Saturday, 1 January 2000

David Wilson - owner of Tasmanian Hotel and Club Supplies

David Wilson

Owner Tasmanian Hotel and Club Supplies (THCS) Nov 2007

You might not instantly think of David as being someone with their finger on the pulse of the hospitality world in Tasmania but you’d be wrong in that opinion if you thought he didn’t.

As someone who has been in the industry for 27 years, he and his 18 staff daily have the most intimate of dealings with pretty well every kind of business where they have a need for catering and hospitality equipment. We’re talking nursing homes, hospitals, cafes, bars, restaurants, kiosks, school tuck shops, hotels, schools, motels, resorts, bottle shops, takeaways, community service organisations, tourism operations, catering companies, hospitality training organisations, fish punts. You name it, and you’ll find Hotel & Club have provided them with products over the years.

Following on from that, David obviously has seen many people and businesses come and go – some successfully, some most unsuccessfully.

When someone feels the overwhelming desire to start their own hospitality-related business or buy an existing one, or renovate their premises, they go into Hotel & Club and chat to one of the reps or staff there.

The minute they open their mouth, an experienced staff member will recognize pretty well what they’re dealing with – it could be one of the high flyers wanting to make a big ‘statementy’ splash and smack all their customers in the face with pizzazz the minute they enter the business, or it might be someone on an extremely limited budget trying to equip their business with minimal outlay. Or it might be someone anal who will only accept the colour ‘puce’ serviettes for their cafĂ© tables, and makes a HUGE fuss over it, not prepared to compromise one iota, even though NO manufacturer makes a serviette of that tone and despite you having shown them the catalogues of every wholesaler in the country to prove same!

Ah yes – you really do get all types there, and as it’s another of those customer service industries, you really DO have to try hard to be as obliging and polite as you possibly can be, even though you really might want to smack your current customer over the head with the frying pan they’re being so critical of, or the champagne glass they don’t like the stem shape of!

(At this stage I actually must disclose that I worked at Hotel and Club part time for 3 years, so I have combined my actual experiences there with information David provided me with.)

David actually trained as a Quantity Surveyor, but decided to buy the THCS business when offered it 27 years ago. It originally only retailed loo paper and hand towels, comprised the one shop in Launceston and had a staff of 3 including David. They now have two sites – the original one in Brisbane Street, Launceston, and their Hobart store at the top of Liverpool Street, and carry a range of 4000 separate products. They will also order in anything your little heart desires if they don’t carry it in stock.

Most of David’s staff have been there for ages – Tammy (manager of the Hobart store) 12 years; Tony (head storeman Hobart) 17 years; Maria (office manager Launceston) 12 years; Bill (head storeman Launceston) 25 years; Heath (sales Launceston) 16 years; Lindsay (stores Launceston) 18 years; Kaye (sales Hobart) 14 years. (If those year numbers are a bit inaccurate, just blame David’s failing memory!)

David travels between both outlets each week, so luckily gets to eat out frequently at both ends of the state, which is great because he and his wife love eating out and trying different food. He also likes to support places who have dealt with the company – it’s a mutual thing – “you buy from us so the least we can do is to eat at your place”. I like that polite way of doing business.

The biggest disaster for THCS was over the pilot strike time (was that late 80’s?). Obviously it hit Tassie very hard, with many of our smaller hospitality and tourism venues going under due to lack of customers. Naturally the flow-on effect meant that THCS didn’t receive custom either. Also the Robert Hoskins saga at that time hit THCS hard. Hoskins at the time planned and bought up big for his upcoming venture which was going to be the Sheraton in Launceston. The pilots strike occurred, the venture didn’t go ahead and THCS was left out of pocket for a ginormous amount, along with others.

I asked David what the worst thing about the business was – he claims it’s the smell of chefs when they come into the shop after a lunch time cooking, and reek of stale fish and chip odour! He says sometimes the smell is so strong the staff need to spray air freshener when chef has left the shop!

The THCS staff go a long way to accommodate their customers needs and wants – way more so than many government officials I have dealt with over a number of years.

It is nothing, during the Taste of Tasmania, for a staff member to get a call on their mobile while they’re at a BBQ on the weekend, with an urgent request (or demand) for more takeaway cups or serviettes for someones stand at the Taste. The staff member ALWAYS hops to it; legs it into the city warehouse, gets the required stock, zooms down to the Taste, circles the dock area for ¼ hour looking for parking, then delivers it, often receiving no thanks or acknowledgement.

David’s favourite restaurants: for consistency – Fee & Me; for great casual food in Launceston – Don’t Wanna Cook; Star of Siam; Pickled Evenings. David eats out at least twice a week.

I also asked David what differences he has noticed over the years in hospitality. He says that the attitudes are now much more different to the way they used to be. He says it’s not rough like it was years ago, and that the people are easier to get on with now – but maybe it’s because he too has mellowed!

Also he says that following some large financial losses they suffered as a result of bad debtors in the past, they have tightened up on their procedures meaning that those serial abusers of credit are now made way more accountable than previously.
A source of frustration for anyone in business is where another business owner declares themselves bankrupt, thus absolving themselves from any debt repayment to their suppliers, then starts up another business soon after, possibly within weeks of the previous business crashing.

David says the industry is now restructured too. There are more outlets owned by fewer people. For instance, we have Woollies who now own about 5 or 6 hotels; Coles with all their bottle shops; Federal with their properties – maybe 14?

This is good and bad. It’s bad in that if you fall out with one person (for whatever reason), you can loose lots of business.

David has enjoyed his time in the hospitality supply business but feels the time is coming when he needs to step down and leave the game to the next generation. Neither of his two grown up children are interested in continuing his great work with the company – so that leaves only one option for David. But whoever ultimately buys that business gets a really solid business with great staff, and industry credibility.