Trending tools tempt trades

by | Jun 16, 2023

The hand, power and trade tools sector continues to innovate and excite its users, with light-weight tools and high-powered batteries growing this space despite a slight slowing of the building sector post-COVID.

Dewalt power tool with Powerstack battery.

With a compound annual growth of 9.4 per cent, the global power tools market has grown from $35.96 billion from 2022 to $39.35 billion in 2023 alone. It seems the substantial growth is stemming from an ongoing consumer need for technological advancements, performance, safety standards and quality products.

This year, lightweight, compact tools have remained a priority for professional users, along with the design of smaller, powerful batteries impressing users with the delivery of optimal power-to-weight ratios. Safety advancements including anti-vibration handles and automatic shut-off to prevent overuse are also proving popular this year.

Innovative smart technology is also expected to continually excite this space, particularly with advancements that allow tools to adjust performance to extend the tool’s life, as well as track performance through the use of unique software. 

COVID saw a substantial spike in power tool sales as trades spent their disposable income on upgrading their tools or purchasing spare tools, simply because they were not spending their money on family holidays or entertainment. Backed with plenty of work but limited options to spend money on, trades would often buy a spare tool just in case they needed it rather than waiting until the tool was required on the job. 

Newly appointed CSS General Manager Ryan Wiggins has a career that extends from working within the United Tools support office for some time while also working within the power and industrial space for over 20 years. He says that while the over-purchasing of tools has now led to a slight slowing in the market, the sector remains healthy due to ongoing innovations.

“Current market growth is being attributed to continued consumer interest in innovative, new products. This has, however, led to a reduction in air tool purchases with trades prefering fully cordless tools because they are so much safer, easier, and sometimes lighter to use. 

“The tool space is also seeing a lot of new market innovations particularly as the plumbing and electrical sectors continue to see the launch of entirely new product ranges,” he said.

“Sales have remained healthy because power tool suppliers are so heavily focused on the research and development of new technologies. You just have to look at the recent release of DeWalt’s POWERSTACK battery pack or the development of high output batteries, which is a reasonably new technology in power tool batteries. These innovations have improved the performance of batteries ten-fold and have led to the innovation of a number of new power tool products.”

“Back in the day, battery technology was just a couple of cells and the tools would easily pull out the power. But a number of tools now talk to the batteries, so when the tool requires extra torque, it can flick from an 18-volt to a 54-volt product. It is these types of developments that are leading to every component of the tool industry becoming smarter and smarter. That is how they drive better products and better results. There are huge innovations within this space,” Mr Wiggins said.

And it seems that the substantial amount of research and development suppliers are committing to is here to stay. This is particularly evident when players who once marketed around 50 tools on one platform, have expanded this number to over 240 tools on a single platform within a matter of years.

While continually improving a tool’s performance remains a priority for players within the market, maintaining the security of the tool has also become a priority. 

A leading example of this is the Milwaukee ONE-KEY which allows users to test results from the product, set torque settings, while also locating and locking a tool if it has been taken off-site, all from an app. And it seems that Smart tool innovations are not expected to slow down any time soon.

“The larger companies love the technology for the added security of products and asset management. The smaller contractor is as much interested in the tool’s Smart aspect but is more interested in the development of new products and realistically tools have become a bit of a fashion trend on-site.”

“Tradies are almost not taken seriously unless they are wearing their FXD shorts and are using a well-known tool. If you are a tradie, it is fashionable to have the newest tool, just like they want to have the newest iPhone. It is more about looking professional rather than the performance of the product. Being a tradie is very much about the brands that they have in their hand. While I sometimes think that the marketing of these companies is sometimes intense, it is obviously working because tradies are so passionate about the brands they carry on-site,” Mr Wiggins said.

Tradies continue to and always will remain loyal to their brands, which is initially heavily influenced by whomever they begin their trade with, Mr Wiggins says. 

“I have found if a tradie is an electrician, for example, everyone will push an apprentice to use the Milwaukee brand. Young tradies will start with a three or four-piece kit and are usually on the platform for life unless the brand has a catastrophic failure, or it does not meet their specifications. While the smarter guys will sometimes look to move brands, mostly they will just go with what everyone else is telling them to go with,” he said.

“It has also become this way because of the slim margins in power tools. Retailers and their team often cannot afford to spend that time to try and transfer somebody across to another platform. There is often no time to do this because when you are talking about selling the product at your cost, and then working off rebates, which are still coming down, you then simply cannot afford to have a staff member spend half an hour to an hour trying to change a customer across to a different platform.”

“In the end, the tool platforms all have the brands and the same type of innovation and quality. While the performance does vary, the majority of users do not see the difference in these products,” Mr Wiggins said.

Looking at the quality of products within the hand, power and trade tool space, there is currently the top tier, middle tier and the lower tier in power tools. While Mr Wiggins agrees there has been a number of international tool companies that have tried to break into the Australian tool market, it has always proven to be an expensive exercise because Australian trades are so dedicated to their platform.

“Unless you can land in the country and give away millions of dollars’ worth of tools, this is the only way a new brand can enter the market. There is no one that is really going to be able to convince trades to take on a completely new product,” he said.

“When you look at TTI and its Milwaukee, AEG and Ryobi brands, they have always marketed these products perfectly. Milwaukee being the upper end not available in Bunnings because they want specialists selling the product, then AEG which is semi-professional and then Ryobi which is your DIY product. There is no blurring of the lines within this space.”

“In the end, the retailers are not selling power tools because the customer walks in and says, ‘this is what I want’. A number of power tool specialist retailers have harnessed these particular customers in the early days by putting their products online at a heavily competitive price and giving the customer enough information so they can do their own research easily and then make the purchase. You stand in any store, the majority of the people coming in to buy power tools know exactly what they want or need.”

“This is why the marketing required for CSS stores is all about aligning the brand with brands that are working within our target market, whether this be Milwaukee, Makita or one of the other brands. There is a need to continuously find new and innovative ways to market these products – the major brands do a great job of this already. But you do need to be known for stocking and selling these products at a competitive price,” Mr Wiggins said.

Although it can be difficult to conduct real marketing within the industrial space, because purchasing these products is a per-customer requirement, Mr Wiggins says CSS customers are loyal to the banner because they trust CSS will provide them with the right product at the right price.

“Retailers such as United Tools, Total Tools, Sydney Tools, yes they need to market their products, exclusive opportunities and specials through the traditional methods because their customer is the sparky, the plumber or chippy that is going into those stores and they need to capture those customers.”

“For CSS members stores, reputation, relationships, trust and loyalty remain a priority particularly as Tool Kit Depot begins to push quite heavily into this space now. It is now quite a race to see who can spend the most amount of money to get in front of the customer first,” he said.

HBT reports ongoing growth in tools

HBT’s National Business Manager for Industrial, Kevin Marshall
HBT’s National Business Manager for Industrial, Kevin Marshall.

Despite recent reports of a softening within the new home building sector, trade sales within the hand, power and trade tools space, HBT’s National Business Manager for Industrial, Kevin Marshall agrees that sales remain strong with growth continuing for most of HBT’s suppliers. 

“Today I met with a supplier who said it is only now that he has seen the tool market starting to come off just slightly, this month. This is the first time this year that we have heard of a softening from our suppliers,” Mr Marshall said. 

“Anecdotally, when the market was really buoyant during the pandemic, tradies came into our stores looking to replace a broken-down tool. But often, they pick up a two, three or four-pack kit. Whatever they did not use, they would hand out to their apprentices or to someone they worked with or even take it home for their own personal use. However, this has changed now and they are only purchasing the tool that is broken rather than picking up a three or four-piece kit,” he said. 

Trades are also now opting to have their tool repaired if it breaks down rather than throwing a broken tool away and purchasing a new tool. Mr Marshall says suppliers believe the wait time for tool repairs has increased substantially. 

“Some suppliers are seeing upwards of four to six to eight weeks turnaround time, where it used to be four to eight days turnaround because there are so many tools now in for repairs. If trades are investing a bit of money into their tool kit it makes sense for them to repair the product rather than get in the habit of just dispensing the tool,” he said. 

This year’s sales growth is stemming from three innovations within the rechargeable tool battery space, with battery power, battery life and battery weight all being vital components for consumers. 

“There are only a handful of battery cell manufacturers globally so battery technology is very similar. It is just the different technologies implemented that sets them apart from each other. Currently, a battery can be charged a thousand times before it reaches the end of the battery life and battery manufacturers are working on technology where you can potentially charge it a million times so it never breaks down,” he said. 

“Battery weight is also a vital component that can be changed to make the tools lighter. If manufacturers attempt to drop the weight off a tool specifically, there is only so much you can do because they may have to use a plastic that is inferior or lighter components. Potentially using inferior parts will compromise the standard of the tools and make it susceptible to failure.” 

“This is why the battery is the component being targeted to make the product lighter. I already know of one manufacturer that is going to bring out a nail gun that is one kilo lighter and has halved the weight of its current model. Obviously, if you are using this product to build a fence you are nailing for hours at a time so this weight reduction would make a marked difference,” Mr Marshall said. 

DeWalt Powerstack battery - exploded view.

Power tool innovations that sit outside of the battery space include levels being implemented within a drill so that the user is notified if they are drilling straight or on an angle. 

“Another innovation recently implemented is having the ability to set the depth of drills, so once the depth is set, regardless of what the user does, it will only drill a hole to a certain depth. This is ideal if a builder or DIYer is building a deck because the user knows they will only drill the same hole every time.” 

“Trends are definitely based around saving time and being able to complete the job without taking too long to set the tool up so you can pretty much pick the tool up and use it. Also, if you can set a tool to do certain things and then it repeats these settings for every task, this is a popular feature as well,” he said. 

Many more innovations are expected to be released in the coming months in both tool batteries and technologies, which will continue to excite the fast-paced, hand, power and trade tools space throughout this year and beyond

There is no doubt there is real value for retailers to partner with innovative tool offers. It is essential for retailers, wholesalers, suppliers, and global buyers to partner with reliable tool set manufacturers to ensure that they offer the best tools available in the market and gain position in the ever-competitive hand and power tool sets market.

TKD expands into Victoria

Tool Kit Depot - first Victorian store in Mentone.

Tool Kit Depot (TKD) opened its fifth store on May 29, as the first ever Victorian store located in the south-eastern suburb of Mentone. 

With four sites already operating in South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland, the new Victorian store sees the Bunnings-owned brand now located in four states. 

The new store spans over 1,100 square metres, with 13 staff providing a one-stop-shop for power tools, equipment, safety and workwear, as well as a workshop for tool repair and services. 

Mentone Tool Kit Depot Store Manager, Stuart Hawkins, has 16 years’ experience working in the industry and said his team are focused on helping local tradies in the area get on with their next job. 

“Our team has been working hard in recent weeks getting products on the shelf in preparation for the store opening. It has been a huge effort by all involved and we are really proud of what we have achieved,” 

“It is exciting to be a part of this milestone in opening Tool Kit Depot’s first Victorian store. We know Mentone is a key base for many local tradespeople who need professional tools and equipment, so we are really looking forward to providing them with the best brands, service and value.” 

Tool Kit Depot stores provide popular brands such as Milwaukee, Makita, Festool, Bosch, Husqvarna, Hard Yakka, Kincrome, AEG, Peerless, Unimig, Dewalt and Cigweld.  

Inside Tool Kit Depot - first Victorian store in Mentone.

A tool servicing and repairs workshop is also available in-store to keep existing tools in good shape, including warranty repairs and a test and tag service. 

The new Mentone store is located at 27-29 Nepean Hwy, Mentone, right across the road from Bunnings.