Tool specialists evolve via end users

The hand, power and trade tool market remains highly competitive as more and more innovative products are released onto the market each year. However, OX Tool’s Product Manager, Troy Strachan, believes trades people are more likely to justify purchasing a new product if it increases productivity or reduces physical fatigue.

While it is true that older, well-established tradies remain loyal to particular brands and find it difficult to shift to new brands or product innovation, younger tradies are quite the opposite, and are happy to try out innovative products released onto the market.

It is for this reason that OX Tools ensures its newly released products either deliver a productivity gain or resolve a pain point, according to Mr Strachan.

“Often many tradies start to burn out in their mid-40s, which is why we are always looking for ways we can minimise physical fatigue. If we can tick those boxes and explain this to the market, they are quite accepting of it. However, it is certainly harder to change the minds of those in the older generation and that is the challenge that we constantly face,” Mr Strachan said.

This is also one of the reasons why OX Tools prides itself on ‘living the trade’, with the majority of the OX team out in the field on a daily basis, testing new products and working with tradies at ground zero. 

“When we do go to the market with new products, we often have a lot of testimonials and feedback to back up our new products and the innovation we are releasing. This feedback is sourced through our ‘TUFF Club’.”

“The ‘TUFF Club’ also creates that social media ground swell where other tradies might look at a product that has had good reviews online and they may believe it can solve a problem for them. We do build product profiles quite well in this market through feedback and word of mouth. We also put a lot of marketing through our sales training, as well as at store level, so we are sure the guys in-store know what our point of differences are,” he said.

Trends in the market

When touching on trends in the hand, power and trade tools market, Mr Strachan believes any new products that bring automation or digital technology to a space, such as digital levels or laser levels, are always well accepted by tradies because it reduces the time it takes to complete tasks.

“One of the major challenges of the industry is that a lot of tradies are staying longer in their trade, primarily because there is a skill shortage at the moment. So older tradies are always looking for options that will make life easier and prolong their working life. This could be in the way of hand tools that are ergonomically designed to be lighter and easier to use.”

“There is a whole different dynamic out there because everyone is looking for short cuts or ways to make their working life easier and prolonged. This is the case with both older and younger tradies for many different reasons. Therefore, there are some challenges in the industry, which is why we are trying to come up with game changes and make people’s working life a little easier. This is also why we are looking into developing lighter tools, handle innovation, and the materials we make products from,” Mr Strachan said.

OX Tools also has an ongoing policy to look after the tradies that are a little older and provide longevity within their working life, which is why the company continually communicates with tradies that struggle with these issues on an ongoing basis.

Point of difference

While OX Tools prides itself on remaining tough, dynamic and different, its culture is also based around ‘living the trade’.

“Our guys are always out in the field with tradies trying to understand what will make their life easier. This is what drives us here, from the CEO down. Every three months we get the entire team together, from around Australia, and management make us build stuff, like a small house or a brick wall. Every member of our staff is involved, with a tool in their hand to experience what tradies go through.”

“We also spend a bit of time with the University of NSW working with its industrial design and ergonomic team, developing student projects. We have run a couple of pilot programs with the university where we engage R&D, industrial design and ergonomic students to use our tools. We are constantly looking at ways to improve our products,” he said.

Competition in the market

While there are many big global brands competing head-to-head on most of OX Tool’s product lines, one of the biggest challenges in the market continues to be the many hand, power and trade tool house brands coming into the Australian market, according to Mr Strachan.

“You get what you pay for and it is a more difficult landscape for us, because we are the ones that put in the research and the hard yards,” he said.

“The more serious tradie may be tempted to buy the odd cheap tool if he is stuck on a job site somewhere, but it is the young tradies that have not formed a view of what is good or bad who are enticed by these products. So you do lose loyalty to the younger tradies.”

“Some tradies are relaxed about spending money while the majority are always looking for value. They will not throw money away if they do not need to so you always have to prove your value proposition with tradesmen. This is more so than any industry because tradies are very aware of what is valuable. While house brands do rip a lot of dollars out of our market every year, ultimately tradies do understand they get what they pay for,” Mr Strachan said.

Inconsistencies in standards

While tool quality remains an issue throughout the Australian hand, power and trade tools market, providing low quality products to end users remains a problem, according to Mr Strachan.

“The one thing with tradies is that you generally only get one crack at them. If they purchase a product and they do not like it, they will use it until it is worn out, but they will never buy your product again. So, it is good to use eager young minds in TAFE and universities to really test our product rigorously. This is something we will put more effort into over the coming years,” he said.

“We have a core of what we call ‘live the trade’ tradesmen, who we are fairly close to, as well as our ‘TUFF Club’ members who give us a lot of feedback about products that are in the market or that we have launched, and we are able to enhance and develop those projects and improve them every time. So, most of the products that we put to market are based off either feedback, research, and market requirements, which is our DNA.”

“We are always researching to refine our products. A good example of this was when we entered into the work boots market about 12 months ago. We have already launched a second version since this time and towards the end of this year, we will launch a version three. So we are constantly refining products,” Mr Strachan said.

Change in the market

With the Federal Election now complete, Mr Strachan believes that the results have already lifted the mood of smaller contractors and small business owners after many projects were put on hold, including infrastructure projects and investment projects around residential housing.

“The feeling is now that the market has become more buoyant. We were talking to a town planner recently and he said the day after the election, they received seven proposals for development, which had been held back due to concerns around Capital Gains Tax etc. and this had a huge impact on the market. But I believe the stores will see an increase in sales now that we are approaching the end of financial year,” he said.

2020

In the last six months alone, OX Tools has launched several new products, including a new 1600-watt mixer, with the company aiming to launch six or seven new products, on average, across a quarter.

OX Tools already has plenty planned for 2020 with its new Diamond Blade range coming onto the market early next year, along with a new levels range and new tape measures as well. 

“We wanted to refresh these three ranges because these are the areas that make such a big difference to most of our tradies,” he said.

The company prefers to refresh products on a regular basis and have a number of new and innovative products coming down the pipeline each quarter, as it is part of OX Tool’s DNA, he said.