Any business that has survived since 1971 has been through its ups and downs, bank on the fact that we have made mistakes, but we have learned from these. The reason we are here now is that we know how to do this well, extremely well.
Hume Internationale retains the name of its founder David Hume. David and his family have a long history in the wall covering industry as paper hangers and wallpaper retailers dating back to David’s grandfather who started work as a hanger in 1898. Their first retail store, established in 1915 in Aberdeen St, Geelong West still bears the name of Rae Hume on a worn shop front facade. The Hume Internationale company was established by David in 1971 as Wal-rit Distributors and later incorporated in 1973 as Hume Internationale.
The business was then sold in 1976 to another industry pioneer: S.E. Hobson P/L, painting and decorating contractors with a heritage that dated back to the latter part of the 19th Century, who were also the largest Australian distributor of Berger Paints at that time. Their business was headquartered in Ballarat, Hume Internationale was located in Melbourne.
Under the leadership of S.E. Hobson the organisation extended David’s founding work and built a reputation for the import and wholesale of quality wall coverings in the retail market. A reputation that continues to resonate today.
The present owners who acquired the company in 1986 are part of the wider Hobson family and continue the formidable history in this industry. No one knows or understands the Australian Wall covering industry better.
Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are. Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
The wallpapering industry in Australia has been through tough times. The market shifted from decoration design trends to minimalist paint only walls and with it the industry struggled. There are not many companies that survive 40 years without evolving, least of all in difficult industry conditions. In tough times good companies survive and adapt.
As the wall covering industry has changed so has the company, we focused on the critical dimensions that matter:
- Size of the range. In the early days Hume had 30 international suppliers and over 200 wallpaper books. The range was wide but poorly serviced. Small orders sourced from many different countries meant high delivery costs with long lead times and expensive stockholdings and poor range flexibility.
- Too many suppliers. The relationships with suppliers were limited and as our business was spread across many different organisations it was hard to develop quality relationships focused on the right product for the Australian market.
- Inefficient operations. Dealing with many suppliers and even more supplier catalogues prevented us from working efficiently. Costs were high and the relative output low. The costs of servicing a broad range in an Australian market with a wide diverse geography were also high. We had to find other ways to service the market that were not so labour and cost intensive.
- Narrow market focus. The retail market was in decline, sales were falling dramatically and no-one wanted to invest, we had to look to other horizons to sustain the company.
The answers lay in a number of areas, as with most things there was no silver bullet.
- Range and Supplier rationalisation. We reduced the size of the range and handpicked the best suppliers in the world to work with. This ensures we only offer quality product, we know we can deliver. You will not see hundreds of Hume Wallpaper books, but when you do see them you will recognise them for their quality and fit with the Australian market.
- Efficient Flexible Operations. We eliminated anything that got in the way of an efficient flexible operation. We reduced staff, eliminated stockholdings and handpicked Agencies in each state to service customer needs. We stripped back the layers of staff between you and the senior management of the company, when you call Hume you now speak directly with the company principals or our handpicked agents in each state who are well known to the commercial and retail sectors. We now operate only one warehouse centrally located in Melbourne close to the airport and only stock essential items. We have no need to sell last seasons product at reduced prices, we simply don’t carry the stock. Our relationships with our suppliers allow us to air freight product efficiently through our European and US hubs.
- Range expansion. We established relationships with some of the top commercial suppliers in the world in the UK and USA and moved the company into the commercial market. We added upholstery and fabrics, sourced best in class wall repair products and developed a new market in kids nursery products through Stikarounds.
When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. Barbara Bloom