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Here’s a snapshot of what tools mean to a tradie. I recently moved from Eden Terrace on the cusp of Auckland’s CBD. At the time, “apartment frenzy” was in full swing. There were two sky cranes in my street and lots of burly blokes wearing high viz and hard hats.
It’s now early evening and the utes have left. I open my front door to the urgent stab of my door buzzer and standing before me is the unlikely sight of a rugged young man – large enough to pack the front row of a scrum but with tears streaming down his face.
He was obviously distraught and, while sniffing and blinking back more tears, asked me if I’d seen anyone near his van still parked outside my house.
He went on to explain that he had driven up from the Waikato for his first day working in the big smoke and, having left most of his gear in his van, someone had stolen all his tools.
“Those tools are my life bro’.” I couldn’t help him, but felt like saying: “Welcome to Auckland, bro.”
NO EXCEPTIONS, IT’S GROWTH ALL ROUND
I spoke to a dozen players in this category and all bar one reported consistent, strong or positive growth.
The lone player who said that growth was “static” confessed to putting very little effort into tools which was less than 10% of his product portfolio. The maxim, “you only get out what you put in,” holds true.
I start our round-up with AHM’s Lorraine Els, who says, matter-of-factly: “Yes, sales are definitely growing because if you’ve got more SKUs on shelves you’re growing volume.”
Lorraine puts new growth partly down to new product: “In the last 12 months, we’ve launched the Workpro branded tool range, primarily through Farm Source.
“That’s over 100 SKUs and it’s performing really well. And we’re working with other leading retailers like Mitre 10, Bunnings and PlaceMakers to extend that range nationwide.”
Accent Tools’ Andrew Way is candid as he puts his company’s growth as “better than we expected”.
“Our main focus over the past six months has been the transition to help our dealers move on from the Hitachi brand to the HiKOKI brand.
“Overall growth has been great, better than we anticipated, and the feedback from the market has been pretty positive.”
And, as Saint-Gobain’s Paul Holland puts it: “Growth is positive, very positive. Again it’s driven by new product and consistent service to make sure we maintain and grow our ranging.”
Ben Adams from Easy Access and its Ox Tools brand is practically jubilant: “Ox Tools is a relatively new brand to New Zealand. We play more in that hardware channel with the likes of Mitre 10, Carters, ITM and a lot of independents. We’re getting a lot of new business so growth is really strong.
“We got on board with Mitre 10 only in the last eight months and we’re getting a lot of growth from them.”
Tool man extraordinaire Rob Lawson at Simpson Strong-Tie says: “Things are going very well. Exceptional in fact. Year on year we’re, enjoying better growth and that’s partly due to the market turning to screw systems over nails.”
Makita’s Jamie Teague tells me: “We’ve experienced pretty consistent growth over the last few years. That growth is continuing and after sales service is a big part of that and definitely new products as people start to understand the width of our range.”
Likewise, Kevin Donovan from Sutton Tools is enjoying “continued growth” – and not just from local merchants and retailers.
As a local manufacturer a lot of Sutton Tools’ growth is coming from exports. As Kevin tells me: “I’ve just come back from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. We’re doing millions of dollars in exports up there and that’s still looking strong.”
TAKING IT ON THE ROAD
Roadshows have always been a big part of the marketing budget, but this year, I would argue, they’re bigger and more important (to most) than ever before.
How our tool players run their roadshows, either on their own or with merchant co-op, differs, as I discover.
Take Paul Holland and Saint-Gobain: “We prefer to participate in our customers’ trade shows and exhibitions. That tends to be our focus rather than running our own roadshow.”
At the extreme end of this scale and standing on its own two feet, or more to the point its own 16-wheel rig, is Makita and Jamie Teague, who rather aptly was driving at the time we spoke with his team, in convoy, from Nelson to Christchurch.
Makita’s Ahead of the Game Roadshow was on the road for 28 days, from Auckland on the 1st of May and all points south culminating on the 28th of May in Dunedin.
Jamie assures me: “We’re doing this totally alone. Completely independent of any reseller. This is an innovation roadshow so we’re out there showing our new products direct to end users.
“We don’t talk about direction and strategy or partnering with a particular retailer. It’s simply showing our brand and our innovation.
“I’ve also been following the responses that come back from those that attended and it’s glowing.”
Part of this will be down to the brand’s special roadshow promotion – just take a photo next to the Makita truck, post it on Facebook and win a big prize of Makita kit at each venue.
When I ask about numbers, he tells me that hundreds are showing up at every event, every day, to get their hands on the new kit. Opening at 7am and staying open until 6pm, many tradies call in, before, during and after work.
“We got over 500 attendees in Tauranga and we’re expecting even more in Christchurch,” he says.
Hands-on is as important in tools as it ever was. Indeed, as Bosch’s Troy Scragg puts it: “It’s imperative that people touch the product and see the new innovation and see why someone has put their heart and soul into bringing it to market.”
Bosch too has been pounding the pavement: “We’ve been doing roadshows constantly.
“In February and March we did 51 events throughout the country and they weren’t all the same. There were 14 different roadshows – that’s an enormous investment in time and effort.
“Our second half of the year will actually be busier. We’re trying to customise to our resellers. We’re launching to the customer but we’re also launching to the end user.”
WHAT ABOUT THE MERCHANTS?
Getting to the end user isn’t just a supplier thing.
Bruce Ramsey is a BDM at McVicar ITM in Christchurch. I ask him from a merchant’s perspective what sort of importance he puts on expos or promotions.
“The ITM Mighty Hardware Sale is enormous for us,” he says.
“We promote heavily over a two-month period and we invite quality brands to join us.
“Toolware Sales were a huge part of the Mighty Hardware Sale, not only setting up the tools ranges and offering special discounts, they bought their car simulator with them.
“That was enormously popular – six car simulators were set up and tradies got to ‘race’ around the Bathurst track. The fastest time wins.
“And of course it’s an industry where everyone thinks they fish well, they play rugby well and they’re better drivers.
“So to get into a simulator where they can prove their prowess to their mates, it’s a mammoth draw!
“We also had the pleasure, you could say, of feeding them a big ‘builder’s breakfast’. And then there were spot prizes and obviously there was then suppliers were there with their stands.”
INNOVATION IS POWERING THE MARKET
To Andrew Way at Accent Tools, innovation is battery-powered: “The massive step forward HiKOKI has been moving to a whole new level of cordless platform which is what we call in our Multi Volt platform.
“That’s where the learning curve has been the greatest because it’s turned the whole industry on its head.
“HiKOKI has lifted the game compared to anything else that’s out there.
“The fundamental change is that pre first of October last year 18 Volt cordless tools were considered the benchmark across all trade brands.
“Day One of HiKOKI, we introduced Multi Volt which is basically an entire new line of tools exactly the same physical size as the 18 Volt. But the 36 Volt means the durability and the performance of the tool just goes through the roof.”
During a recent visit to Bosch, Country Manager Troy Scragg is also well able to show innovation.
“In five years, probably 70% of our portfolio will be available with a cordless option”
“How’s this for innovation,” says he says excitedly. “This is how we take a Bosch e-bike and turn it into a pair of pruners. If you’re familiar with our bikes, they still give you the sensation of riding, but as you pedal they compensate by pushing power through the wheel.
“The pruner does the same thing. If say you’re cutting through a thick twig – it just takes over and compensates for your strength (or in my case lack of it).”
At this point, I’m handed the pruners and a piece of dowel almost as thick as a broom handle. It cuts the dowel effortlessly but it still feels like I’m doing the work. Now I know what it feels like to be Bionic Man.
Bosch’s new tech is also in the new 12 Volt battery. Unlike other brands who have increased their voltage – e.g. 36 and 54 Volt batteries – Bosch has cunningly increased its amp hours (AH) so, as Troy Scragg puts it: “There’s more capacity and longer life in the same-sized battery.”
We’re asked for now not to mention the new products we saw during our visit, but we certainly will closer to market release…
MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A CATEGORY
I spoke to Lewis Whitta from Manukau PowerTool Shop and asked what drove their sales and were they seasonal?
Sales are “pretty consistent throughout the year,” he explains, “but that pre-Christmas rush is the biggest time. That’s when there are bonuses and Christmas paychecks and there’s a lot of self-gifting going on.”
What about brands – are his tradies like butterflies or are they loyal?
“Our tradies are brand loyal, partly due to the battery,” he explains, following up with an example: “We’re running a Makita promotion right now where you buy any two 18V outdoor skins and they throw in two free 5AH batteries. Once you get the battery, you’re hooked into buying more skins.”
Lewis goes on to say that the 18V battery still drives the market but tradies are typical alpha males (just look at what they drive!) and think bigger is best.
“Even if the new tech 18V is just as powerful,” he says, “there’s a lot of interest and sales going to Milwaukee’s 54V battery. Again it’s driven by promotions. It’s Milwaukee’s intent to be completely cordless by 2020.”
“Completely cordless”? Is this ultimately the way things are heading?
“No,” says Andrew Way, who explains: “There are still many reasons for certain industries to remain with corded tools.
“If you’re workshop-based, say using an angle grinder in an engineering workshop for example, it is still more efficient to have access to electricity and mains power. If you’re stationary it still makes more sense to run off electricity or even pneumatic air.
“But anybody with a degree of portability will go cordless. In five years, probably 70% of our portfolio will be available with a cordless option.”
Big toys or no, the tool section of any merchant or retailer is always one of the biggest drawcards.
Even if you went in to just replace a houseplant that you’d knocked over, no-one (certainly no male) can resist lingering over the tools.
Right now, possibly more than at any other point in its history, tools are bringing more new products, more innovation and, in some cases, completely new power platforms to the market.
Tool Time has truly arrived!
It’s all tied up!
You’ll be wrapped with Makita’s DTR180 18V Cordless Brushless Rebar Tying Tool and its incredible runtime of 6,400 ties per charge.
With a tying speed of 0.8 seconds per tie and Extreme Protection Technology (XPT) for added safety, this versatile beast is compatible with both 18V & 14.4V LXT batteries.
Tying strength can be adjusted in six stages, according to the condition of tying material, tying up to two D16 rebars.
The tie wire reel delivers 120 tiers and can be replaced quickly and simply by opening the reel cover.
The power of social media
Social media is all about peer-to-peer, friends recommending their favourite brands on social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
As an illustration of its far-reaching power, the recent Makita Roadshow for example was completely driven off social media, primarily its Facebook page.
As Jamie Teague tells it: “Not a single dollar was spent on above-the-line advertising.”
The Makita roadshow was followed by a staggering 53,412 people and at least 10% of that base actually attended the events.
The power tool brands are attracting literally hundreds of thousands of followers and the real payback is that when those followers tag a post to others, it becomes quickly exponential.
For Accent Tools and Andrew Way with a brand (HiKOKI) that has only existed in the marketplace for six or seven months, social media was “incredibly important”.
“The feedback so far has been phenomenal and we’ve had huge exposure on social media through partnerships that we’ve established and promoted,” he says.
“So our relationship with Emirates Team New Zealand for example is a massive part of what we’re doing.
“That’s a lot of credibility we gain as people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the new brand name but see that Team New Zealand choose to use HiKOKI power tools to hopefully retain the America’s Cup.
“There’s a huge amount of support that we’re part of that trust relationship.”
It’s built to pass closer inspection
The ECKO HAMMAHAND Weatherboard Nailing solution can install nails for ECOPLY bracing, tile & slate underlay, soffit, cavity batten, fencing, decking, weatherboard, HomeRAB & RAB Board (6 & 9mm), and also a greater range of James Hardie products.
After testing with James Hardie’s HomeRAB and RAB Board range, the ECKO HAMMAHAND is now listed in James Hardie’s technical literature as a suitable tool for installation of their range including bracing elements.
Not only is it easier to install using gun nails, with its orange coloured heads it’s easier to identify for inspectors too.