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Powering towards further growth

After a stellar few years of growth and a sharp eye on getting the basics right behind the scenes, family-founded Powertool World is now a three-time alumnus of independent law firm Ward Hadaway’s North East Fastest 50 list. Here, Andrew Pickersgill, the Newton Aycliffe-based firm’s new managing director explains, alongside a group of key colleagues, how the business is looking to continue its trajectory and why it’s the best kept secret in retail.

Buying online has become a way of life for almost everyone.

A couple of clicks today means a knock on the door tomorrow, purchase completed with little to no effort; a smooth and simple process that belies the extraordinary amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to make shoppers’ whims reality.

And while most would consider online retail the domain of the domestic shopper, the professional skilled workforce now relies on online portals to buy the tools of their trade – searching for the best kit for the job as quickly as possible, without losing time to travel and in-store browsing.

A key player in the shift is Newton Aycliffe-based Powertool World.

One of the UK’s largest tool distributors, it was set up by Chris Guy in 1998 when he spotted a gap in the market.

Already the successful owner of CG Fixings, which largely supplied fittings and fixings to sites, Chris realised trades workers were often frustrated by a lack of quick and direct access to vital power tools.

So, Powertool World was born, in the process becoming one of the first dedicated e-commerce sites for top-end power tools in the UK, selling to professionals across every trade, from electricians and plumbers to landscapers and general handypeople.

Initially operating alongside CG Fixings – with a separate website – it soon overtook its older sibling thanks to surging demand.

Now, 25 years on, the company is still owned by Chris and wife Suzanne, but has much of its day-to- day running handled by a wider team, including two new faces around the boardroom table.

Managing director Andrew Pickersgill and finance and operations director David Quinn started within a day of each other towards the end of 2023, just in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two of the busiest days in the online trading calendar.

The company has seen some of its fastest growth in the last half decade, earning three appearances on independent law firm Ward Hadaway’s North East Fastest 50 list – in 2019, 2021 and 2022.

From £7.5 million turnover in 2016, when the firm moved to its current premises, to £34 million revenue and an anticipated jump to £41 million by the end of 2023, the firm is flying.

Speaking to North East Times Magazine just six weeks into his new role, Andrew asked a number of long-serving colleagues to join him to share their insight into Powertool World’s basis for success.

He says: “The growth has primarily come from our ability to be better at e-commerce than a lot of people, particularly our rivals and other people doing similar things.

“And as that’s developed, the customer service part has become really important, particularly when things go wrong, which is common in a retail environment.”

Head of digital Kyle Mitchell, who is responsible for the strategic operation of the retail website, and Jelena Vukovic, the company’s graphic designer, who oversees the presentation and description of each product sold on the website, have each been with the company for more than seven years.

Alongside Richard Ross, responsible for managing customer returns and warranties, they have helped deliver a strategy that focuses on getting the basics right behind the scenes, to drive repeat purchases and deliver growth.

Next-day deliveries, spearheaded by Kyle, and managed through a ten-year partnership with DPD, have proved a vital component in making Powertool World stand out among the dizzying array of choice online.

David, who joined to look after operational excellence, says: “Our customer base is probably 80 per cent tradespeople.

“They are the same as anyone else, they come home at the end of the day and they may have broken something, or run out of something they need the next day.

“Continuous workflow is vital on sites, and our ability to get something to them the next day has really driven our sales forward.”

While the company was already seeing its growth curve upwards by the time the COVID-19 lockdown hit, the pandemic and the accompanying surge in home improvements and house building led to an unprecedented rise in sales and turnover.

With £8 million of stock available across three warehouses on Newton Aycliffe’s Millennium Way, and 40 staff working to fulfil orders, the company has its eye on continued growth.

Reflecting on his own appointment, which means owners Chris and Suzanne handing over the reins for the first time, Andrew, says: “They’ve done exceptionally well and overseen tremendous growth over the last 25 years to get the company to where it is now, and I relish the challenge of continuing that success.

“We’re honoured Chris and Suzanne have the confidence to allow David, myself and the wider team the autonomy to take the business to the next level.

“It’s a real boost to be recognised on Ward Hadaway’s Fastest 50 list for three years, appearing alongside many well-known and successful regional businesses, which is testament to the foundations laid by Chris and Suzanne.

“And, as a team, we’re committed to building on those.

“One of the biggest things for me is increasing our brand profile.

“Although the business sells £41 million of tools each year, I had to Google ‘Powertool World’ when I was first asked if I’d like to speak to them.

“We achieve what we achieve now thanks to the great work by Kyle and the team on the digital strategy and working with search engines.

“Our website is increasingly successful because of the work done in terms of the level of detail and tool specifications on each item we list, because the information available from manufacturers can be relatively low.”

Andrew adds: “It’s a huge team effort to provide that great customer experience from start to finish.

“But developing our employer brand is an area we need to look at – we need to keep doing what we’re good at but get better at telling people about it, and we’ll be looking at expanding our workforce to achieve that.

“We want talented people to come here and help us build something that’s going to be even greater.”

 

Laying foundations for long-term success

Powertool World has enjoyed fantastic growth thanks to the technical expertise and excellent customer service provided by its staff, writes Gillian Chinhengo.

And, like all successful businesses, it isn’t resting on its laurels, with plans in place to expand yet further.

A key driver in achieving those goals, as managing director Andrew Pickersgill alludes, will be its employer brand.

As a topic, though, it is hugely important for every company.

The employment landscape has changed exponentially, with worker trends and expectations constantly shifting.

It means firms must be forward-thinking to attract and retain staff, going far beyond simply pushing up salaries.

Workers today, particularly those at the younger end of the spectrum, want a lot more from their employers.

They want to know about a firm’s corporate social responsibilities and what it is doing in the community.

They want to know about its commitment to wellbeing and equity, diversity and inclusion.

And they want opportunities to carry out volunteering days and have the flexibility of hybrid working.

It is crucial, therefore, that businesses don’t just keep an eye on the market but adapt to the changes they are witnessing.

By creating an environment that both attracts and retains talent, companies gain crucial competitive advantage, which provides deep foundations upon which to build lasting success.

Gillian Chinhengo, is a partner in Ward Hadaway’s employment team. An experienced and trusted employment lawyer, Gillian is skilled at providing commercially-focused advice, working closely with clients to provide solutions tailored to their circumstances and needs.

www.wardhadaway.com
www.powertoolworld.co.uk