. Another member of the fleet was the SS Gippsland.

In the 1920s, Dahlsens began engaging in contract building in Bairnsdale and throughout East Gippsland. Between the First and Second World Wars, the company was responsible for the construction and renovation of numerous houses, as the demand for housing had soared following the return of soldiers to civilian life.

Repositioning, clearly, is not new to the company, and the business evolved continually throughout the 1900s. In the 1970s, the company sold a large part of its portfolio to focus on its original core business of providing timber and hardware and in 1974, Dahlsens purchased a site in Sale, Victoria. In the 1990s, an attempt to expand into Melbourne by opening three stores in the Metropolitan Region was seen as premature and in 2000, Dahlsens elected to sell those stores to another family owned chain of hardware stores.

By the year 2000, Dahlsens Building Centres were to be found in thirteen cities and towns throughout regional Victoria.

The evolution doesn’t end there. In 2006, Cairns Hardware Company, a chain of hardware stores in north Queensland was added to the J C Dahlsens portfolio. In addition, Dahlsens returned to the Melbourne area with the acquisition of three Hudsons stores in 2007. In November 2008, Dahlsens acquired the Nortruss Group based in Darwin; this latter group comprises three hardware stores and frame manufacturing capabilities.

Earlier this year, Dahlsens sold a few of its retail building centres to Bunnings, another major national hardware chain, after 2012 brought a round of closures and layoffs. Increased competition in the DIY market and retail sector had made these centres no longer viable. Mr Dahlsen also cites a reduction in the number of housing starts as another challenge (and one I think we’re all familiar with) faced by the company in recent years. “This is a cyclical industry that we are in, and we must face these challenges the best we can,” Mr Dahlsen wisely acknowledges. Dahlsens plans to exclusively focus on its building trade business for the time being.

Geoff Dahlsen is the fifth generation Dahlsen in charge of the company. Appointed CEO in 2005, Mr Dahlsen has overseen the expansion and changes that the company has undertaken whilst maintaining the core business of supplying building materials to the trades.

“The traditional model has been one of offering many things to customers all the way from retail to large project builders.” But, explains Mr Dahlsen, the decision was made to streamline and focus on the company’s core market which is the trades business. “We are in the process of divesting from our retail sales and focusing on a lower cost business and accommodating the needs of the builder,” he says. “It’s a big goal to take, and many have wondered what we are doing, but it is something that we must do… With focusing on our core business, it will help us become stronger and better equipped to continue our business in the future.”

Even with the sale of the retail centres, Dahlsens remains a leading building materials and hardware supplier to the building trades industry. The company has eighteen stores and six manufacturing plants around metropolitan Melbourne, regional Victoria and southern New South Wales to effectively serve the needs of the trades business.

These facilities provide everything from tools and hardware, to account managers to crane truck delivery, and everything in between. Dahlsens also maintains a series of truss and frame manufacturing plants throughout Victoria and New South Wales, and these plants focus on delivering made-to-order prefabricated roof trusses, wall frames, and flooring systems straight to the job site using their fleet of crane equipped trucks.

Another service Dahlsens offers is an in-house team to look after the specific needs of the commercial building sector. Mr Dahlsen says that the manufacturing division has been highly successful and is looking at further customising and tailoring its service to the individual natures of the many builders with which it works.

Mr Dahlsen believes that no matter what the division, providing a “high level of service, treating people the way we try to treat ourselves, and having a mutually beneficial work relationship,” is what has brought the company this far and will carry it successfully into the future. “Everything we do has to be oriented around what works for our customer and addressing their different needs,” he says.

Future projects for the company will include creating an online trading portal to enable trade customers to make online transactions which will make it easier to get access to information, place orders and quotes, check account balances, and trade when it suits them as well as manage invoices and frequent orders. This will assist customers who do not have direct access to Dahlsens stores and improve the efficiency of those who do.

Ultimately, Mr Dahlsen feels that while the company is going through difficult times, the changes that are being made will help the company in the long-run. “Sometimes you have to bury your pride and think in the long term about how you conduct your business and how critical decisions in the present will affect what happens in the future and the long term.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

October 23, 2021, 1:27 PM AEDT