Total solutions every day

Store Name:Total Tools Epping

Store owner:Craig and Jackie McDonald

Buying group:Total Tools

With the promise of having every product solution for every trade professional, Total Tools Epping – that franchise’s Store of the Year and Most Improved Store in 2013 – is attracting a broad customer base across Melbourne’s north. Australian Hardware Journal speaks to business manager Nathan McDonald about the store’s long term growth plans.

tttOn the northern edge of Melbourne’s suburban fringe, the suburb of Epping blends elements of city, suburbs, and semi-rural demographics. It’s the quintessential hotpot of different Australian lifestyles, but even that is changing with the pace of development throughout Epping and Melbourne’s north. It’s a similar story in surrounding suburbs, with areas such as Craigieburn and Doreen also proving attractive to both private and publicly funded development projects.

Nathan McDonald, business manager with Total Tools Epping, says it all adds up to a significant customer base that’s both large and diverse. He says the business located just off the main Epping shopping strip of Cooper Street services a wide range of customer types. “It’s very much a mix of trade and retail customers,” he tells Australian Hardware Journal. “Because it’s a high development area, you have both the professional tradies, and the ‘weekend warriors’ (DIYers),” he said. Being close to Epping Plaza and the newly constructed Melbourne Wholesale Market (also on Cooper Street) gives the store plenty of trade from businesses in the area, whether it is for store refits or new developments, alongside the booming residential work, he adds.

The store was established in August 2005 under the experienced management of Nathan’s parents Craig and Jackie McDonald. Craig had over 30 years of close involvement in the national hardware industry, including 19 years with Sutton Tools. He had been keen to get in on the retail side, and establish a family business in Melbourne’s north.

allSon Nathan came on board full time after completing his university studies in 2009. He had worked casually with the store since its inception, and had plenty of experience through growing up in and around his father’s work. “I remember getting my first experience at the (famous) Henty Field Days in southern New South Wales,” he says, adding that he also worked with what would become Total Tools’ Epping’s franchise stable-mate in Albury. While the Bachelor of Music degree is not the normal entry to a life in hardware retail, he says the learning and skills have been beneficial and he is glad to have the formal qualification under his belt.

The store is still young, but it is continuing to grow and evolve. Nathan McDonald says it has recently upgraded to the much larger location it presently occupies. That two-year transition is now complete and has given the team at Total Tools Epping the chance to significantly expand the stocklist whilst still keeping space free to grow further. “It’s filling up pretty quickly,” McDonald admits. “But the potential growth room is now there and is being put to good use.

“We went from an 800 square metre store to 1300 square metres now.”

The wider stocklist that the extra space has accommodated is fast becoming one of the key differentiators for Total Tools Epping. McDonald notes the store carries a full range of tools, accessories and consumables for a much broader range of professional trades than other hardware retailers, even the warehouse-style operations. “We aim to offer a ‘Total Solution’,” he says. “That’s every tool for every tradie.” As well as carrying a comprehensive professional range of carpentry and construction hand and power tools, Total Tools Epping has grown its offer in ranges such as bricklaying, electrical and diagnostic equipment, welding, and plumbing. These include the largest pieces of equipment right through to the smallest drill bits, in both metric and
imperial measures.

McDonald says the range is being continually updated with the aim of providing customers with the best possible products for their businesses. “We’re leaving every day trying to find the best ways to improve the offer,” he says. That also involves plenty of close contact and up-front conversations with customers.

“They know what they want, and we work hard to get it for them.”

Of course, being part of a franchise operation helps the store achieve those lofty goals. Total Tools Epping was the 17th member of the Total Tools group, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year. But McDonald says Epping was the first of the model Total Tools stores, with a uniform look and computer system. “That was the approach the group was taking at the time, and it has certainly worked well for us,” he says. “Total Tools is a full franchise operation with great backing from our national support office based in
Port Melbourne.”

Still the buying opportunities are excellent, McDonald says, noting the excellent range of suppliers and terms on offer through Total Tools. They provide another clear point of difference that has enabled the store to succeed in a highly competitive space. It is also succeeding within the group itself, with Total Tools Epping taking out two of the key awards at this year’s Total Tools conference and presentation.

“We had set our sights on the ‘Most Improved Store’ award,” McDonald says. “But not only did we manage to win that one, we also picked up the ‘Store of the Year’ prize nationally.”

The awards considered diverse criteria staff performance and customer satisfaction, store compliance to the franchise model, and overall growth in sales and KPIs. “That’s an outstanding result for us and the staff.”

Total Tools Epping has a busy list of 11 full time staff, who McDonald says are a considerable asset to all of the business goals he is working towards. “We’re lucky to have a close-knit group of staff,” he says, adding that many have significant experience within the Total Tools group. “Our crew are a big pool of knowledge that customers can utilise.” That knowledge is also being constantly expanded with regular training sessions across the full store and business: “There’s retail training and regular product training as well.”

For McDonald himself, the sky is now the limit. He and wife Amelia recently welcomed first daughter Ayla into the world but he’s keeping his eye on the business as well. “It’s been pretty busy for us lately,” he laughs, but notes his goals for Total Tools Epping are still in mind. “I’m developing my skills in business development,” he says. “My ambition is to take the family business as far as I can,” he says.

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