INTERVIEW: Simon Bicknell, Toolbank

With £80m in stock, 500,000ft² warehouse capacity and 250 global and specialist tool brands, Toolbank is one of the sector’s most significant players. Torque speaks with Marketing Development Director Simon Bicknell on the state of the market and supporting tool stockists...

Toolbank’s huge £80 million stock holding is enough to give your average distributor sleepless nights, however the company sees it as a cornerstone in its offering to stockists and essential for its three core values: ‘Service, support and integrity’.

That £80m stock includes over 30,000 different products from more than 250 international and specialist brands, including the likes of Stanley, Milwaukee, DeWalt and Monument to IRWIN, Bahco, Einhell and many more.

Torque Magazine visited one of Toolbank’s TSS sites in the West Midlands, which supports the company’s 11 strategically located depots. The substantial Halesowen warehouse, close to the UK’s traditional fastener and manufacturing heartland, features lean lifts and contains many of Toolbank's slower moving and more specialist products. Toolbank's distribution team send those products to the local depots during the night to maximise the ranges they can offer customers throughout UK & Ireland.

Just 12 miles down the road is Toolbank’s new Wednesbury distribution facility, which has grown Toolbank’s warehouse capacity to 500,000ft2. Completed this year, the depot is part of what has been a big year of investment for Toolbank.

Boasting a minimum availability of 96%, Toolbank operates 100 delivery vans and supplies thousands of stockists, including NMBS and its 1,000‐plus independent merchants.

Toolbank is a privately‐owned, third‐generation family business. It’s the largest division of the Dormole group of companies, which includes familiar names like ForgeFix and Olympia Tools as well as part‐ownership of French tool manufacturer and distributor Denuziere S.A.S., OUTIFRANCE.

John Twallin and Arthur Clemson set up Toolbank in 1972, intending to take on the‐then big competitor distributors with a supportive distribution business.

In 2017, Toolbank has around 850 employees, many of whom are long‐serving employees, including Marketing Development Director Simon Bicknell, who has worked for the company for 32 years.

Selling tools for stockists

“We are focused on our core service and that’s backed with knowledge,” says Bicknell. “We don’t deal with the public. That’s an important point. We work with stockists and we don’t deal direct with users.

“We’ve invested heavily this year and have literally doubled capacity with the new warehouse in Wednesbury. We also invest in marketing support to help our customers.”

Toolbank’s epic 1,240 page catalogue – AKA the Big Blue Book – is a long‐term favourite. While the internet is now a cornerstone of sourcing and ordering goods, cataloguies are an evergreen favourite for many huge household brands, not least Argos, Screwfix and Next; Toolbank's Big Blue Book remains a perennial favourite with its stockists and their customers.

“Our catalogue covers most of the ranges we distribute and we can put a stockist’s logo on the cover and spine, so it’s got their branding on it. People really like that personalised approach.”

The substantial catalogue can help tool stockists seem all the more serious and credible and there are options to have it laminated and supplied on a plinth, as a ‘silent salesman’ that consumers can flick through in-store.

Now, for the first time, Toolbank is offering a smaller version of its ‘Big Blue Book’: “The A4 catalogues are an investment for customers, at around £5 each, so we’re now doing a smaller version in A5 with 700 pages. They cost less than £2 each depending on how many you order and we’ve had a terrific reaction to them,” explains Bicknell.

Another new offering from Toolbank that has been well received this year is a Point Of Sale and merchandising catalogue, bringing together a wide range of options from plenty of different brands. “The customers really seemed to like it. All we really did was collate the supplier information and combine it into one publication, but it has gone down really well.”

Toolbank also looks to support customers with campaigns, including its “Real Deals for You” Christmas promo. Supported by a website, POS, national TV, radio and press advertising, the seasonal promotion includes special pricing and more – all designed to drive business to its stockists.

Trading conditions

Initiatives like these are seen as integral to Toolbank’s offering, and are no doubt even more important during less‐than‐rosy trading conditions.

“The tool trade is, in general, tough at the moment,” explains Bicknell. “We are very positive and have lots of initiatives to help with sales, but customers tell us it is hard work right now.”

“We hold huge stocks and we have new products come on board all the time. You can easily find them on our B2B site.”

Toolbank’s B2B site is another weapon in its arsenal of support for customers. It even includes a glossary for some of the more tricky jargon a stockist may face, particularly helpful for those new to the industry or those in need of the occasional refresher.

“The site also has a ‘Counter Mode’. All you have to do is click on it and it will hide all sensitive material such as a stockist’s costs, so you can swing it round and let customers see all the information without revealing your margin.”

Toolbank also runs regular trade shows around country (see Torque Magazine Oct 2017): “The shows went well for us,” says Bicknell. “The Leeds show in particular was busy and people come from far and wide to come along. One came from a Scottish island and it took days to make the journey to Leeds!”

When it comes to 2018 plans, Toolbank is keeping its cards close to its chest: “I’m not going to reveal everything we’ve got planned! But we will be looking to grow and we’ll be looking at new markets. However, our main focus is to support those that already work with us. We have a big sales team in place and we will redouble efforts to provide good service and support for our customers.”