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Right now, New Zealand is just about the best place to be on this blue marble. As Michael Gordon, Westpac Acting Chief Economist, tells us in February 2017: “Despite challenging international trade conditions, uncertainty from a Trump presidency and protracted Brexit negotiations, the New Zealand economy in 2017 is shaping up well.”
Why the positivity? Gordon puts it down to: “The broadening nature of our growth. While the tourism and construction sectors continue to chug along, dairy prices have improved substantially. Net migration will continue its record run creating a shortfall of 35,000 dwellings needed this year, mostly in Auckland.”
For NZ Hardware Journal readers and the tools market in particular – it’s going to be another busy year!
WHAT’S POWERING NEW PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT?
One man among several who’s gearing up for another hectic year is Makita’s Jamie Teague who reports: “2016 was very positive with wide distribution across the big boxes and the specialists. I’m predicting really solid growth for the whole year ahead. We’ve got the Wellington earthquake strengthening, Christchurch and Auckland of course. It’s powering along!
“Look across all the tools brands,” Teague expounds. “The brands that consistently succeed are the ones that invest in the market. Our strength is service, speed to market and the volume of stock we carry. We’re market led. We listen to the market and ask, ‘What does the end user and our dealers want? It’s about meeting marketing needs.”
When I ask him if “market-led” is just market spin, Jamie Teague is quick to counter: “No! We literally listen to our market. I drive around the country regularly and spend time with specialist end users and I feed their input back. Every subsidiary sends that feedback on a monthly basis to R&D and that forms the basis for all our product development.”
Yours truly and readers will just have to wait for the next set of new Makita products until 11 May in Auckland, when Makita will roll out its first 2017 road show, with another to follow in Christchurch in June.
Hitachi is another “power brand” that Accent Tools’ Andrew Way describes as “Busy as hell! Sales are continuing at the same strong pace. We’re just carrying on flat out!”
When I ask about customers influencing product innovation, his response is: “We’re being forced by end users into offering more customised models. More models for niche industries. We’ve developed an extensive customisation programme in New Zealand. We have the ability to supply a specific kit. Not a new tool from the ground up but a dealer can phone us and we can supply that specific configuration.”
WHAT ABOUT THE NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK?
As a relatively new player to tools with the OX brand, Easy Access Marketing Manager, Astrid Fisher, tells us, “We’re going really well. We’ve really gained traction in the last 12 months. Over the 2015 to 2016 period OX Tools grew almost 70%!
“OX is an Australian made company built on innovation and quality. Sales are coming from some of the larger stores, but the real upswing of strong sales is from those independent specialist trade stores. Those trade professionals are taking notice of our products. We don’t expect to see any decline over the next 12 months. For us the market is just powering on.”
JinJun Hua of Hua Tools doesn’t really have any option but to listen to his market and innovate. Starting from the ground floor just over four years ago he is “always striving to do more”.
His Tusk tools brand was created and designed for the New Zealand market. “The feedback and advice I get from customers has really helped me.”
“We’re struggling to get into some of the bigger chains because we don’t have the total range – yet! But that’s why we are developing a greater range of products. Cutting, grinding and drilling – that’s what we do now but it’s up to me, for example, to develop auger bits and more drilling products.”
JinJun is working hard, but he’s not complaining: “Business has continued to grow. I’m predicting 20-30% sales growth this year. Our reputation for high end quality is getting noticed. We’re finally getting into some of the Mitre 10 MEGAs by selling direct to the JV owners and we’re doing very well with specialists like the PowerTool Shop.”
THE CORD HAS DEFINITELY NOT BEEN CUT
And who better to cross to and ask about the power tools market and the professional end users than Simon Jones from Manukau’s PowerTool Shop.
When I speak with him his enthusiasm is infectious as he jubilantly sums up the market: “We absolutely smashed it! Makita absolutely smashed it. DeWalt absolutely smashed it. Bosch are back too.
“They were a bit quiet this time last year. I think they were focused on their green DIY range so a bit of shine went off the Bosch Blue Professional range, but it’s back with a new promotion. It’s trusted German technology – you can’t go wrong.”
2016 for Simon Jones was all about brushless and cordless. Like Oscar Wilde, who famously quipped that “Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated”, corded is far from dead.
“This year,” Jones says adamantly, “we’re seeing a big return to corded. Construction companies are not going to keep buying chargers and batteries for 20 guys. As a rough guide a corded drill will cost about half a cordless. That’s a huge outlay if you’re running a big team.”
Seeking more substantiation around corded we turn back to Accent Tools’ Andrew Way, who confirms: “When our dealers analyse tool sales, corded tools are still doing good volumes.”
Still, he adds: “Cordless is definitely sexier and we’re fortunate to have our one-size-runs-all BFL1860 lithium battery with its 1500 recharge cycles. That’s our legendary ‘Corolla engine’. But, for Hitachi, it’s about keeping the balance between corded and cordless. That’s the reality and it’s going to be that way for a long time.”
And commercial construction is where it’s at right now with projects like Sky City, the underground railway and the airport. “Every second one of our contractors is down at the airport,” says Simon Jones, adding: “By the end of March it’s going to kick into an even higher gear!”
What is Simon Jones’ view of the various brands? “We’re also noticing Hitachi are putting out new corded brushless. No brushes. No maintenance. DeWalt is a real highlight. We’ve been selling their corded and cordless in strong numbers: drills, saws, rotary hammers and a new range of grinders. Again, it’s all corded.
“Makita perform because of what they do in the market place. They really push it with their road shows, service and support. DeWalt have pushed it in technology. I think they’re really flying at the moment.”
GOING BOLDLY WHERE NO CORDLESS HAS GONE BEFORE
To find out more about DeWalt’s technology, I speak with Stanley Black & Decker’s Nick Armiger, who is definitely up for the year ahead.
“What’s exciting about working for Stanley Black & Decker,” he explains, “is our stable of heritage brands. Just walk up to a consumer and ask, ‘What’s in your tool box?’ and they’ll say, ‘A Stanley knife.’ We’re in a major growth phase with all our brands and it’s going to stay that way for the next few years.”
“We’re being forced by end users into offering more customised models. More models for niche industries”
With the recent acquisition of Irwin and Lenox hand tools and power tools accessories (purchased from Newell Brands for US$1.95 billion) Nick Armiger’s “major growth phase” could be considered a major understatement as Stanley Black & Decker positions itself to be the largest tool manufacturer in the world.
Returning to DeWalt brand we learn: “DeWalt has for the last four years at least, had double- digit growth year on year. There’s just such huge loyalty for the brand. And that growth has come from true innovation. It’s cordless for us, particularly with the new FlexVolt cordless range. It’s taking cordless where only power could go before. The tradesman is not held back by where there’s a main on site. He’s got that flexibility now.”
Armiger and team are also “especially excited” by their new cordless 12-inch slide saw which “has the power of a corded”. “A builder can be up on the second level in a residential build and make those fast cuts safely. Before, someone would have to cut the timber near the power main and chuck it up to the next level.”
Another brand doing “exceptionally well” for Stanley Black & Decker is the Stanley FatMax power tools range recently launched to Mitre 10 for the trade and serious DIYers and “already producing strong results”.
There’s further optimism around not just the brands but also Stanley Black & Decker’s people. Says Nick Armiger: “We’ll be hiring key personnel partly because of the expanded Lenox and Irwin ranges but also adding extra service and support to our key customers.”
Plus he adds, when those other new brands get ‘bolted on’ to the rest of the company’s offering, “We’re definitely going to be a big if not the biggest player in the NZ tool market. It’s been a hell of a ride and it’s set to be bigger.”
WHAT DEFINES A POWER BRAND?
Nick Armiger describes his power brands as “heritage brands” For a more comprehensive definition, I turn to Toolware Sales with no less than 72 brands on the firm’s website!
Aaron Bell explains: “Our power brands are genuine, actual, ground floor up, long established brands with history and innovation to back them.”
Bell also reports that sales have been “really good”. “Our programme to re- merchandise stores, increasing range and selection, has seen improvement for the big merchant chains and us. We’ve seen real growth with plumbing specialist stores too.”
With 6,000 SKUs and counting, I ask Bell which of his power brands are his best performers.
I hear a long intake of breath, “Best performers ... hmmmm... well there’s Estwing, MarshallTown, Zircon, G-Man, Johnson, Morse, Midwest” ... at this point Bell starts laughing... and I realise I could be listening for quite some time.
WHAT ABOUT HAND TOOLS AND ACCESSORIES?
Hand tools and tools accessories are power brands too! One such success story is SNA Europe and BAHCO where Craig Wymer, fresh from some serious face-time with his visiting Pacific Regional Manager reports strong sales and the fact his boss left the country with a “smile on his face”.
Wymer tells us his handsaws are both his biggest range and the jewel in his tool box. “We sell to all the big boxes, some independents and even the TradeZones and BuildLink group. By sales, 2016 was a better year than previous years. Our new merchandising and stands are all up and looking great. We’re in place for another good year.”
THERE’S A BLOOD RED CIRCLE, COME ON RISE UP
We can’t finish our tools round-up without reference to Christchurch where Bruce Springsteen and his E Street band brought a packed stadium to tears as he sang My City of Ruins to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the quake.
Since then, as Danielle Bristowe from Sutton Tools reminded me, we’ve had more quakes, a major flood and raging fires that ringed the city like Springsteen’s “blood red circle”.
Sutton Tools is “enormously proud” to be New Zealand’s only drill manufacturer and celebrating its first centenary to boot. “So yes, you could say we are ‘an established, trusted power brand’ and we’ve been innovating for all that time. The Made in NZ badge really does help,” she adds.
Despite, or perhaps because of these setbacks, Sutton Tools continues to do well. “2016 for us was nothing short of spectacular,” says Danielle Bristowe. It speaks volumes for the resilience and attitude of our engineers and team in Christchurch. We’ve also just taken over the Bondhus range of power tools accessories. That’s exciting. It’s going to be a very positive year.”
Even in the high volume DIY area, like an owner who drives a modestly priced Series One BMW, without the technology and performance behind the bigger models to anchor the brand, those sales won’t follow.
Quality will always win out, but not without the other three “Ps” to reinforce the Product: Price, Promotion and, most vital to the longevity of a power brand, People.
Get ready for the ride, people!
Bahco takes handsaws to the NXT Generation
Take 400 independent trade professionals rigorously testing Bahco’s latest cutting and manufacturing technology and the result is a superior range of NXT Generation handsaws. Manufactured in Sweden, Bahco’s Superior, ProfCut and PrizeCut saws are setting new global standards in cutting performance. They’re available in a large selection of types, toothing and tooth pitch, with versions for coarse, medium, fine, precision and special cutting. Non-fading colour coding, makes it easy to select the right handsaw: yellow for coarse cut, green for medium, red for fine and blue for special cut. All three saws provide the choice of grip professionals prefer: five finger power grip, pistol grip for exact cutting, upside down grip and two-handed grip when extra pressure is needed.
OX Tools, as strong as the proverbial
At Easy Access they like to say: “OX Tools are built up to a standard not down to a price.” What we do know is that Australian-based OX developed their range of powerful, dynamic and advanced tools using the best of American, German and other European technology and that reputation for quality and performance is growing amongst Kiwi professionals. From claw hammers to finishing trowels there’s an OX for the job.
Versatile Tusk makes the cut
Designed right here in New Zealand by Hua Tools is the versatile Tusk Sabre Saw.
With a choice of 3 blades: wood, metal and wood & metal, these blades are perfect for reciprocating saw users wanting the perfect cut.
With these blades you’ll be able to power through just about anything including: timber, aluminium, steel, stainless steel, nails in timber, MDF, PVC and fibreglass.
Sutton Tools turns 100 in style
Australians love centuries and this year Sutton Tools, a 100% Australian family-owned manufacturing icon, celebrates 100 years of manufacturing achievement.
Renowned for its high-quality power tool accessories and cutting tools, its wide range of specialised industrial applications span precision engineering, automotive, aviation, energy, medical, mining and more. Sutton also caters for trade professionals and the DIY market with jigsaw blades; masonry, metal or wood drills, holesaws or grinding tools.
Since 1994 Sutton has also had strong links with manufacturing in New Zealand with the ownership of the Kaiapoi manufacturing plant.
To round out the celebrations, Sutton Tools have a new high quality brand and product range to add to their portfolio – Bondhus. Made in Minnesota USA, Bondhus backs every tool with an unconditional lifetime warranty.