South West Tools & Industrial fills local market void
Store name: South West Tools & Industrial
Store owner: Pat Lane
Buying group: AIS (Australian Industrial Supplies)
In 2008, retailer Pat Lane identified a gap within his local hardware retail market and saw a growing need for a stand-alone and industrial focused supplies store. He followed his dream of filling this gap and opened South West Tools & Industrial in the city of Warrnambool, located on the south-west coast of Victoria. Eleven years on, South West Tools & Industrial attributes its success to standing out from its competitors and remaining fully involved in the local community.
After working in his local hardware store for many years, Pat found that the hardware store in which he worked, as well as many other competing businesses in the area, only had a partial range of industrial-level tools and products. The city of Warrnambool lacked a one-stop shop. It was then that Pat decided to open an industrial supplies store in July 2008.
Pat always had a passion for retail and customer service. Boasting 30 years retail experience, he began his career as a teenager at Woolworths. He held a number of positions for over 10 years, including managing several departments. This experience provided Pat with the valuable exposure to become experienced in local marketing, product promotion and merchandising.
Pat combined his experience in retail with his passion for building by taking on a new role with a local hardware store in 1999 and over 13 years he worked to build the business. After starting as a Retail Assistant, Pat was eventually appointed General Manager of the local hardware store. The many years in retail provided him with the expertise and knowledge he required to open his industrial supplies business.
Standing out from competitors
It has been eleven years since Pat established South West Tools & Industrial, and he attributes the store’s success to having the ability to stand out from its competitors, while also remaining fiercely involved with the local community.
“The store’s staff are locally-based and fully involved in the community in which they live. This is either via sporting commitments or the hobbies they undertake outside work. This also means our staff have excellent local connections and networks,” Pat said.
“Our customers know that our employees offer a broad range of knowledge and experience. This means almost any industry we deal with can be reassured they can speak to someone with knowledge or experience of the products relevant to their industry or area of expertise. This includes tool repairs, engineering, machinery, bolts and fasteners, building and also general retail experience.”
“Our store also operates a fully-equipped workshop, with three repair staff working on all brands and types of power tools. We are the warranty agents for a number of leading brands, which validates our expertise and knowledge in relation to these well-regarded, international brand names,” he said.
South West Tools & Industrial also has two full-time trade representatives on the road who cover a 100-kilometre radius around the Warrnambool region.
“Our reps provide a door-to-door, personal service which has seen many strong relationships built throughout the region,” he said.
Another major strength of South West Tools & Industrial is its independence, according to Pat, because it allows the store to consistently build and develop its range of stock, based on what customers require.
“We constantly ask our customers what they would like to see on our shelves and we are continuously researching and negotiating to bring these items to our market. Being able to offer our customers what they want, and finding these products at a competitive price, is what has allowed our business to grow at a steady and sustainable rate. We have just moved into a new store, which is our third home in 11 years, with each move necessitated by a growth in stock and customer traffic,” he said.
South West Tools & Industrial was initially founded in a 100-square-metre showroom, before Pat eventually knocked out a wall to expand the showroom to 200 square metres.
“We still had a very small warehouse space, so we moved into our second location just around the corner” Pat said.
“After three years in this store we wanted to reconfigure the layout and do renovations. We started negotiations with the property owner, and he informed us that he was going to construct a new building on the vacant block next door, and he suggested we could move in there. This enabled us to design our layout for the showroom, workshop and warehouse exactly to our needs,” he said.
New and improved store
The new, purpose built store boasts 800 square metres of showroom, as well as 350 square metres of warehouse space. The new store has also given the business the opportunity to substantially increase its range.
“The new store has provided us with the space to increase our range of bolts and fasteners, welding products, as well as improve our layout. It has made the store much more customer friendly, particularly to the DIY enthusiast, whilst also improving access to products favoured by our trade clients,” Pat said.
Operating under AIS
As an independent, it was vital the store aligned itself with a reputable group, according to Pat.
“AIS has continued to provide the business with group buys and supplier deals that, as an independent retailer, we could never hope to achieve on our own. AIS not only provides an impressive catalogue and marketing program, we also receive excellent value for money in the form of administrative support, promotional assistance and knowledge, in return for a small membership fee,” he said.
“AIS also connects us with store owners from all over Australia, and with that, the knowledge, experience and insight of other people who know and understand what we do,” Pat said.
The year ahead…
Looking ahead to the next 12 months, Pat plans to drive the business in close alignment with his customers’ needs.
“Our personal relationship with the local market remains an ongoing priority. Our plan for the next 12 months is to remain driven by our customers’ needs. We will be continuing with key events that we have worked hard to establish in recent years, including our ‘trade and demonstration day’, which we run each June. This is one of our busiest days of the year and has become a must attend event for local tradies and suppliers alike,” Pat said.