The power tools doctor

Store Name:
Centenary Power Tools

Store owners:
Jason Widt, Andrew Hargreaves

Buying Group:
CSS (Construction Supply Specialist)

Queensland store attracts loyal customers keeping alive the fading trade of tools repair.

It’s been more than two years since the 2010-2011 Queensland floods left a trail of destruction that affected 70 towns and over 200,000 people. In its dreadful wake, more than three-quarters of the state had been declared a disaster zone, while many businesses suffered extensive damage or economic loss. Situated in an outlying suburb of Brisbane, Centenary Power Tools was among the lucky ones that completely escaped the deluge’s wrath. Ironically, the catastrophe that imposed a protracted setback to many neighbouring businesses gave the tools specialist store its most profitable months on record.

Sounding almost apologetic for surviving the cruel twist of fate, Jason Widt, the store’s managing partner, relates how they had been spared a crisis due to their elevated position in Sumner Park, although three quarters of the industrial estate had been inundated.

“It’s hard to imagine what it was like for those affected – to see the fruits of your labour and hard work disappear overnight,” says Jason, adding that a good number of the companies that went under – including welding rental, shop fitting, mechanical and metal fabrication outfits – were those of clients and friends.

One good turn deserves another

In the aftermath, it was the camaraderie of the close-knitted industrial community that left a deep impression. “It was heartening to witness everyone jumping in and helping out as much as possible.”

On their part, Centenary Power Tools contributed critical expertise in the area of tools repair. Many of the industrial town’s residents were sending them tools damaged in the floods.

Still running off a generator as power to the work shed had been cut, the repairs team took on three times the normal workload to handle the sudden surge in waterlogged tools. The guys ended up repairing 1000 power tools in a week thereby setting a company record for turnaround speed. Complimenting his people for stepping to the fore when it counted the most, Jason describes the desperate situation:

“Many of the people were struggling to get back to work and needed their tools up and running. Fortunately we had highly skilled people that worked against immense time pressure to make sure they got their tools back in time.”

The company had to employ extra staff to cope with the sudden demand, yet extended the repairing service at near cost – or rather below, Jason reveals, if you include the additional staff wages.

For those who couldn’t wait for repairs, Jason and his business partner, Andrew Hargreaves, negotiated with suppliers to provide them new wares as cheaply as possible. “The suppliers were very supportive even bringing in extra stock to meet the shortfall.”

pro,otional
Promotional tie-ins with suppliers like Milwaukee have worked like a charm.
For all their altruistic intentions, the bosses of Centenary Power Tools still owe their record sales figures – for both sales and repairs – to the post-flood season. In the months following the tragedy, the company benefited from an insurance claim windfall as businesses sought to rebuild – and more importantly, retool. Many of those that were helped out by the tools specialist in their times of difficulty, have remained loyal customers.

“Although the situation was unfortunate, we made many new friends and customers. Most of them are back on their feet and they continue to come back to us.”

Rewinds and forward

Originally known as Armature Express Rewinds, the store has been operating in the same location for over 35 years, as a tools retail and repair outlet.

Because no one knew what an armature was, Jason explains, the name was dropped for that of the region’s main suburb. Founded by Andrew in 1978, it began primarily as a tools repairs centre to the Park’s major industrial companies. Jason joined as an apprentice 11 years ago before stepping up as business partner in the last four years. Although Centenary Power Tools has for the last 20 years focused on its retail business with great success, it hasn’t forgotten its core competency in repairs. In fact, it remains as one of few Australian stores that sells and fixes tools.

Online presence imperative

Centenary is also known for its branded power tools carrying major names like DeWalt, Milwaukee, Makita, Hitachi and Bosch. Top-of-line power tools account for 20 per cent of its extensive stock of over 200,000 different items, including a large range of hand tools, power tool accessories and spare parts. In the powered range, Jason notes a recent though significant shift towards the battery-operated and brushless variety – despite being 10-15 per cent more expensive.

centenary
Centenary Power Tools is one of the last remaining Aussie tools shops that sells, services and repairs tools.

“Internet product research has definitely helped to drive the sales of new technology items. You can’t afford to lag behind when everyone is catching up on the latest tools and making comparisons.”

The company’s POS-integrated website (www.centenarypowertools.com.au) carries all the products available in-store and held in stock, estimated at over a million items. Apprehensive about providing e-commerce function fearing irreversible pricing errors, Jason is nevertheless impressed by the site’s ability to generate buzz and business. He adds that Centenary’s online armoury of spare parts has proven popular with tradies, who often struggle to find appropriate spares for their powered equipment. Service Manager is a new site feature that allows customers to track the progress of their repairs. “This will free up a lot of time otherwise spent on taking phone calls. With Service Manager, customers can go online and see the most updated status report.”

The company’s POS-integrated website (www.centenarypowertools.com.au) carries all the products available in-store and held in stock, estimated at over a million items. Apprehensive about providing e-commerce function fearing irreversible pricing errors, Jason is nevertheless impressed by the site’s ability to generate buzz and business. He adds that Centenary’s online armoury of spare parts has proven popular with tradies, who often struggle to find appropriate spares for their powered equipment. Service Manager is a new site feature that allows customers to track the progress of their repairs. “This will free up a lot of time otherwise spent on taking phone calls. With Service Manager, customers can go online and see the most updated status report.”

Just like their Internet foray, Centenary made a strategic move that produced better than anticipated results; joining buying group CSS (Construction Supply

Specialists) three years ago.

“We wanted to enter the fastening market and gain buying power to compete against the bigger stores. Jeff Wellard and Paul Davy (CSS founders) helped us open accounts with suppliers who wouldn’t speak to us and put us in touch with a private network of retailers and suppliers who constantly exchanged invaluable trade advice. It’s a win-win situation for all networking parties.”

Although joining CSS has opened doors to important supply chains, it is the relationship that Jason says the store owners find most valuable. “The friendly nature and the willingness to help throughout the group well outweigh what we thought we were joining for.”

It just needs a good fix

With mass consumerism giving rise to a throwaway society, most companies are scaling back on offering repairing services, which Jason says, is resulting in a vicious loop of consumers who dispose of faulty tools when all that’s required is a good fix.

Centenary’s stoic insistence on maintaining its repairing unit is giving them the last laugh. They recently secured a warranty agency role with Masters for its distribution of 909 petrol and electric equipment. They maintain similar contracts with the likes of Bunnings, VAX, Supercheap, Harvey Norman, Makita and Hitachi.

The renewed vigour with which they pursue the warranty jobs has in the meantime upped their consumer end of the trade-DIY split at 75-25. Increased repair works has boosted DIY income by 20% in the last two years. Half of the warranty holders send the goods to the store themselves and that has helped with walk-in traffic while generating spill over DIY purchases.

Jason states unequivocally: “Whenever our customers have issues with their purchases, we can repair the tools in our own workshop without them having to wait for weeks, while their products get couriered around. That’s why we can offer a 72-hour turnaround.

“Unlike other tools retailers, we do not sell our products based on the information that our suppliers feed us. Our customers come to us simply because they trust our expertise.”

As one of the last remaining Aussie tool shops that does sales and repairs, Centenary Power Tools has certainly travelled a long way to earn that trust.