TradeTools founder Greg Ford runs his business a bit differently than most.
He has more than 50 shareholders at his Queensland-based company, and most of them are his employees.
In fact, while the remuneration of workers across the country has come under pressure amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many of Ford’s staff are benefitting from a surge in demand that’s seen the business increase its turnover by 40% since April, with revenue eclipsing $130 million last financial year.
“I don’t pay myself a multimillion-dollar salary,” the business owner tells SmartCompany. “I don’t need it.”
Ford founded TradeTools in 1987 to create jobs for himself and his father.
Fast forward 33 years, and what was once a two-man team has become a workforce of 240 people, across 18 stores.
When staff have worked for the company for 10 years, they’re gifted shares in a profit-sharing initiative Ford credits with helping the business to thrive before and during the coronavirus crisis.
That’s because, with an average staff retention rate of eight years, Ford’s staff are experts in their craft — a point of difference the business owner believes any competitor would be hard-pressed to replicate.
“The big corporates have never been able to get into the specialised end of the tool industry [due to a] lack of expertise,” he tells SmartCompany.
“The only way they’re able to compete with us is to buy us out, basically.”
Ford has had more than one offer to buy his business recently, as large corporates look to snap up successful companies amid a wave of consolidation across the industry.
Over the last 12 months, giants such as Bunnings and Metcash have invested millions in once-independent brands, including Adelaide Tools and Total Tools.
But Ford is having none of it.
Anyone asking to buy his business gets the same answer: “Not on your life.”
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The business owner, who grew up in Europe and has lived in the United States, says he’s seen what happens when independent companies fold in the face of large businesses en masse, and it’s not pretty.
“I’ve seen what happens when you basically let corporations run the country. That’s what we see in the states and Europe” Ford says.
“Companies like TradeTools can be privately owned and have a strong, engaged workforce. I want to see that philosophy continue to expand.
“I don’t want Bunnings to be the only hardware company in Australia … it’s the whole point of TradeTools.”
But beyond this, Ford wants more independent business owners to adopt profit-sharing initiatives with their workers, saying there is a range of benefits to sharing, whether that’s aligning incentives to promote business success or just being able to sleep soundly at night.
“We spread the wealth around and everyone benefits. I cannot understand why others, especially in the higher echelons of business in Australia, just can’t see that,” he says.
“It allows you to sleep at night knowing your employees aren’t continually looking for a new job, and it allows you to be more trusting of the people who work for you because they’re taking part in the profitability of the business.”
There’s also a need to expand local manufacturing, says Ford, who stocks his own range of Aussie-made private-label tools called Renegade Industrial.
“I’ve been against globalisation since the term was coined,” Ford says.
I’ve always thought we should produce more of our own products here.
“When I came to Australia 47 years ago many things were made in Australia, I’ve been sorry to see that so many things are now made overseas.”