Category round-up: The hand & power tools market

By Terry Herbert March 11, 2016 Hand & Power Tools

Who blinked? Here we are, already at the tail of Q1 2016 and the juggernaut construction industry shows no sign of letting up. Terry Herbert reports.

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.

In the tools market, most suppliers we spoke with can barely keep up with new products and new innovations coming to the market and being eagerly snapped up by this avaricious industry hungry for new efficiencies. In other sectors however the news is not so positive.

For a start, let’s look at the big picture. In his Economic Overview, Westpac Chief Economist, Dominick Stephens, gave our 2015 economy a solid B Report Card: “The New Zealand economy hummed along quite nicely. That’s mainly because New Zealand dodged the feared El Niño drought. But we also saw very impressive growth in tourism and Auckland construction.”

Stephens went on to summarise his 2016 quarterly economic overview (www.Westpac.co.nz/QEOfebruary2016/): “Benign weather, low oil prices, surging tourism and a burgeoning construction pipeline have improved the outlook for the domestic economy over the next year. However, lower dairy earnings and the eventual wind-down of the Canterbury rebuild are likely to cap the pace of growth.”

 

"There is so much development happening. It’s an extremely busy time bringing this new technology to market. It’s roaring ahead"

FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS

By first, we mean most of the news in the tools market is good. Very good. When we caught up with Accent ToolsAndrew Way and asked him about new Hitachi products coming to market, he confessed: “We’ve got so many new products, it’s hard to keep up!”

Continuing in the same vein, he says: “In a real positive light there is so much development happening. It’s an extremely busy time bringing this new technology to market. It’s roaring ahead.

“Hitachi is releasing a plethora of really powerful new cordless innovations. As far as drilling torque it will be 136 NM (Newton Metres) and an 18V brushless drill. We’ve just halved our charge time and effectively doubled the storage. From zero, that’s a full charge in 38 minutes.

“Our mains powered tools are now enjoying the same benefits as cordless, which are brushless motors, giving a lot more performance and flexibility for the user. That’s a big thing that Hitachi has really pushed forward on. We now have six new ground-up design products in that line-up. They are all running a brushless motor that provides so many benefits for the end user as far as durability and performance.

“One of the benefits, for example, is that demolition and construction tools are often used off electric generators with voltage fluctuations and voltage spikes that have traditionally wrecked power tools. Also on construction sites, power tools are often used on the end of long extension power leads and that creates a voltage drop. This power drop is negated with the new brushless motors so they’re not affected by generator fluctuations as much.”

 

HAND TOOLS GET A LEG UP TOO

BAHCO SNA E’s newly appointed Country Manager, Craig Wymer, describes his baptism of fire as “hectic”.

“I’ve only recently returned from touring our European factories. We have three factories in Spain manufacturing screw drivers, adjustable wrenches and pliers. I went to our Bramley factory in the UK, which makes band saws and I toured the hand saw factory in Sweden.

“We’ve got plenty of new products coming on stream and they’re all driven by new technologies and design. We have a new screwdriver range, a whole new hand saw range, extra digging tools and some new tool boxes. These won’t be arriving until after May, with the bulk in the second half of the year.

“The teeth design has changed on the saws to make them a deeper, faster cut. They’ve all got a new handle which is more comfortable for the user and of course they’re all still made in Sweden to the highest quality standards.”

How is the market? “This year has started better than 2015. While I was away and since I’ve been back the guys are struggling to keep up with the orders. Getting all the products out the door on time is a real challenge, especially without internet, but we’re coping.

“I know there are a lot of forward orders coming through the pipeline, so I’m predicting a great year. Our business is split two thirds big box hardware and one third specialist onsellers for markets like wine and horticulture. It’s a healthy mix. When these sectors do well, we do well.”

 

“It’s a credit to the big boxes for keeping up good relationships with all the suppliers. They haven’t put up demarcation lines between retail and trade”

LOOK WHO’S STICKING TO HIS GUNS

Someone who’s doing well by sticking to the hardware channel, construction and the trade builder is Acme Supplies. Jonathan Skelton explains: “It’s all about bringing everything together. To explain, we’ve got our Rapid range of fixing products which is glue, the glue gun, the tacker and the staples, the rivets and the riveter. With Rapid it’s about brand continuity, making sure everything looks the same.

“Our markets in hardware are the trade and the ‘serious DIYer’ who we see as a step up from a typical DIYer”, explains Skelton. “The trade builder is definitely our biggest market. For us that’s Placemakers, Carters and the ITMs. For Bunnings and Mitre 10 we cater for the ‘serious DIY’. That’s where we play in that market.”

Skelton’s market outlook? “2016 will be another strong year for Acme and it’s a credit to the big boxes for keeping up good relationships with all the suppliers. They haven’t put up demarcation lines between retail and trade, which tends to happen in Australia where they’ve never been strong in trade.

“The Bunnings model is different in New Zealand, here they’re following the Fletchers example. PlaceMakers has been the big driver for vertical market integration and it’s working.”

 

WORLD FAMOUS IN NEW ZEALAND

One supplier who doesn’t have to travel to Europe to tour the factory is Patience & Nicholson’s Marketing Manager, Danielle Keogh. The factory is located in Kaiapoi, on the outskirts of Christchurch, home to New Zealand’s only drill bit manufacturing base.

But Patience & Nicholson has not been without its own trials, in fact only a locust invasion of Biblical proportions is missing in their list of recent catastrophes.

Keogh explains: “We had a fire just before Christmas and we’re just back online and working when we get rocked with another quake (a magnitude 5.7 that resulted in liquefaction and the Sumner cliffs crashing into the sea).

“The fire definitely impacted on production, but no-one was hurt. I must say, post the big quake, the emergency services respond really quickly. As for the latest quake, every one of our people is doing fine and they’re all back at work. Things definitely moved around. It shows the resilience of our staff. We’ve got 120 staff in Christchurch and I’m really proud of every one of them.”

Proud as anything too to be local: “When I say we make the drill bits here, our engineers actually designed and built the machines that make our drill bits, so that’s ground floor up innovation. Evacut is our biggest brand that we make here. We also make a range of impact drill bits under our Sutton Tools brand. We’re just rolling those out now.

“We supply everyone that needs a drill bit. This year our focus will continue to be on the trade and DIY markets. Our other focus will be on export. We’ll be growing our exports to Australia and Asia. We’ve been manufacturing here for over 50 years and long term we’d like to be here for another 50 years. It’s the quality of our products that make us competitive and I don’t see that changing.”

 

SO WHO’S TOUGHING IT OUT?

On the subject of change, we spoke to a couple of suppliers who definitely want to see their fortunes rise. For differing reasons both wished to remain anonymous.

Anonymous One: “Frankly, the last 18 months has been pretty quiet. I’ve just done a run through Ashburton and Timaru. The rural towns down here are big dairy areas and with the Fonterra situation there’s not a great deal of optimism that’s for sure.

“We’re not tied up in hardware, as such, because we don’t have DIY tools. We supply workshops and engineering. When the dairy farmers don’t get the income, they fix their old cars and their old tools. In our market all the normal stuff like servicing and replacing bearings is doing well because farmers have to keep their existing machinery going.

“New hand tools and power tools are ‘nice-to-have’ second tier purchases. It’s cyclic, the dairy prices will come back, but right now sales are flat. And right on the 5th anniversary of the big quake we get another major shakeup. There’s a lot of mental stress in this part of the world.”

In another part of the world we cross the ditch to Australia where, off the back of slowing Chinese demand for iron ore, mining giant BHP has just recorded a record half year loss of AU$7.84 billion. It’s here that we speak to Anonymous Two, who is predicting a challenging time for the year ahead.

He tells us, “We had a little bit of growth in 2015 but it should have been more. It’s really frustrating because we work remotely with a New Zealand distributor. They’re not exclusive so there’s always a conflict.

“It’s like having a girlfriend who you know is sleeping around and that’s not satisfying. We tried hard to find a distributor who would handle our range of tools exclusively. It’s a challenging situation.

“We sell into all the big boxes in New Zealand through our distributor. Here in Australia, Masters were a big customer, accounting for nearly 10% of our business. When they closed their doors that hurt.”

 

“There’s still a place for electric, like your big drop saws and table saws, but cordless is definitely growing"

THE POWER BRANDS GO CORDLESS

From the pain, back to the gain, we speak with Jamie Teague, National Sales Manager at Makita NZ, who reports a very positive 2015. “We had a great year last year,” he says jubilantly, “and 2016 is shaping up to be just as good. We’ve got a lot of new releases coming up in the next 6 months, especially in cordless.

“Even professionals in construction are using our cordless tools as they get more powerful and the run times get longer. Those guys have got compliance costs which makes cordless more attractive too.

“We’ve got a new unique system where we add two of our 18V batteries onto one tool and that converts it to 36V. Typically in the past you’d have to buy a whole new charger platform which got expensive.

“Now, if you’ve already got 18V Makita batteries, you can use those in a series without investing in a whole new battery platform. You’ll find this on tools like our new 185mm cordless circular saws. It’s on the rotary hammer and a new mitre saw. We’ve got a whole new range of outdoor power garden tools that take the 18V x 2 system too.”

The take-up of cordless is “right across the board,” says Teague. “There’s still a place for electric, like your big drop saws and table saws, but cordless is definitely growing. Take the roofing industry for example – they’re almost completely cordless.”

Stanley Black & Decker’s Damian Firth is just as upbeat about going cordless in 2016. He tells us: “We’re just or are about to launch a lot of products like our new cordless DeWalt 16 gauge finishing nailer. The power garden doesn’t get overlooked either with a new handheld cordless blower, line trimmer and blower vac.”

Here we shut down our supplier probing and turn to the end user for a reality check.

 

CORDLESS – SUPPLIER SPIN OR REALITY?

In our quest to present our readers with a balanced report and to confirm what our optimistic suppliers are telling us about cordless on building sites, we had to put the question to builders.

We spoke with GJ Gardner’s hands-on builder and super busy Marlborough franchise owner Mike Wightwick and asked if cordless power tools on his sites were a growing trend? “Absolutely! There is no question about that. Skilsaws, electric planers, drills, sabre saws and gib screw guns as well – they’re all cordless. There’s a whole lot more but those are the main ones we use every day.”

What’s the major advantage, we ask, that led you to purchase more cordless tools?

Wightwick responds without hesitation: “Not having power leads all over the site. A safe site is an efficient, productive site. We comply totally with the Health & Safety Act. Obviously this increases our production costs and downtime while we’re waiting for scaffolding in particular to go up. The gain of a much safer work site outweighs the downtime so I fully endorse it.”

So, are the new safety requirements restricting productivity? “No, and again it’s because of the new technologies like the new cordless tools that keep the efficiencies up there.”

How is 2016 shaping up? “Even better than last year. And that’s for GJ’s around the whole country. For us in Marlborough it’s a lot busier. We’ve had a land shortage for many years and new land is coming on stream now. Combine that with really low interest rates and it’s a great environment to sell homes. Business is booming. We’ve been waiting a really, really long time for this.”

For those who backed the “construction horse” over the dairy cow, canny or fortunate suppliers can look forward to a bright and positive year ahead.

Builders and DIY can expect an exciting plethora of new tools and new innovations – and they’ll be mostly cordless.

For other suppliers, they will need to be innovative about how they market their tools to a belt-tightening end user and wait for those dairy prices to come back.

And, TPPA agreements notwithstanding, there is a growing global demand for grass-fed dairy, beef and lamb, so good times and sales will return – just not yet.


ARE TOOLS SAFE ON-SITE?

Working with tools on site is a risky business, but things are definitely looking up for construction workers.

Worksafe NZ for example is reporting a remarkable lowering of fatalities and serious accidents – from 77 fatalities in 2010 to only 35 in 2015 (http://www.business.govt.nz/worksafe).

To find out what is required to make sites safer we put the question to New Zealand’s biggest construction operation.

Fletcher Construction Business Development Manager, Peter Cowey responds: “We found the competency of power tool operators was variable.

“To address this we developed a graduated power tool competency record, whereby operators assess themselves.

“In regard to hand held grinder incidents, we found several could have been prevented if the grinder involved had more up-to-date safety features and the operator had improved competency. This resulted in an industry-wide improvement for grinder safety.”

Fletcher’s deployed a wide range of activities and requirements on its sites to prevent and limit exposure to faulty tools. As well as the on-site safety poster pictured, these include:

  • RCD (Residual Current Detection) from electrical supply.
  • 3-monthly electrical testing of tools and the power leads supplying them.
  • Visual inspection by operators.
  • An increasing use of tools with slip clutches to prevent hand injuries should a drill jam.
  • The use of handyman type range power tools is not recommended on sites.
  • Using dust extraction at source when drilling, cutting or grinding with the use of vacuum systems.
  • Elevating leads or positioning them out of the way to reduce damage from foot and vehicle damage.

 


TOOL TIME 110 YEARS AGO

Your beloved NZ Hardware Journal, in its present iteration, has been faithfully serving and informing our industry for over 30 years. We’ve only recently discovered however that another Hardware magazine existed, 78 years before the mag you’re reading was even a twinkle in Bud Little’s eye.

The one we’re talking about – “Hardware: A magazine of interest to farmers, miners, back-block settlers and tradesmen in city or country” – was first published in 1906 by hardware retailer George Pirrit Junior modelled on the US Sears & Roebuck mail order model.

Hardware was 30 pages of magazine followed and bound with 160 pages of tool catalogue. “Farmers and tradesmen will be gratified to see the stock of work-saving and money-making implements displayed in this catalogue. In view of the progress of agricultural and construction development I commend the desirability of up-to-date equipment to those who wish to remain in the forefront of this great industry.”

Magazines also ask questions. The following excerpt was taken from the Hardware magazine’s September 1909 issue: “Walking around the Auckland Railway Station the other day and then looking at the site of the new Queen Street Post Office, these questions came to my mind: Would the people of Auckland 20 years hence consider this the best site for a railway station? Are we looking far enough ahead? Should we be building a circular service that puts an end to the tedious reversing of trains? Is building for present needs only the best economy? The only answer was NO to all these questions.”

What were the big issues in 1906?

  • Increased tariffs for Steamship, Railway & Parcels Post.
  • The fall in prices of primary produce.
  • A rise in new home builds.
  • Opening up of Maori Lands for settlement.

The images that appear here have been sent to us courtesy of the Pirrit family by Robert Johnston, George Jr’s great grandson. Anyone wanting to know more about the Hardware industry’s early days can purchase a 198 page book “The Kirkintilloch Pirrits – 150 Years in New Zealand” by emailing Robert at pirrit150@dataquest.co.nz

 


HITACHI CORDLESS IS QUICK SMART

Hitachi tells us its new Rapid Smart Charger outperforms, outlasts and charges faster than any other power tool charger in the market. It will charge a 6.0Ah battery in 38 minutes and power up a 5.0Ah battery in just 32 minutes. Equipped with a high tech fan-cooling system, it works smarter and more intelligently than other chargers, ensuring safe operation and long service life.

It comes packed with new features like a built in high output USB socket for recharging phones or tablets, a high visibility colour LED status Bar that can be seen across the site or workshop, audible ‘fully charged’ alert and significantly, the Rapid Smart Charger doesn’t require any downtime between charging batteries, saving valuable time.

The new Rapid Charger is fully backwards compatible – able to recharge all 18V slide batteries from 1.5Ah right through to the new 6.0Ah Lithium Advanced series.

Hitachi’s new DBL2 18V Cordless Drill series is its most advanced to date with industry leading performance and safety features such as new Reactive Force Control (RFC) that protects the operator in the event of a jam.

With 136NM torque output, it also features a robust, extra heavy duty aluminium gear-case, and a brushless motor for more power, performance, and durability.

The new impact drill is available in impact or non-impact styles, as complete kits, combo kits, and as part of Hitachi’s Bare Tool program. Powered by Hitachi’s new 6.0Ah Lithium Advanced batteries, and mated to the new Rapid Smart Charger, tradesmen will be powering ahead with this new Hitachi technology.

 


PATIENCE & NICHOLSON: PROUDLY KEEPING IT KIWI

One Kiwi company who seems to be flying high (see elsewhere in this feature for more details) is Christchurch-based Patience & Nicholson, New Zealand’s only drill bit manufacturer.

Pictured here are new additions to their most popular Evacut range: the Evacut E-Series Metric (green case) and Imperial (blue case) Drill Sets. Like all Evacut drill bits they are precision quality drill bits, designed to drill through wood, metal and plastic and made from quality HSS ( Hardened Stainless Steel).The tough storage case is made from durable ABS plastic to protect your drills too.

Another quality drill range that’s proudly manufactured in Kaiapoi, Christchurch is the Sutton Tools Impact Supabit compact 5-piece drill set (in sizes: 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 mm) also made from HSS.

 

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download button below.

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