When Maurice and Penny Lowndes established Access Hardware in 1975 they may well have held big hopes for their business. Some 40 years later, even the most optimistic person would find it hard to believe that the single store in North Melbourne with only four employees could have grown to a national presence and have contributed to such landmark constructions as Crown Casino and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne or the New Parliament House in Canberra.
Now under the guidance of the second generation – most specifically managing director Spencer Lowndes – Access Hardware is now one of the largest businesses of its kind in Australia with outlets dotted around many parts of the country.
While the business is significantly different to those early days, Spencer says that the fundamentals were put in place by his father and continue through to the current day.
“My grandfather back in Birmingham had a similar business, which is still being run by my cousins in the UK. My father, when he moved out to Australia, had a natural line of business to follow, but genuinely saw an opening for someone to do a little bit differently,” he continues.
“All of the people that were doing it back then tended to be larger companies with larger overheads. My father decided to start something small and make it very customer focused. The business has always been built on personalised service and we uphold that. We work towards fast turnaround of orders, competitive pricing, and service – it’s what is what we pride ourselves on.”
The expansion of Access Hardware has been driven by market demand. Indeed, the first movement out of Victoria came after persuasion from loyal suppliers.
“The first store in New South Wales was a big move for us, but it needed to happen so we could supply the jobs properly. We had a number of significant jobs in Sydney, and our suppliers were encouraging us to make the step so we could work more closely and go after more work.”
A further move to Tasmania proved incredibly successful, and also set a precedent for how further outlets would be managed.
“Tasmania was an interesting move for us,” Spencer explains. “From day one we had two equity partners in the business who managed things on a daily basis.”
With a further three acquisitions in Tasmania, the ‘Apple Isle’ now makes up approximately 15% of the Access Hardware business. With further locations in South Australia, Queensland and Northern Territory, Access Hardware has a genuine national presence.
The ability to control service quality obviously becomes harder as a business grows; however, Spencer says it remains a point of difference against competitors and will therefore remain key focus into the future.
However, when expansion is achieved through acquisition, there is an added level of complication when trying to maintain the “family business” feel. As such, Spencer says that any new potential acquisition starts by looking at the people. He needs to know that they will uphold the name of Access Hardware whilst also maintaining their existing network. It needs to be a win for everyone.
“We’re not the kind of business that goes and acquires a company and then makes a whole heap of people redundant. What we’re actually buying, I think, is the people. It gets rebranded, but the people remain and they are always the most important part of any business. I think it’s certainly the most important part of an acquisition.”
The interesting by product of these acquisitions is that Access Hardware has also expanded its product offering. When Access Hardware started, it was an “architectural hardware distributor”.
Kilargo Pty Ltd is a leading manufacturer of architectural door sealing products. Proudly manufacturing in Australia, Kilargo has an International reputation for designing and manufacturing a quality range of innovative door sealing solutions for the containment of sound, fire, smoke and weather. Working alongside Spencer and the team at Access Hardware for the past 16 years, Kilargo has been afforded with many opportunities on prominent commercial construction projects. The strong professional affiliation which exists between both companies, heightens Kilargo’s reputation as the respected authority in its field, sustaining solid partnerships with industry through technical expertise, flexibility, seamless service and unwavering support.
Graeme Williams – Managing Director
“We were predominantly selling security products,” says Spencer. “Through the acquisitions, it’s dramatically driven our service side of the offering, in locksmithing and automatic doors, electronic access control, CC TV, alarms, and more. Most of that has mostly come through acquisition.”
Equally, the business has evolved at a technological level. Spencer says that they have invested in quality project management tools, and embraced technology to address efficiencies – yet these are as much about helping the staff as it is turning a profit.
“I think, as a business, we have a duty to our employees to give them fantastic tools, to allow them to do their job properly. For example, we’re heavily using barcoding, even at the document level, to automatically scan documents for later retrieval. We’re taking out some of the manual steps – and looking at many other areas.
“Ultimately, it’s all about our people and supporting them to allow them to do their job. I think that’s really been the key success of Access Hardware through its 40 years.”
This extends to the client base, with loyal suppliers and partnerships that have been in place for decades. Again, Spencer says it is driven by having the right people and equipping them to their job to the best of their ability.
Originally trading as Dalco Hardware back in the 1960’s, Allegion has enjoyed a strong relationship with Access Hardware since their establishment. As a manufacturer and supplier of high quality architectural hardware, Access is one of our key commercial hardware distributors and a valued customer. Our sales team works closely with Access to identify mutual opportunities and we strive to support Access through good customer service, which is how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors.
Similar to the acquisition path taken by Access, Allegion has made recent acquisitions in Australia to expand on our portfolio of products and services. We have experienced good growth with Access over the last 12 months, which can be accredited to the support Access provide us and the service we provide Access
Joel Johnstone – National Sales Manager, Allegion (Australia)
“It’s about service, service and more service, and that directly relates back to the people,” he says. “I think we’ve got the best people in our industry and that’s something we really strive to have the best people with the best knowledge – and the best systems to support them along the way.”
So how do you maintain the “family feel” when you’ve grown enormously, and acquired some of your outlets?
“It’s about respecting the people who work for you and represent you. We need to show we appreciate them. We make decisions about staff that aren’t necessarily in the best interests of the company at a bottom line.
“It means that we maintain that family feel. However big Access Hardware gets, we never want to lose that. I couldn’t think of anything worse than just thinking of staff as a number in the Payroll System or a cost on the P&L.”