LIFELONG PASSION TO BUSINESS SUCCESS
Intertrade Holdings Director Steve Nicholson has been into all things automotive since a young age, and today, he uses that passion to drive the success of his business forward
Steve Nicholson was born and raised in Belmont – a suburb of Perth in Western Australia – and from a young age, a passion for the automotive burned brightly.
“From the age of around 13 years old I was interested in cars and how they worked,” Steve said.
“At the age of 15, I was given an old FJ Holden stock car which I spent a lot of time on trying to get it running correctly.
“My first road car was a HT Premier 253 V8 and the first thing I did was to take out the old muffler and fit up two Can-Am Hot Dogs, however this got me in trouble with the Police and I was fined $10 for excessive noise.
“My second car was a HT Premier 308 V8 – this already had a sports exhaust system so I just added Shelby Sixties to the rear together with Monroe RLA ride levellers to jack up the rear. It looked and sounded mean and was ready for the ‘Bog Laps’ in the city.
“When my older brother secured a job as an apprentice Auto Electrician, I realised the automotive industry was something I wanted to get into properly.”
When it came time to put his passion to work, Steve found himself at Attwood Motors.
“My mother worked across the road from Attwood Motors, which was a Holden dealership in the city. I was 16 at the time and after I graduated with my Junior Certificate she asked the workshop manager if there were any apprenticeships going. Luckily for me, they were looking for an Auto Electrical apprentice!
“I was in my element with that job, as I could drive all of the latest and fastest new Holdens that were booked into the dealership,” Steve laughed.
Steve would stay at Attwood Motors for three years before requesting a transfer to pursue further training – he landed with Deering Auto Electrics where he completed his apprenticeship.
“After a few years with Deerings I left to go into business with my parents and brother – this was a bit of a departure from the automotive area as we opened a delicatessen! After two years, we sold out and bought a lunch bar, before also selling that a year later,” Steve said.
“At that point, I took a year off and looked around casually for work – it was 1981 and I was 26 years old, I had just bought a house with the proceeds from the sale of the Deli, met my wife Michelle and landed a salesman’s job with Marlows Auto Parts: suffice to say, it was a good year!”
At Marlows, Steve quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a branch manager before being promoted to National Purchasing Manager for the group.
“I was with Marlows for 22 years, 15 of which were spent as their Purchasing Manager where I was predominantly in charge of their Import program which attributed $18.5 million (21 percent) in retail sales to the group’s turnover,” Steve explained.
“All good things must come to an end however and in 2003, the business was sold and I was out of a job!
“For the next four to five years I worked for various companies involved in the Automotive business before 2006 saw my wife and I start up Intertrade Holdings as a wholesale distribution business.”
Upon the establishment of Intertrade Holdings, and with Steve’s many overseas contacts, the business started to import a range of products such as its own Fire Extinguisher program under the brand BFM, and also bike racks, roof racks, Grip-Twist tiedowns and towing mirrors.
“In the first two years, we had operated out of our garage and a storage facility, but with the business growing quickly we needed larger premises and in 2009 we leased a warehouse and office complex.” Steve said.
“In the early years, we were distributing product lines for other local companies but we quickly learnt that there was no money in doing this so we embarked on developing our own brands.
“This enabled us to grow our product and brand offering to include Kakadoo 4×4 and leisure products, National Trailer Parts and Accessories, Mister Cans Water and Fuel Storage Solutions and Mister Hitches Towing Solutions.”
Since then, the growth has been consistent and strong.
“Our turnover has grown each year, and it has increased significantly in the past five years in line with the development of our own products and brands – having a range of products that no one else has undoubtedly contributed to our continued growth,” Steve said.
“Our current customers include national retail groups, independent auto shops, trailer manufacturers and parts suppliers, towbar installers, caravan and RV specialists and 4×4 specialist distributors.
“At the end of the day, we feel that our success has been largely due to our ability to react quickly to the changing marketplace while having a range of quality products that we have developed ourselves.
“Our product range is the core element of Intertrade’s success, alongside our focus on having a premium quality product at a fair price and the ability to adapt quickly to change.
“For instance, in regards to our Mister Hitches program, we are very proud to have Australia’s largest range of specialist hitches developed primarily on customer feedback.
“The time frame from idea to release is around 90 days, and that certainly sets us apart from our competition.
“Our Mister Hitches products are made to our strict quality standards in our Taiwan factory. The product is robotically welded and CNC machined for consistency and I believe we are the only company sourcing this type of product from Taiwan as most other companies are sourcing from China where labour is cheaper and they are not paying customs duty because of the free trade agreement.
“We have also endeavoured to create a ‘high barrier to entry’ product offering with our Mister Hitches program, meaning that it could be difficult for a ‘start-up’ business to replicate what we do.”
With the success of Intertrade Holdings in the 11 years since its establishment, it is clear Steve is a high achiever in our industry who has learnt plenty along the way.
“The advice I would give to anybody starting in this industry is to know your market, adapt to change quickly, build your own brands, offer a quality product at a fair price and most importantly – have fun!” Steve said.
“I believe that if you have a good attitude, then the skill and the experience required to excel in whatever you do will be learnt very quickly. Having a high skill level is no good if the attitude to see it through is not there.
“We have learnt a lot of lessons over the years and made a lot of decisions, but I would have to say the stand-out one decision that I look back on and think – gee, I really got that right – would be marrying my wife Michelle.
“That realisation leads into some more advice – spend quality time with your family. I do regret not spending enough quality time with my children when they were young. My time with Marlows meant I spent a fair bit of time travelling and so I was away a lot from my family, and most other times involved leaving home when the kids were asleep and coming home after they had gone to bed.”
These days, Steve’s children are grown and also involved in the business.
“My son Jay and my daughter Kristy are involved in the business, and Jay’s six-year-old daughter loves to visit and help out in the office too!” laughed Steve.
“Working together brings us all closer and I really enjoy that aspect – having a supportive family is very important in the success of any thriving business.”
Into the future, Steve is planning for continued growth and increased brand awareness.
“The future for Intertrade looks good, we will hopefully see continued controlled growth which will come from future product programs currently being developed, and also as awareness of our brands become stronger,” Steve said.
“We will continue to be an AAAA member into the future as well. I have been a member both indirectly and directly since 1984 and have never missed a trade show.
“The shows are very well put together and offer an opportunity for members of the industry to interact directly to the companies that manufacture or distribute the parts they sell. They are also a great venue to catch up with people you know and to network – some of my best deals with suppliers were made over a few drinks at the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar in the Cross after the Sydney show had closed.
“We also value the monthly magazines and the added benefits of access to human resource/industrial relations and legal advisory services; these will continue to be useful to us as we look to continue to grow into the future.”
For more on Intertrade Holdings, visit www.intertradeholdings.com.au