Total Tools Fyshwick celebrates a decade of success

by | Dec 15, 2021

Total Tools Fyshwick celebrates a decade of success

Business: Total Tools Fyshwick
Owners: Alex and Chris Patnaude (siblings)
Location: Fyshwick, Canberra
Buying Group: Total Tools

First established in 2012, Total Tools Fyshwick has traded through a substantial amount of industry change over the past 10 years and has continued to thrive despite local competition growing substantially within the tool specialist space.

For Total Tools Fyshwick – owned by brothers Alex and Chris Patnaude – the previous decade has been about executing the Total Tools model well within a dynamic market after two additional Bunnings opened in their first few years of trading, as well as a large Sydney Tools store entering the Canberra market in recent years. 

Alex says the best way to combat local competitors is to maintain in-store aspects that traditionally ensured the business remained strong. This includes growing customer relationships through personalised service all while instilling corporate retail strengths facilitated by the Total Tools support office.

“The support office not only improves the depth and width of our range but has also strengthened our online offer substantially, particularly in the last 10 years,” Alex said.

A substantial redesign of the store’s interior was also undertaken in 2019 when the Total Tools support office assisted with the total transformation of the store’s look and functionality.

“We went from having the former yellow racking to the new generation black racking that you see in stores today. This not only totally refreshed the store but also allowed us to better use our space by fitting in more range and depth. This was a huge change to the store,” he said.

Highs and lows of 2021

While the Canberra-based store continues to experience high demand due to the ongoing building and construction boom emerging from the pandemic, the store also endured its first severe restrictions in October this year when it was plunged into the nation’s strictest lockdown. During this time the store was only allowed to serve customers outside.

“During the most recent lockdown our team were forced to serve customers from a table at the front of the store. When a customer came to the store the sales team had to run and pick their order for them. Even our trade customers were not allowed to enter the store or go to work throughout this time,” he said.

“So we went from experiencing a substantial decline in foot traffic to managing customers coming to the front door and urgently purchasing products. This coincided with a big uplift in online sales for a short period of time which was another logistical challenge.”

“When the pandemic first hit we had to think about what we would do if we could not trade for a few months and how to protect our staff in these uncertain times. We felt such a weight of corporate responsibility. Fast forward a month or two and everything had changed – sales were going crazy. We are looking for additional staff to get stock in the store as fast as we could because we cannot keep up,” Alex said.

Luckily the Total Tools national support office ensured the business’ online offer had gone from strength-to-strength pre-COVID, with all stores well-equipped within the online space throughout lockdowns. For Alex, it was just a matter of him taking on the logistical challenge of increased volume, including growing resources fourfold to handle the volume over that short period.

“We also had to work out how to keep the business open whilst there was an exposure risk, and we ran a split roster so half of our staff were not in the building when the other half was. This meant that sometimes the team began their days at 4:30 in the morning to try and get ahead of the online orders.”

“I believe lockdowns also saw the online space accelerate a couple of years ahead of its curve. A lot of customers have never shopped in this manner before but are now quite comfortable in doing so. We also love the online offer because it gives us the ability to offer the customer something we may not have in-store due to space limitations, including high-end specialist items. Having online as a complement to bricks and mortar is really important,” Alex said.

While the demand for professional trade tools remains high in Canberra, Alex says managing stock has been difficult for most stores particularly as suppliers face difficulties sourcing stock and shipping delays continue.

“We learned fairly quickly we needed to carry more depth to try and cover longer periods and deal with frequent supplier out of stocks. This has been a challenge but the racking has definitely helped store more stock when we are able to get it in the store,” he said.

Price rises have also been an ongoing issue in the last 12 to 18 months, according to Alex, who said this is when the national support office becomes crucial.

“Whilst we are an independent store, we still have the backing of a big organisation that can negotiate with suppliers and maintain prices where possible by minimising increases and sustaining our competitiveness.”

“Our support office focuses on the key elements of our model while we focus on the delivery, including the in-store execution and customer service,” he said.

While Alex said he believes they would have relayed the store half a dozen times outside of the racking project, running the business is similar to painting the, “Sydney Harbour Bridge project where they finish painting the bridge and then immediately start again at the other end – it never ends.”

“Revamping the racking was a revolution in 2019, while operating the store is an evolution of constantly adapting the range, trying new things and looking for ways we can make our offer even more relevant to our customers. We also receive fantastic assistance from the support office who have largely taken over this space and suggest what our range should look like by analysing national data. This allows us to focus more locally and look out for items that may be relevant to our local market,” he said.

With corporate compliance ever evolving, Alex said the Total Tools support office now also assists with payroll, as well as Occupational Health and Safety compliance.

“We know how to run a good tool store but we are never going to be experts in Occupational Health and Safety or payroll compliance law, so having subject matter experts back you up is great. This has beefed up even further since Total Tools’ alignment with Metcash and this support really comes in handy if you ever have an issue relating to employment law or concerns about safety procedures in-store,” he said.

With a customer base of 90 per cent trade and 10 per cent DIY, the store sits at 1800 square metres, with the cordless tools department proving to be the biggest mover over the past decade.

“We are also strong in safety, hand tools and automotive so there is plenty to grow from. Canberra has been a very busy market with plenty of housing developments, particularly in the north and west side of the city,” he said.

Future plans

With Total Tools Fyshwick having already completed a major relay and lighting update, growing the business is now more about fine tuning the business as opposed to revolutionary changes.

“We are always trying to evolve and upskill our staff and get to that next level of customer service while also fine tuning the range – it is evolving all of the time. Whilst we feel that we do the basics really well, we are still striving for improvement and want to do things better than ever before,” Alex said.