Oldfields resurgence

Oldfields is Australia’s leading and oldest painting equipment supplier, having been in business since 1916. Since those early days, it has branched out into sheds and greenhouses, and advanced scaffolding equipment. The company has been listed with the Australian Stock Exchange since 1960. Across these three divisions, Oldfields now offers a wide range of stock items, to a customer base that covers professional traders, DIYers, and the wider construction industry.

Managing director Chris Giles says that’s a healthy base for any business, but the company has faced a tough business environment over the past few years. It was unable to negotiate shelving space in Bunnings, leaving the brand in the hands of independent retailers only. “Not having distribution in Bunnings has limited our reach and growth, and reduced our brand recognition,” Giles told the Hardware Journal.

Now a deal to include Oldfields stock in the Woolworths-owned Masters warehouse stores has breathed new life in to the heritage name. And Giles says that’s just the ticket needed to build up to a big celebration for the group’s 100th anniversary in 2016.

Competition is good for all

Giles says the entry of Masters into the Australian market is a positive development for the wider industry, even if it means tougher competition for both retailers and brands. “Any form of competition is great; it keeps everyone sharp and on their toes,” he says.

“Masters has a great concept and will no doubt be a strong competitor. I have no doubt that as they increase the number of stores they will start to increase the level of advertising and promotion which will grow the overall market size as they encourage Australians to take up DIY projects “This will have a flow-on effect for independent hardware retailers and those consumers wanting to support their local communities.”

He is confident that that competition will also be a boon for Oldfields, with its emphasis on high-quality, good-value products that meet specific consumer needs. “Having a wide range with independent hardware retailers and Masters means that our products are now more accessible to the consumer, and consumers will once again reacquaint themselves with the Oldfields brand which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016,” Giles says.

There are also the challenges presented by declining housing and renovation markets in Australia. As prices fall, homeowners are typically less inclined to invest the extra money, time and labour on home improvement tasks, including painting.

But Giles says Oldfields is well-placed to weather that storm also, and is already taking advantage of slight growth in the Australian painting market. Painting is a good Australian past-time and we don’t see that changing,” he points out.

More importantly, he says Oldfields will be playing to its strengths, while also working on developing or abandoning its weaker product lines. “To succeed and survive as a company we need to be the best at what we do. We plan to maintain our quality, values and continue to lead our product categories while growing into other sectors with innovation and product development,” he said. In particular, he says Oldfields will look closely at its range and develop more offerings that make life easier for consumers.

“People these days are time-poor, and if we develop products that make DIY jobs a bit easier, then we will have succeeded,” he says, noting that there are also some products that are no longer relevant to consumers and should be phased out.

“A number of products are not as useful to our consumers as they once were, and so we will be rationalising our current range, but introducing a number of new products such as the Oldfields Advanced Synthetic brush range, a Project brush range, the Oldfields protection mat, and mini-greenhouses.” Giles says product innovation is a true team effort at all levels of the Oldfields family. “We realise we are not big enough to have our own research and development team, so we find products from overseas that we believe fill an unmet need,” he explains.

“We then go through a filtering process to ensure that products we are considering to launch will add value to the consumer and our customers. Our marketing department then engages consumers, painters, sales staff, and retailers, to test the concept. If the research passes our benchmarks, we will then go out and find quality manufacturers to produce the product for us.

“Oldfields stands for quality so we invest a lot of time into product testing and ensuring high standards are maintained.” The company has also placed an emphasis on environmentally-friendly product ranges and packaging. Many industries are being forced into this area because of consumer demands and preferences. For Oldfields, it is an idea that has been around a long time.

“Oldfields looks for any opportunity to use recycled materials or reduce wastage and our impact on the environment,” Giles said. The company has been part of the Australian Packaging Covenant – which urges manufacturers and packaging suppliers to be smarter and more sustainable in their packaging designs – for several years.

“We have (also) developed action plans to reduce the amount of plastic and packaging used on our products which is being incorporated in our recent packaging updates,” Giles notes. The products themselves also have a sustainability focus. “We have launched an eco-friendly brush and roller range, and will be looking at ways to integrate environmentally friendlier materials into our standard range, such as recycled bamboo wood and plastic.” Other priorities for this new phase of the Oldfields story include implementing what Giles describes as the classic consumer products philosophy of the “the three Ds”.

“This is all about creating ‘desire’, winning at the ‘decision point’, and ‘delighting’ our customers and consumers with the product offering and service,” he says. In line with this action plan, the company is placing a new emphasis on marketing and branding. “We are improving the presentation of the products, which we are confident will help the consumer decide on (us) when selecting their product, and of course ensuring the highest level of quality is maintained so that the consumer is delighted with their purchase,” Giles adds.

Launching in cyberspace

Oldfields is also looking to fight the competition over the world wide web. Giles admits the company has been slow to take up the marketing potential of the internet and social networking opportunities in particular, but says things are changing rapidly on that front. The company has just updated its website, to better display its brand, products, and customer information. The revamped portal also features DIY project tips and advice, as well as options for online ordering.

“There is no doubt we have been slow to adapt to this medium and we will be placing a strong emphasis in this area to increase our brand recognition and trust,” says Giles. The next step is to build a separate sales website and online ordering facility for Oldfields’ storage division. This aims to bring not just Oldfields into the internet age, but also its dealers – many of whom have not previously had the resources available for online sales and ordering.

Personal history

Giles joined Oldfields in September 2010, initially as managing director of the scaffolding division. He is a CPA-qualified accountant and came on board with 25 years of experience in the consumer packaged goods industry. Those years were mostly in finance roles, working for companies such as Goodman Fielder, National Foods, and US multinational The Clorox Company (behind the Chux and Glad brands in Australia).

Prior to his move into Oldfields, Giles was vice president and general manager of Asia for Clorox, a promotion from a previous role as finance director for its entire Asia-Pacific business. He says those last years in particular will be of great value in all of his work with Oldfields. “Clorox is a great marketing company, one of the most highly respected in the US, and I intend to take as much of the knowledge I gained during my 10 years with them and use it to great effect at Oldfields,” he says.

ChrisGiles