EJ Merrick – 4WD Ute & Extras Coffs Harbour

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EJ, tell us how you came to call the Coffs Coast home?

I met Karen in London in 1983 (now my wife) and we moved back to a Melbourne winter out of the London winter. I had two brothers living here in Coffs at the time, and I suggested if anything came up job wise, we would be keen to get out of the cold. So, when Ron, my brother, phoned me and said how about we go into business and start a convenience store in Woolgoolga, I said that sounded great! But I just had two questions: “What is a convenience store, and where the hell is Woolgoolga?”

Starting the business was hard work. Twelve – 14 hour days were standard and being a new start-up, we did whatever we could to make the seven to seven store grow. Karen turned 21 in our first year of business, and we realised we liked to work for ourselves and that we loved Woolgoolga. So, we never left!

Your business 4WD Ute & Extras is a mecca for lovers of all things 4WD. Share with us what this business provides its customers?

We are the ARB stockists in the Coffs Harbour region. With ARB being the market leader in all things 4WD. It has allowed us to cover everything for the tourer, family and tradie to set up their vehicle to enjoy this amazing country.

We have a range of maps and books that take people on a discovery tour of our region too.

Our fitting workshop is second to none and allows us to customise jobs to suit a customer’s needs. And our accessory fitting team are qualified in fitting, mechanical, auto electrical and panel and welding. They’re the best around!

We really take pride in helping our customers find the best solutions for their vehicles and needs, which is probably why we are still here in business and loving it some 14 years on!

You’ve been in small business for years; what are your tips to continued success? 

Business is pretty basic when you boil it down. To be successful, you need to have: products/services that there is a need for; a profit margin to cover your costs; and give the best service you can to customers and enjoy it.

We have found that there is strength in diversity, and by that we mean that the Coffs region is a smaller population and we have collected a stable of products that has helped us to cover all aspects of the 4WD industry and not miss a sale.

4WD & UTE EXTRAS is our sixth business over our business owner journey, and customer service and quality products are the key to continuing success.

In a predominantly retail based business, tell us how you managed to create a good and consistent customer experience?

The experience we provide for our customers starts from the moment the customer pulls up outside our store. We have a display outside the store, a rooftop tent display, toolboxes, canopies and more in the under-awning area and then 360 sqm of a new air-conditioned showroom, showcasing every product that is available for your ute, SUV and 4WD.

Understanding our products and how they benefit the customer comes through product knowledge and team training and foremost by being passionate about your business. We also like to have a bit of fun too!

These days with so much competition online and otherwise, how do you stay ahead and appeal to your customer base to keep them coming back?

You are right about the online competition, and that keeps us working on providing the best service and provision of exclusive products, like the ARB product range.

What has changed with online sales is that there is no “touch and feel” that a retail store gives the customer, and we provide that with our comprehensive store displays and product knowledge – which we believe gives us an advantage over a mouse click.

Plus, we fit what we sell to the customer’s vehicle, so we know it works!

It is the fact we have local knowledge of 4WDing in our region, and it’s our passion for this industry that keeps us in touch with our customers.

In saying that, we are continuing to grow our online presence and social media to provide our customers an up to date platform to view our products and services.

Also, being in partnership with my brother, Tim, and my wife, Karen, is amazing! And we all still get on! But seriously, always having an owner in the shop at all times means we can do deals and make decisions on the run, so the customer always gets the best outcome.

What would you say are the biggest keys to your success?

It’s about picking the trends, taking a risk by having new and innovative products on display and for sale. It wasn’t that long ago the 4WD/SUV new car sales were 22% of all new car sales; this is now up over 45%, or nearly half a million sales each year.

We are part of our peak industry body organisations and really enjoy offering the latest and best products and services on the market to our customers.

But it really is our staff, our people, who make it all possible. It is a serious business that we are in, but we enjoy what we do and understand that work is only a small part of our life.

Good leadership is critical in any business; how do you approach this in your business?

We have recently completed part of the Emotional Intelligence Leadership course, which was supplied and delivered by Kerry Hall from the ITTA Academy.

This training follows our commitment to personal and business development. It allows us to be more open to other ideas and opinions, and it also continues to remind us all of each other’s feelings and goals and that this is our one and only life and to make the most of it.

We are also very organised. We follow our procedures and systems; we know where we are going and why! This is crucial to any business, to keep it running efficiently and effectively.

How do you keep yourself motivated? 

We have had continued growth since we set this business up in December 2003, and growth is important, but achieving a great outcome for our customer each day is motivation enough. Plus, we love business.

We are very lucky to live in such an amazing, clean, natural environment, knowing that you can go for 4WDing, swimming, surfing … Well, it’s just not all about work. We love it!

Lastly, what do you get up to in your spare time on the Coffs Coast?

I have been involved in setting up the Woolgoolga Community Regional Gardens, with an amazing group of people. It has been a wonderful experience engaging with our local community and creating a space that is there for everyone to use.

Thanks EJ!

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