Where people love to shop
Business View Caribbean interviews Andrew Mackay, General Manager of Gorham’s Ltd, for our focus on the Construction Industry in Bermuda
Gorham’s Ltd has been a staple in the construction materials industry and a trusted name throughout Bermuda for more than 80 years. Their 40,000 square foot retail hardware center in Pembroke, Bermuda offers consumers and contractors everything from building supplies to home décor items and giftware. Living up to their tagline ‘Your One-Stop Saving Spot’, Gorham’s is a popular shopping destination for residents of the island.
The last two years have been no exception, even in the midst of pandemic related shutdowns and the growing popularity of online shopping. Gorham’s General Manager Andrew Mackay recounts, “Certainly, 2020 was an eye opener for everybody, in the fact that we all thought with COVID happening everybody would stop shopping. We thought that with the shutdowns, everybody would stop buying and the economy would just go completely south. But instead, people just completely changed their buying habits – going from live purchasing to virtual purchasing.”
When Gorham’s reopened to in-person shopping, the company was further surprised to see an increase in sales, as customers continued to shop both online and in the store. This unexpected purchasing surge led to supply chain disruptions, as Mackay describes,” It was almost like the wrench was thrown in there and that just disrupted everything. When the COVID situation started to get itself organized, and the vaccine came out and there was hope, everybody started shopping even more. The factories and manufacturing plants weren’t prepared for the huge increase that started coming through the pipelines. It threw everything out of out of whack. It’s something I don’t think anybody could have predicted at all.”
Challenged with supply issues, resourcefulness has been the key to success for the company over the past several months. Mackay explains, “At Gorham’s, because we deal with multiple co-ops, our ability to source from three different co-ops versus one was our advantage. The other challenge we had was there were limits on quantity. A perfect example would have been paper towels. Let’s say we wanted to order 144 rolls of paper towels, each co-op would have restrictions, so we would be able to buy our allotment from each of those and we’d be able to solve our need of 144.”
Long term relationships are another advantage when it comes to accessing certain products. Gorham’s relies on companies like Putnam Lumber and Weston Wood, who supply specialty and dimensional wood imports. Emphasizing the importance of reliable partnerships with trusted suppliers, Mackay reports, “We’ve had great relationships with both of them for 30 plus years now.”
The company imports 99% of their products, so significant warehousing capacity is critical to maintain inventory. Gorham’s 40,000 square foot facility fits the bill and includes a large warehouse, along with the retail store and a lumberyard. “We have a warehouse that can accommodate probably about two months of sales,” says Mackay. He adds that the company has always been very strategic about their ordering, keeping a supply on hand. “We basically buy 12, sell six, and then buy another 12. Just because the timeframe of getting a product is not one week, it’s usually two or three months from start to finish.” Additional supply delays have made wait times longer than usual, making the timing of seasonal inventory more difficult to control.
Gorham typically employs a staff of 75, but they had a temporary reduction of staff in 2020, when the store was only available to customers virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. Introducing an online shopping system became a priority during the pandemic. According to Mackay, “Online business for us hadn’t been a big thing at the time prior to COVID, but when COVID started ramping up, we did a mad rush to get as many products online as possible. We moved very quickly to put an online system in place.”
He reports that it wasn’t the greatest of virtual shopping experiences in the beginning, but it offered a solution at the time. Today, the system is constantly being improved and updated with new products, although many of Gorham’s customers still prefer the in-store experience. “We are always trying to improve the ecommerce side of it,” says Mackay. “It’s interesting, because online for us is not a big part of the business. I find people just like to come to the store to wander around, it’s almost like a social outing. People have been so isolated; they just want to get out and do something. We are constantly trying to come up with ideas to bring excitement to the retail side of things for our customers. I think our advantage is we have a very wide variety of products.”
Relying 100% on local customers, Gorham’s has been fortunate not to have the same issues many of Bermuda’s businesses have faced during the pandemic, especially those in the hospitality and tourism industry. “They had tons of restrictions, whereas the only restrictions we had are the number of people that were allowed to be in the store at any given point,” says McKay, adding, “We had the ability to turn people through the cash registers quickly, so we were able to keep the traffic flowing quite smoothly.”
Throughout 2021, the company has continued to offer promotions and events, although at a different scale than years before. Mackay admits, “We haven’t been able to do as big an event because there still are some restrictions with the number of people that you can have within a building, and there still is the nervousness of people being too close together. We usually have corporate nights for Christmas, where we do crazy deals and invite people in to shop and to have refreshments. We’re not doing any of that this year, just for the fear that there could be too many people within the store at any given time. This will probably hurt the Christmas sales in the short term, but it’s one of those risks you have to weigh against.” One of their tried and true means of attracting customers continues to be a marketing success – that being the regular distribution of Gorham’s flyers in the community, promoting products and sales items.
Moving forward, there are major plans on tap for the company, including a reorganization of the interior sales floor, and updated and improved product selections throughout the entire store. In the next three to five years, the goal is to completely revamp the store; to take it from a 2010 model to a 2025 model. “We want to completely upgrade everything, that’s the goal,” says Mackay.
Currently, solar panels cover 60% of Gorham’s roof and provide 70% of the power for the store. In the future, there is a possibility of adding more solar panels, once battery storage is more efficient, allowing for backup power storage. Mackay notes, “If we can store any extra solar, especially in the summer months, when the store is shut and the sun is still shining, we may look at that avenue.” In other green initiatives, the store already has LED lighting, and there are plans to update the air conditioning to a more efficient system during the upcoming renovation. Phase one of the project, which was started this year, was expanding the parking area by adding 60 bays and doubling the parking capacity for the store.
As Gorham’s, and the rest of the island looks to the future beyond COVID, Mackay shares, “We are very optimistic about how Bermuda will come out of the pandemic. I think a lot of people are going to learn from it. It’s going to be hard initially, but I hope as we come out of it, people will realize we don’t know what’s coming down the pipeline, so we should prepare. In a crazy way, this is a good lesson for people, just how vulnerable we are. I think we are going to come out of it smarter and wiser.”
One thing is certain, Gorham’s ability to innovate and adapt for whatever challenges come their way, speaks well to them maintaining their reputation as “Your one-stop saving spot”, perhaps for another 80 years.
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AT A GLANCE
What: Major hardware and building supplies store
Where: Pembroke, Bermuda
PUTNAM LUMBER & EXPORT COMPANY – www.putnamlumber.com
Putnam Lumber & Export Company is a highly experienced wholesale export distributor of quality Southern Yellow Pine lumber and plywood from the United States. Shipments are routed directly from the mills or our warehouses located in Alabama, Florida and Georgia via break bulk, flat rack, truck and container.