Preview: Sutton Tools – Forging Ahead

Despite increasing competition from overseas imports, proud Aussie manufacturer, Sutton Tools, is thriving. Pauline Hoogen reports…

Sutton Tools was founded in 1917, by a British immigrant, W.H. (Henry) Sutton. With considerable manufacturing experience, Sutton introduced thread grinding to Australia, and during WW II, his company was responsible for manufacturing gauging equipment for the Australian Government munitions factories.

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Caption: Long time sales manager, Chris Rizonico (right), at a Sutton Roadshow last year

Henry Sutton had two sons, Henry George and Leslie, who also joined the business. Henry later introduced his two sons, Bill and Jim, to the business. Whilst they are no longer involved in the day to day running of the business, having passed the mantel to their sons, Robert and Peter, the pair remains on the board of directors. With a proud history, spanning four generations of the same family, Sutton Tools is still very much a family concern. Peter Sutton is the Chief Manufacturing Manager and Robert Sutton is General Manager of Marketing, and heads the relatively newly formed Export Division.

Originally located at Northcote in Victoria, the business moved to its current location in Thomastown in the mid 1960s. With sales offices in Malaysia and Singapore, Sutton Tools employs 550 people in Australia and New Zealand, with many of the staff having been with the company in excess of 15 years. One such long-serving employee, Chris Rizonico, was with Sutton Tools for 35 years, retiring at the end of 2005. Chris must have felt like part of the family, having started as a storeman in the Adelaide warehouse, before retiring as National Sales Manager, Consumer Products. Replacing Chris is John Harrison who fills the new role of Sales and Marketing Manager, Consumer Products.

Innovations and Acquisitions – Key Strategy
In the early 70s, there were four tool manufacturers operating in Australia – Patience & Nicholson, Frost, ESC Tools and Sutton Tools. Today there remains only one – Sutton Tools. To be the last man standing can be a daunting proposition and it puts an enormous responsibility on the company to be self-regulatory in all business dealings. If anything, Sutton Tools are working harder than ever to maintain their position and to ensure they are delivering the best of the best to their customers.

Whilst the previous generations worked to provide a solid platform for business growth, the third generation Suttons, Bill and Jim, are credited with consolidating and extending Sutton’s position in the market, through their absolute commitment to quality and innovation and their quiet persistence. In the mid 1980s, the brothers realised the opportunity to split the business into two separate divisions. One division for hardware (consumer products) now headed by John Harrison and one for industrial, headed by Robert Bartlett. Another innovative introduction came when Jim Sutton, closely monitoring overseas trends, had the foresight to recognise surface coating as a significant business opportunity. Previously any coated tools sold in Australia were imported. With their quiet persistence at work, the Suttons established a joint venture operation to start up Surface Technology, the only surface coating plant in Australia and, now, New Zealand. Coating tools reduces heat and friction and means a coated tool can outlast an uncoated one, six times over, providing significant cost benefits.

The first acquisition came in 1994, when Sutton Tools purchased the Patience & Nicholson manufacturing plant in Christchurch, New Zealand from the McPherson group. They inherited a fairly run-down plant, complete with 110 employees. Sutton Tools reinvested heavily to bring the plant up to date and turn it into a profitable operation that manufactures a range of high-speed drill bits for the DIY and industrial markets. In the late 1990s, Sutton Tools bought an agency business in New Zealand called Scott, Young and Masters, and folded that into the NZ operation, which is still known as Patience & Nicholson. Whilst their manufacturing plant remains in Christchurch, the national sales office for New Zealand is located in Auckland.

 

  • To read the rest of this article, go to page 18 of the Australian Hardware Journal May 2006 issue