Workwear fashions and quality PPE drive market
Safety HQ is a collective group of 22 independently owned stores located nationally and now boasts one of the largest online spaces for workwear and personal protective equipment (PPE) in Australia. There are exciting times ahead for Safety HQ’s online space with its 55,000 online products (at www.safetyhq.com.au) soon to be linked to all member’s stores so retailers can now run an expansive online shop alongside their bricks and mortar business.
Safety HQ General Manager, Tony Stackpole said while the demand for PPE remains high, particularly with consumers wanting to protect themselves against COVID, products that are more likely to drive demand in this sector over the next few years will be fashionable workwear.
“Recent trends in this space are seeing both male and female tradies really taking pride in what they wear to work when ten years ago this just was not the case. I remember attending a major safety show in Germany about six years ago. Back then I bought back some trendy pants to show to our members and they thought I was crazy. But now Aussie tradies have access to great fitting styles and shaped shirts and there is a massive movement towards fashionable workwear.”
“More recently skate and surfer brands, such as Unit and Elwood have entered this space. I believe it will be more of the younger tradies coming out of school that will keep this trend going. It will also become a lot bigger as other brands come in as well because new brands see this as a big opportunity, particularly when they know they can offer good quality workwear to the industry. If it looks good and wears well it is likely to sell well in this space,” Mr Stackpole said.
Footwear is also growing well currently with both male and female tradies now taking pride in the footwear they choose to wear to work.
“There are a lot more colours, features and benefits within this space now to ensure users get a great experience and make sure that they go back and buy the same brand again,” he said.
While COVID has definitely placed a focus on quality respiratory products and not just disposable masks, there is now a real push for specced up safety products with issues such a silicosis from silica dust being one of many growing issues within the industry.
“When consumers seek out high quality products, the problem for retailers is they need to have staff on board who have the ability and the knowledge to sell these products. This is where we try to step up for our customers because all of our members have been in the safety space for for over 25 years. They are family businesses that have been in the game for a long time so they take pride in how they service their customers,” Mr Stackpole said.
“The trick is to have the ability to listen to the customer, find out what they are doing on the job and then educate the customer on what they need. Staff need to know what the right products are for particular purposes. The great thing about what we do is we do our very best to help people and prevent them from being injured.”
“Unfortunately there is still the problem where tradies will purchase PPE but it will just sit in the back of the truck just in case they see a WorkSafe investigator. This is a sad situation because sometimes people do not take PPE seriously until it is too late. This can be the case with a lot of the older tradies who just do not believe in it. This then influences the younger generation particularly if a young kid wants to put on a height safety harness and they may be told that it really is not necessary. For now, we will just keep working on providing the right products and hopefully this attitude will change over time as the right awareness on safety continues to grow,” he said.
Inconsistencies in product certifications remains evident within the market according to Mr Stackpole, who said this is particularly the case with suppliers who continue to import products that are not certified to Australian Standards.
“This means they actually get the product tested to Australian Standards initially, but this is all they do and the product can then easily be altered further down the line. This means that someone could buy a pair of specs tested to Australian Standards but then the manufacturer changes the way they manufacture that product post testing. For example, they might make the lens a millimetre thinner than it was meant to be so less plastic is required and the wholesaler will not even pick it up,” Mr Stackpole said.
“When a product is certified this means it is constantly audited throughout the manufacturing process. When a consumer sees a certification tick or stamp on the packaging, they know that one in every thousand of these products produced are taken from the manufacturing line to make sure the product is manufactured to Australian Standards at every point.”
“If a supplier only has a product tested to Australian Standards, but it is not certified, that means it was only tested once during the initial stages of production. When a customer uses a product that is not certified, they simply do not know if the product is doing the job that it was actually tested to,” he said.
While Mr Stackpole said he has attempted to conduct research on who would be liable if a worker was injured from a faulty product, the process was difficult and often came to a dead end.
“The reply was that it would just go down the line. So the user that was injured would go to the reseller. The reseller would go to the wholesaler and the wholesaler would go to the manufacturer – but we never really ascertained a firm answer. It would be up to each level to take the next person on. In the end it is most likely the injured worker would never be able to hold a supplier accountable, particularly if it involved an overseas manufacturer,” he said.
While the workwear and PPE space has been highly competitive for about 10 years, according to Mr Stackpole, there are also now a lot of new competitors entering from other markets, including tool shops and stationers.
“Tool shops are all of the sudden selling safety gear and clothing, as well as stationery suppliers such as Officeworks who now sell a new range in-store. They understand that safety is a market that will never die because there will always be a focus on protecting the worker and it will only become more and more relevant over the years,” he said.
“Despite all of the competition in the market currently, we were lucky in COVID because we were selling products that were in high demand and our only problem was supply. I think the outlook for the next five years will be the continual implementation of quality products into the market. We have noticed sales are going very well in high quality products such as Steel Blue, because people are seeking products that do the right job, look good and will outlast a cheaper pair of boots. This is also why our guys focus on all the quality products and they push these products where suitable.”
“Tradies now know that nine times out of ten it is more economical to buy the product that lasts longer. A pair of quality boots might cost more but they will often last twice as long,” he said.
Looking ahead, Mr Stackpole said he remains optimistic about the future, especially in the online space.
“Our online store has been operating since November 2020 and sales are increasing every month. Peter Hosking and the staff from Tools.com are specialists in the tech area and partnered with us because they are not only experts in building online sales platforms, but they are very good at monitoring and selling to the mass online market as well,” Mr Stackpole said.
“We understand that having an online offering is all about numbers. If you have an online store and you only have 100 products, you are not going to sell anything because the chances of someone logging onto your site and buying one of your products is unlikely. This is also why we are aiming to have over 200,000 products by the end of the year. It is a mass market as there are approximately six million Aussies who are buying online and you just need a massive range so they will hit on what they are looking for.”
“The hardest thing about going online is managing the data, including making sure it reads well and is updated from multiple different sources, which is why we manage the data and our members can just use it from there. We believe our online offer is exactly the same as a bricks and mortar store. If you just fill it with stock and let it sit there, you will not get many customers. You actually have to be promoting it and getting your offer out there,” he said.
Looking towards the next five years Mr Stackpole said the future looks positive for this category, particularly within the online space which is shaping up to be successful for many years to come.