WE 'journos' should sit up and take note when the UK’s largest tool wholesaler decides to add some new ranges of quality tools to its Big Blue Book – aka its catalogue, by PETER BRETT.
To mark the occasion and showcase the new additions, Toolbank held a launch event in January. Simon Bicknall, Marketing Director of Toolbank began by giving us some background to the company itself and the decision making behind the inclusions.
It may have all the trappings of a vast corporate business, but Toolbank and its associate companies are still, in fact, a family owned and privately run business which has a history stretching back to 1829. It prides itself on having many longserving and loyal employees who help implement and enact Toolbank’s motto of ‘Service, Support and Integrity’.
Toolbank itself was established in 1972 and currently has around 30,000 products and 250 different manufacturers represented in the catalogue. It serves around 14,000 outlets in the UK both on the high street and online, and by its own estimation serves around 20 different categories of customer, from the casual DIYer to major construction companies.
To man the ship, so to speak, 964 full time employees in 12 different offices throughout the country provide the many services needed to ensure, as far as possible, next-day deliveries, adequate stocking levels and all the hundreds of other functions required to run a modern, customer-facing company. Some statistics might help to give a sense of scale: over 96% of stock is available immediately from the warehouse and the stock is usually worth a cool £18m or so at any one time.
On top of all this, Toolbank also run 10 regional trade shows every year at which dealers can stock up on show deals and get help with merchandising and own brand deals.
Faithfull Tools launch premium trowel range
Faithfull is a well-established brand on the high street with its good basic quality, well priced range of tools. Everything from spades and shovels to saws and chisels is included – over 3,800 different products in all.
So, it was with some confidence that the company embarked on what turned out to be a six-year long project to develop a premium range of trowels aimed at the trades and discerning DIYers – in other words those users who would appreciate and notice the difference in quality, but who are also looking to get the best value on the tools that they buy.
John Connick from Faithfull Tools explained the original thinking behind the project which was to look at the competition and consult end users to find out how their products were perceived and then to see if they could do better.
Some elements were found to be key markers for users. For example, what trades want in a brick trowel is a bit of flex in the blade (but not too much), a one-piece forging for strength, a high lift handle and a strong end cap for tapping bricks into position.
The trowel had to be made from high quality materials with features to limit the amount of mortar that inevitably sticks to it during its working life.
When it came to pointing trowels, it turns out that the standard curved edge, small pointing trowel is not really fit for purpose.
Users liked the Faithfull version with its straight edges, one-piece construction and soft grip handle.
Plastering trowels are another problem entirely because plasterers can be fussy people with very individual styles and requirements depending on their technique and the difficulties of the job in hand.
The Faithfull solution was to design a plastering trowel that has a 301-grade stainless steel blade with an ultra-smooth finish and a two-way curve – side to side and top to bottom.
The riveting for the tang fixing had to be almost invisible and the soft-grip handle itself shaped comfortably and smooth enough not to attract sticky plaster particles.
There were similar design features picked out for a range of 25 edging and tiling trowels with concentration on the best materials for an average price point.
But trowel users like to try before they buy so Faithfull designed a hard-wearing packaging sleeve made from PVC/vinyl that could be slipped on and off many times so that potential buyers can examine the trowels closely and feel the all-important surfaces and edges. With information about the tool itself and the other tools in the range printed on the packaging, end users can make a savvy and informed purchase.
Faithfull is justifiably proud of its research and outcomes in this Prestige project – the start of February saw the new ranges hit the retailers’ shelves. End users too will be pleased to note that the pricing of on a typical Faithfull brickie’s trowel is around £31 – half the price of a ‘best’ trowel from other leading brands. Dealers and end users will want to keep an eye out for the new ‘Prestige’ branding of these trowels.
ToughBuilt – Built tough for a tough market
The ToughBuilt brand has been around for a while on the high streets and, having used a few of their products, I can confirm they do live up to the name. Largely aimed at trade users, the ranges are comprehensive and aimed at complementing each other.
Take the ClipTech range of pouches and belts, for example. ToughBuilt’s designers have created a range of trade-specific pouches that can be easily attached to the ToughBuilt belt using its ClipTech system.
Many of the pouches can stand up via a small kickstand so can be removed, stood and replaced quite easily to suit the job being done. Because they are not only customisable by trade but also by job, they offer end users a very flexible and modern way of working.
The ClipTech system also means that pouches can be hung in a van, workshop or even on a worksite, by simply purchasing a few more clips.
Supplementing this system is a range of totes and bags. Again, these are made in tough 1200 denier nylon with reinforced joints and solid bases in some cases.
The bags might be used to hold a set of ToughBuilt kneepads. Some of these are simply lightweight for light duty use but others are designed for the everyday user who needs kneepads that are exible, comfortable, non-marking, hardwearing and, most importantly, do not fall down when you stand up.
Similarly, a range of gloves provides users with a choice of grades of hand protection.
An absolute necessity on many worksites is a few trestles that can be employed in a number of ways. The adjustable legs on the ToughBuilt trestles take care of uneven ground and even steps. With the addition of a couple of 2x4s and a top, two trestles can be formed into a workbench – and at the end of the working day they can be folded and loaded into the back of the van.
I didn’t get much of a chance to try out the new spring loaded mitre saw stand, but its big wheels and 3m crosscutting support capacity will certainly be of use on some jobsites.
Milwaukee Hand Tools – Added to the power tool mix
In my view, Milwaukee is a company that has barely put a foot wrong in bringing a range of desirable (and therefore successful) power tools to market in the last few years. It is the fastest growing professional tool brand with over £69m in sales in the UK in 2018.
Milwaukee users are often the most loyal in my experience, so it seems like a nobrainer for the company to launch a range of hand tools that is now being exclusively marketed by Toolbank.
Predictably, most of the range of about 400 tools features the distinctive red and black Milwaukee livery and the range covers about 17 out of 20 of the most commonly used categories of trade tools: think knives, levels, pliers and wrenches, for example.
Since quality and design are key features of Milwaukee power tools, the hand tools have to reflect this philosophy too.
Therefore, the company spends a lot of time on research finding out what end users want, as well as discovering the best partners to manufacture the tools to the required standards.
I explored a few of the range of tape measures where it was clear that quality and ease of use made them stand out from the competition and an easy buy for a Milwaukee user.
The Milwaukee Packout tool boxes showed very clearly that the designers might have actually tested the problem of moving a range of tools around a city environment - safely and securely too.
The trolley has big 228mm diameter wheels for easy movement on pavements and stairs – or even getting onto an underground train. The boxes slot together firmly and are held to the trolley frame so that they can be individually removed in any order. With an IP65 rating they protect tools from dust and water too. I think I can feel a movement away from my current box system coming on.
I want a secure method of holding the boxes on the trolley, not just a nylon strap.
So, three new ranges to the Toolbank stocklist, and every one a winner on the face of it. I will be keeping my eyes open for them in my local independent tool shops.