The driving force behind a 20-year strong business
Not many people know the ins and outs of the wardrobe industry as well as Pam Stephenson. Having worked as a wardrobe sales rep for more than a decade prior to buying an established wardrobe business with her husband Tim, Pam knew she had the experience and the connections to make it work. The couples’ sons, Warren and Troy joined them in the business shortly after the acquisition and they have grown the business steadily and organically over the past 20 years from a one-man operation to a company with a staff of 40, a manufacturing facility in Ourimbah and two showrooms, one on the Central Coast and the other in Newcastle. While Warren has ventured out of the business to become a builder, the company remains a family business through and through. Troy is the company’s sales manager, Tim heads the manufacturing and installation side of the business, Pam’s sister in-law is a sales rep and their grandson is an installer. While major decisions are always discussed, Pam is undeniably the driving force behind the engine of the business.
Pam worked as a wardrobe sales rep in Sydney for eight years before moving to the Central Coast to try something new. She started a restaurant but found it wasn’t for her and decided to move back into the industry she knew. After spreading the word that she was back, Pam instantly received three job offers and accepted a position with a wardrobe company on the Central Coast. Tim, Warren and Troy also secured positions with the same company. Before long, it dawned on Pam that perhaps the change she had been looking for was to run her own wardrobe business. “In the end I just didn’t like what was happening in the industry,” she reflected. “I’m a person who sells on my integrity and I felt I couldn’t do that in the position I held.” That was the day the Stephenson’s decided to branch out on their own. Pam ran into a colleague who ran his own wardrobe business on the Coast and half in jest, suggested he sell her his business. That evening, they struck a deal. “We had intended to call our own business ‘Majestic Wardrobes’”, said Pam. “But I liked the existing name, ‘Affordable Wardrobes’ and it already had a structure in place that I knew I could work with and build up.”
As word on the Central Coast spread about the Stephenson’s superior service and product range, they began to employ staff to keep up with the demand. Before long they had outgrown their first premises in Fountaindale and decided to build on the site they still occupy today at Ourimbah. Other than marketing their services in the Yellow Pages, creating glossy brochures and a good website, Pam said they have never had to advertise and virtually all business has been the result of word of mouth referral. “We always ask people how they found us and it still gives me a buzz when they tell me a friend told them how good we were.”
The company grew steadily year on year. Even the GFC had no impact on the business, as they found more people were renovating at the time, which served them well. Affordable Wardrobes’ client base is split 75% retail and 25% commercial. This was a strategic decision after “being burnt” in the early days. Pam began assessing the possibility of diversifying their product base about six years ago. “We tried adding kitchen manufacturing to our core products but found it took up too much space in our factory,” she said. “We lost a lot of money in the process but recovered well.” Not long afterwards Pam was approached to buy a local blind, shutter and awning business. As fate would have it, the business was called ‘Affordable Blinds’. It was the perfect fit, not only because of the name, but also because it fit the model of offering the final elements to be installed in a new home or renovation. “Our business is still 80% wardrobes and shower screens but customers appreciate that we offer the other products as well,” said Pam, whose strategy of always staying a step ahead of the competition has served the company well over the years.