CoolDrive is a true family business spanning three generations (from L to R: John, John Snr and Tim Blanchard).

Founded in 1977 by John Blanchard Senior and his wife Shirley, CoolDrive is now one of Australia’s largest automotive parts distributors

Forty years on from when the Blanchards began selling automotive air conditioning component parts from their garage in Melbourne, CoolDrive now employs more than 400 staff in 28 locations across Australia and New Zealand.
The company offers a comprehensive range of automotive air conditioning, electrical, engine cooling, engine management and performance products. It is headed up by CEO and Managing Director John Blanchard – the son of John Blanchard Senior and Shirley.
In the early days, the company acted more as a manufacturer’s representative, selling to most of the major players. The standardisation of many parts, such as air conditioning into modern cars, led to many of those customers doing their own programs or buying out CoolDrive’s competitors.
Consequently, the company quickly grew into a variety of sectors such as rotating electrical (including alternators and starter motors), engine cooling, underbody and accessories.
It then expanded further into electrical accessories, with a focus on “life-styling” customers’ vehicles for their chosen activity, such as driving lights, towing accessories, dash cams, safety gear, 4WD kits and so on. Last year CoolDrive expanded its engine management parts and service offering, which was introduced in mid-2013.
Today, CoolDrive customers have access to more than 60,000 SKUs from more than 120 leading Australian and international brands.
“Whilst the change undertaken by CoolDrive in the last 40 years is significant, what drives our business remains the same and always will – to distribute the highest quality products, to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations and to deliver value,” CoolDrive Managing Director, John Blanchard, said.
“We continually listen to our customers and suppliers and will always work and communicate with them to ensure their needs are met and exceeded.
“This is not just with our product range, but also our product availability, services and knowledge, and our branch presence.”
At the beginning of last year, CoolDrive had 19 branches across Australia and, through a controlled development strategy, increased its local branch numbers by six, bringing its local network to 28 in total. Last year CoolDrive expanded into New Zealand with the opening of two branches.
“The last 12 months were probably the biggest for CoolDrive in terms of business growth with the continual opening of new branches and establishment of an official presence in New Zealand,” John said.
“The local aftermarket industry is changing significantly, which calls for businesses to be progressive and adaptive.
“As Charles Darwin said ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change’.
“In our 40th year in business, and in the immediate years to come, CoolDrive will be opening new branches giving more customers ready access to our products and services.
“Our product range will also continue to grow to ensure it is on par with existing trends as well as anticipating future trends and technologies.”
Apart from expanding the number of outlets and an evolving product line, John said maintaining a strong and loyal workforce was critical to CoolDrive’s success both now and into the future.
“I would like to think that we look after our employees better than most and treat many of them as family,” John said.
“We have many long-term employees that have built up strong relationships with customers, and indeed I know I am often dealing with the sons and daughters of people that my father started doing business with.”
Though a committed family business man, John was once tempted to sell CoolDrive. While the sale didn’t eventuate, it did prompt him to reconsider where the company was headed.
“Over ten years ago we turned down a very lucrative offer to sell out and it was at that point I realised I had to commit the next 10 or 20 years of my life to make CoolDrive what it is today.”
While that decision proved to be the right one, it also presented many challenges.
“Some of the biggest challenges are having the ability to make the change into new ventures but also, as for any family business, funding our growth and sticking to our core values,” John said.
“CoolDrive will never be the biggest player in the market, but I think it would be nice to grow to a size of 35 to 40 branches; this would be a huge achievement.
“We aim to be the company that people want to work for and the number one choice of company that people want to buy from.”
CoolDrive recently celebrated its four decades in business with a dinner in Melbourne. Attended by 250 industry luminaries, suppliers, key staff past and present, branch managers and special guests, the evening at the iconic Zinc restaurant at Federation Square included CoolDrive’s annual Branch Manager awards presentation.
Hosted by Nine Network television personality Brodie Harper, the CoolDrive 40th Anniversary celebration was attended by company founder John Blanchard Senior, known to everyone as “Senior” and his wife Shirley, who was surprised to learn of a new perpetual award for Branch of the Year named in her honour.
This new Award joined a similar established trophy named after company founder WJ Blanchard who, with Shirley, began the business in a home garage in 1977.
CoolDrive also announced a new ‘Hall of Fame’ Award to recognise the contribution of individuals to the business.
Inducted at the dinner were Robert Picone, CoolDrive’s longest-standing employee who started with the business in 1980; the now-retired Bernie Kelly who contributed significantly
in the areas of product sourcing and training; David Ellis who opened CoolDrive’s first interstate branch; Helen Dermanakis who as Senior’s
PA remains the only person who can tell him what to do; and the late Keith Murray, a major contributor in Product whose son Max accepted the award.

From left to right: Hall of Fame Inductees: Mr Max Murray for Keith Murray, Helen Dermanakis, David Ellis, John Blanchard, Bernie Kelly and Rob Picone

Across the celebratory evening, many stories were related of CoolDrive’s early struggles and the challenges along the way, and John spoke of the tremendous growth the business has experienced over the last 10 years.
Guest speakers included Mark Padwick, Managing Director of Sanden Australia, Anthony Kittel of RedArc and Kazumoto Ejiri of Koyorad Japan.
“It was a tremendous night for everyone involved with CoolDrive, from the early days to the present,” CoolDrive General Manager – Marketing, Tim Blanchard, said.
“We were honoured that so many key industry people and suppliers chose to join us to celebrate our 40 years and to acknowledge the efforts of our amazing network of Branches over this past 12 months.”
One theme that predominated throughout the night was the ‘family’ culture of the family-owned CoolDrive business, with both Branch operators and employees likening the company to one big family.
“At the end of the day, it is the values of the people that have been and are today a part of the CoolDrive business that have stood us apart and enabled us to grow as a credible brand that customers want to deal with,” Tim said.
“It’s a business built on people and product, and I think that is something the family is most proud of.”

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