IHG sees 40 per cent growth in abrasives
The abrasive category has demonstrated growth of up to 40 per cent in some market sectors over the last 12 months, according to the IHG (Independent Hardware Group) Category Manager for Hand Tools, Christina Goodman, with this growth particularly evident during COVID lockdowns.
“Most product categories have experienced an increase in sales due to an upturn in home renovations in the past 12 months, with this activity being driven primarily by the home owner. In saying this, the trade market has also improved considerably due to increased activity in dwelling and smaller building projects. The market remains buoyant however we are now beginning to see sales soften slightly against the crazy highs of 2020,” Ms Goodman said.
One of the many downsides to the pandemic is, of course, global supply chains being impacted by reduced shipping capacity and stress on raw materials, according to Ms Goodman.
“Most suppliers who import product are now experiencing stock shortages however supply lines are beginning to show signs of normal replenishment. To some degree local manufacturers, like Flexovit, were able to maintain supply. In saying this supply lines do remain under pressure due to an increasingly high demand for Australian made products. Increased shipping costs are now also impacting profitability,” she said.
New trends in the market are also seeing new abrasive products being launched to meet new cordless requirements, according to Ms Goodman, who said this trend comes as a result of cordless power tool products becoming a standard item, with “traditional corded product ranges being reduced or vanishing entirely.”
“New abrasive products are also being launched to meet cordless requirements with new products made lighter and having the ability to cut cleaner and faster so they can improve the power tool’s performance. Also, the sales of 115 millimetre angle grinders are slowly diminishing as consumers tend to lean more towards 100 millimetres or 125 millimetres.”
“More recently, IHG has also implemented a new customer communication in store. Even when considering ecommerce, 75 per cent of customer’s purchase decisions are still made in store. The new customer communication program includes clear signage in the bays to assists the customer in selecting the correct product for their job,” Ms Goodman said.
Just some of the innovative new products to hit the market recently include Flexovit’s on-going development of its tub program.
“The Flexovit tubs ensure wheels are fresh and protected from everyday workplace knocks and are also a convenient way to buy cutting and grinding wheels in all of the popular applications and sizes,” she said.
“Products such as the Flexovit Multi-Material cutting and grinding solution is another innovative product that continues to grow this sector. This solution can be used on nearly any material and continues to grow alongside some of the large wheel formats launched recently and suits both the trade and serious DIY customer. I believe customers remain loyal to good quality brands, especially if they continue to have a good experience. Consumers are also loyal to brands where safety continues to be an essential factor, and this is also why inferior products to do not tend to feature strongly.”
“Many suppliers are also now making a concerted effort to reduce packaging. This can be done by simply ensuring an item is not over packaged, or switching from plastic to cardboard or using plastic that has been recycled or can be recycled or re-used. Flexovit tubs keep product fresh in the tub, supporting Australian Manufacturing,” she said.
“IHG ensures that all of our products exceed Australian safety and quality standards,” Ms Goodman said.
Saint-Gobain at the sharp end of the market
As a top 100 global innovator and world leader in the habitat and construction market, Saint-Gobain is today particularly proud of its Flexovit and Norton products that form part of its high-performance solutions division.
Flexovit and Norton continue to provide abrasive solutions through a vast array of industries including manufacturing, metal fabrication maintenance, woodworking, transportation, automotive aftermarket, rail, construction energy, environmental, construction diamond, mining, marine, aviation, electronics, specialties, as well as home improvement markets.
Paramount to its continued success is Saint-Gobain’s outstanding customer service, according to Chief Executive Officer Igor Giglio, who said having both thin wheel manufacturing and coated conversion plants in Melbourne allows Saint-Gobain to provide unsurpassed service in terms of speed and efficiency.
“We are on the ground with solutions. It is just as important for us to be behind the best product selection for consumers while remaining in-front of some of the largest projects in Australia,” Mr Giglio said.
Like many suppliers Saint-Gobain has experienced its share of global supply chain challenges throughout COVID, but alternatively has also experienced high demand for the product during this time, according to General Manger Sales Pacific, Jason Matthews.
“Saint-Gobain has experienced frustration with global supply chains, however we have also experienced higher demand for product. Consumers have taken the opportunity to complete more DIY projects and renovations now more than ever. Even in these uncertain times Saint-Gobain will continue to count on its local and global support,” Mr Matthews said.
Just last year, Flexovit launched its special edition green and gold tub promotion to celebrate its association with the Australian Made Campaign. The green and gold tub became the single biggest selling product in Flexovit’s history in Australia, according to Plant Manager Chris Davis.
“Flexovit made its first wheel back in the 1970s. Since then, we have produced over 200 million wheels. We continue to invest in our factory here in Melbourne making it one of the top performing Saint-Gobain plants in the world,” Mr Davis said.
More recently Saint-Gobain has also introduced a ‘fresh in the tub’ guarantee that ensures Flexovit wheels maintain their performance longer than if they were stored in a traditional cardboard box.
Product Manager of Thin Wheels for Pacific Matthew Redman says, “We make tens of thousands of wheels each day. Utilising BPA – free grade packaging, Flexovit not only locks in freshness for a consistent wheel performance but also protects wheels from worksite knocks.”
Flexovit’s most popular wheels are now packed in either mini or maxi tubs which can be 100 per cent recycled or upcycled. As the world’s widest range producer of abrasives and now boasting over 135 years of history, Norton has also delivered Norton Blaze, a formula one type abrasive known by its distinctive orange colour. Available in flap disc, fibre disc, belts and non-woven, Norton Blaze features increased performance, consistency and productivity over traditional solutions.
Originally launched for the manufacturing industry, Blaze has more recently become popular in the floor sanding market, with the hardware industry taking an interest in non-woven stripping discs which can reduce the time of a resurfacing project like rust and paint removal by up to 50 per cent. Saint-Gobain understands that its customers prefer smarter solutions which is why the company continues to obsess over material sciences and technologies to design and co-develop products with sustainability and innovation top of mind.
According to Saint-Gobain Product Manager Matthew Redman, customers want to make the right choices and Saint-Gobain is committed to the highest standards of safety, comfort and efficiency, supplying the widest portfolio of abrasives solutions in the Pacific.
“Saint-Gobain brings powerful, precise and user-friendly solutions to cut grind, shape and finish materials, across applications everywhere around us,” Mr Redman said.
Klingspor leads with innovation 70 years on
Listening to the needs of the customer remains paramount in the Abrasives, Grinding and Cutting Wheel space, particularly when it comes to safety as well as calls for high quality products. Klingspor’s plans to expand its range recently came to fruition after its customers displayed an ongoing need for high-quality products, including wire brushes.
Klingspor has aspired to launch into the wire brushes space for many years and this dream recently became a reality after Klingspor finally launched its new range of brushes in early May with plenty of customers already on board.
Klingspor Managing Director – Asia Pacific, Paul Hoye said he has been pushing Klingspor’s German head office to launch wire brushes for some time, particularly after so many customers requested Klingspor expand into this space.
“I think customers wanted us to launch wire brushes because they just want to purchase everything from us. They do not want to purchase from another supplier – they want to keep it all in house,” Mr Hoye said.
“It is a very new and exciting range and we have only just hit the ground running with it. The response has been excellent with plenty of customers buying from us even though we have only had it in stock for a few weeks. Competition in the wire brushes space is intense which is why our catalogue now has around 65 items,” he said.
Just some of the local consumer trends that have come to the foreground more recently include an increased demand for higher performing products such as belts and discs made with ceramic grains, according to Mr Hoye.
“I believe there has been an increasing demand for higher quality products because our end users know high quality products increase efficiency. After all, the amount you pay for a worker to use a product is much higher than the cost of the product itself. What is expensive is the cost of labour, not the disc itself,” he said.
“Where people were using cheap low-end products, they are now opting to pay significantly more for ceramic products because it is more cost effective. This is especially the case in countries like Australia where the wages are high. Australian consumers want more high-end stuff because it lasts longer so there is less down time, and more efficiency from the worker,” Mr Hoye said.
Competition remains stiff in this sector, not only due to many high-end companies releasing products within the ceramic grains space, but also a continued trend away from cheaper, imported products, according to Mr Hoye.
“Consumer trends are definitely leaning away from the cheap, nasty stuff. There are a couple of brands that have disappeared over the last few years because consumers realise that it might be half the price but it is lasting a fraction of the time and taking more time to use.”
“There once was a trend towards finding and using the cheapest product as possible, but this seems to have levelled out. All of the good manufacturers have dug their heels in a bit and stuck with their pricing because they know customers understand that cheap is not necessarily good. There is, of course, a danger in using cheaper products,” he said.
When it comes to monitoring safety, the Organisation for the Safety of Abrasives, (oSa), assists with monitoring product safety within this space.
“Unfortunately, there are no globally binding safety requirements for abrasive, grinding and cutting wheel products. This is why a group of responsible manufacturers of abrasives from a number of European countries set up the Organisation for the Safety of Abrasives (oSa) in 2000. Klingspor is proud to have been a founding member of this group,” he said.
“Just some of the higher end brands you see in Australia, including 3M, Saint-Gobain and Pferd, are all members of the organisation. It is really is an organisation that is designed to have strict batch testing of products. To be a member you have to test to certain standards and you also need to carry Global Product Liability Insurance so you are required to comply with several different things. If you are not a member, you cannot put the oSa symbol on your products and I believe consumers are becoming much more aware of this.”
“There is a company in Melbourne that began making flap discs not long ago. These products are fairly low in quality but they are making out that their products are of a higher quality simply because they are made in Australia. However, this is not the case because they are not made to oSa standards,” Mr Hoye said.
Often independent fabricators can fall into the trap of opting to purchase lower grade products, according to Mr Hoye, because they are unaware of the dangers they present to the user.
“The problem is if you are ‘Joe Smith Fabrication’ and a sales person comes in and sells you a cheaper product stating how much more cost effective their product is, it can be very tempting to buy them. But when a fabricator opts for a higher end product, they need to remember that they are paying for the research and development, the testing processes and also the Product Liability Insurance. You are not just paying for the disc.”
“These products fly along at a rate that is faster than a formula one racing car when they are being used. If they fail bits fly off them and people get injured. So, it really is in everybody’s interest to use high quality products. If we don’t manufacturers will design out the abrasive part of the process and then we are all out of business,” he said.
The importance of product quality is a concept Klingspor constantly preaches to users, particularly when people come in for training at the Sydney facility.
“Every six weeks or so, Klingspor invites its customers for training at its Sydney facility, with everyone from retailers to distributors invited. Our visitors spend the day testing the products, learning about us as a company and seeing how abrasive belts are made and products are tested. It does not matter how long they have been in the game, they certainly learn a lot from these training days and how products are made.”
“It is an investment in people’s staff. If you are a business owner and the person working behind the counter or the sales rep on the road knows more about the product, you will sell more. There are business owners who are prepared to invest in their staff like that and it is a good thing. People leave the training knowing a lot more about abrasives and particularly about our company,” he said.
When reflecting on the last 12 months, Mr Hoye said that 2020 was Klingspor’s best year yet, and thankfully this upward trend has continued into this year.
“Strong sales have continued not only due to an upturn in sales in DIY but also the continued boom in infrastructure projects. While we have had some issues with shipping due to COVID, fortunately we carry good stock levels in Australia so we have managed to handle the situation quite well,” he said.
“We are also fortunate in that we have over 1500 people working throughout our production plants in Europe. We are a long way away so even pre-COVID it took 10 to 12 weeks to get what we ordered. But the good thing about this is we can see a problem before it happens. So if we know we need a product in about eight weeks’ time and it is not on the boat yet, we can make the call about whether to fly it in or not.”
“A lot of our customers have said that we have managed the situation well which is great news. So far it has not caused a problem for us. Last year we grew by 10 per cent and this year we are 10 per cent up on last year. I do not see any reason why we would not be finishing the year at least 10 per cent up, which is good growth,” Mr Hoye said.
Incredibly, cutting and grinding discs were invented by Klingspor around 70 years ago, with flap discs becoming a Klingspor innovation around 50 years ago.
“Cutting and grinding and flap discs probably represent 40 per cent of our business and we invented all of those many years ago, so the technology is quite old. What has improved is the techniques to make them and also the ingredients. If you use a cutting disc today and you use a 70-year-old one there would be a hell of a difference. But the theory behind the technology is the same as it was 70 years ago. It has not changed,” Mr Hoye said.
Klingspor invented its first Kronenflex cutting wheel in 1950 and also saw the introduction of its first ground breaking abrasive flap disc in 1971. Klingspor’s first international production facility was founded in Poland in 1996 and went on to expand into Australia and South Africa in 2000.