Tools Update

The Hardware Journal is pleased to provide some industry updates. Tom Prince touches on recent developments…

More housing industry problems

Mounting pressure on not only housing affordability but also on the trades themselves is adversely affecting the market – these are some of the key findings by the Housing Industry Association.

Although there has recently been a slight improvement in new home loan and renovation activity, home loan affordability remains at a record low. Home loan affordability is predicted to fall even further without some serious government intervention – a call echoed in many quarters across the country.

Confounding the issue is a shortage in key home building and renovation trades. A recent HIA-Austral Bricks Trades Report showed that skills shortages exist in most capital cities and regional centres. HIA’s Chief Economist, Mr Harley Dale said that all trades remain in shortage, with 9 of 13 trades surveyed experiencing a decline in availability during the June 2007 quarter. “Trade shortages were most prevalent in plumbing, site preparation, and roofing while on a state by state basis, the largest shortages are in Western Australia and Queensland,” he said.

Fortunately, it’s not doom and gloom for absolutely everyone. While the picture may seem grim in some parts of the country, others continue to flourish (see ‘Retail Focus’ on pages 11 – 12 for an example of a Tasmanian outlet that has enjoyed considerable success).

‘Tools For Your Trade’ government incentive

There are numerous government schemes to get apprentices off their feet and the ‘Tools For Your Trade’ initiative stands out as one that is particularly successful in getting tools into the hands of apprentices. Essentially, the ‘Tools For Your Trade’ scheme assists trade apprentices who are in professions that are deemed ‘eligible trades’ – trades the government considers suffer from a skills shortage. Vouchers up to the value of $800 are available to eligible apprentices, who (after some initial administration procedures) can redeem them at participating outlets. Registering is easy for retailers and it can be done over the web.

Being a registered supplier means there are no additional financial benefits from the scheme. Rather, the scheme is a way to attract extra customers who carry with them a once off spend of up to $800 per head. POS materials like posters, postcards, factsheets and displays are also readily available (just call or write).

Carpenters, plumbers and tool makers are just some of the many professions listed as eligible. Currently there are more than 7000 registered ‘Tools For Your Trade’ suppliers in Australia. Visit www.toolsforyourtrade.com.au for more information.

Lithium Ion technology

Lithium Ion batteries are widely rated as the next big thing compared to traditional NiCd batteries. They are well loved and appreciated for their lightness, relatively smaller size, and the fact that they can supposedly boast up to twice as much power storage potential as NiCd batteries. In addition, they do not suffer from the “memory effect” (sometimes called ‘lazy battery effect’ – the term was originally coined to describe NiCd batteries gradually losing their maximum energy capacity if they were repeatedly recharged after being only partially discharged. Today, the term is commonly applied to almost any case in which a battery appears to hold less charge than was expected). In addition, Lithium Ion batteries discharge very slowly when in storage.

Interestingly enough, Lithium Ion batteries are not perfect – as with all rechargeable batteries, they have a finite lifespan. Isidor Buchmann, founder and CEO of Cadex Electronics Inc., wrote in “Batteries In A Portable World – A Handbook On Rechargeable Batteries For Non-Engineers” that Lithium Ion batteries age prematurely when used for prolonged periods in devices that pack a lot of heat. Wikipedia.org (the online encyclopaedia that, beside its occasional controversies, has at times been known to correct errors in the Encyclopaedia Britannica) also suggests that Lithium Ion batteries can pose a risk if they are repeatedly exposed to high temperatures. The site also states that “a unique drawback of the Li-ion battery is that its life span is dependent upon aging from time of manufacturing (shelf life) regardless of whether it was charged, and not just on the number of charge/discharge cycles.”

In defence of battery manufacturers, the many benefits of Lithium Ion batteries greatly outweigh the problems. Rigorous safety measures must go into the manufacture of Lithium Ion batteries, something that is reflected in their high engineering costs. While Lithium Ion batteries will most likely become cheaper and more accessible, a place for NiCd batteries will remain.

Women and DIY tools

So much for the traditional view of hubby fixing something out the back while the wife sticks to the kitchen to make whatever recipe of the week… More tools that specifically target DIY women are hitting the market. According to Mark Hawkins, General Manager, Medalist, a strong contributing factor is the rising popularity of TV DIY shows amongst women viewers. Mark attributes the success of DIY tools aimed at women (the ‘Her Tools’ range from Medalist hit the market just in time for Mothers Day) to a mixture of aesthetics such as informative illustrations and bright packaging, with practicality, such as lighter tools with specific uses.

Retailer feedback has been very positive, says Mark. “We’ve waiting for this kind of thing for ages,” was a typical comment. Indeed, comments like these strongly suggest that there is a solid and ongoing demand for tools aimed at DIY women.