OUTSIDE THE COMFORT ZONE
Steven Tokouzis, Senior Channel and New Products Manager at Apex Tool Group, has built a successful career in the automotive aftermarket by pushing himself outside his comfort zone
Today, Steve is responsible for the continued success of GEARWRENCH in Australia.
“GEARWRENCH is the fastest-growing brand of hand tools in the automotive aftermarket,” Steve said.
“We only launched the brand in the Australian market ten years ago, so we’re still considered the new kid on the block.”
During that time, GEARWRENCH has experienced constant double-digit growth, taking market share from the more established brands.
“The real drive behind our market penetration is our vertically integrated manufacturing and our heavy investment in new product development,” Steve explained.
“I believe we have the world’s best product development team. This allows us to bring new and innovative products to market fast.”
Born and raised in Sydney, Steve’s career in the automotive aftermarket was kick-started when he applied to complete his school-mandated work experience program at the local K-Mart Tyre and Auto.
“I’ve always been into cars, so I thought this would be a fun way to learn more about them,” Steve said.
“I must have done something right because, at the end of my work experience placement, they offered me a casual job, and I jumped at the chance.”
Initially, Steve spent his Saturdays fitting tyres and helping out around the workshop, but it wasn’t long before he started his apprenticeship as a mechanic.
“I left school in year ten and started my apprenticeship. Trade school was fantastic, and there was one teacher who gave us some very sound advice, he said that you don’t always need to be the best at something, you just need to be a good bloke with the right attitude and people will bend over backwards to help you out,” Steve remarked.
“That’s always stuck with me throughout my career and made me realise the value of having a positive attitude.”
Armed with that advice, Steve put his nose to the grindstone while keeping an eye out for opportunities to further his career.
“I was a very comfortable job,” said Steve. “I enjoyed engaging with the customers and was good on the tools. To top it off, it was only about 10 minutes from home, but I wanted to push myself to do more, and when I was offered the role of assistant manager at another K-Mart Tyre and Auto Store, I grabbed it with both hands.”
Steve’s new job saw his commute to work increase to almost an hour each way, but his effort was rewarded when he got the call to join the K-Mart Tyre and Auto head office team.
“I ended up spending 18 years with Kmart Tyre and Auto,” Steve explained.
After downing tools, Steve’s first role was in the training department, where he was responsible for working with mechanics and store managers to hone their selling techniques, upskill them technically and delivering new safety initiatives.
“My time in the training department was certainly an eye-opener,” Steve remarked. “I was travelling all over the country and engaging with guys coming from off the floor.
“It allowed me the opportunity to develop my interpersonal and listening skills, which has proved invaluable as my career has continued to evolve.”
After doing his time in the training department, Steve spent time in merchandising before securing the role of mechanical services manager. But after almost two decades with the business, he was ready for a new challenge.
“I don’t regret one minute of the time I spent with K-Mart Tyre and Auto,” said Steve.
“But when I was offered the role at GEARWRENCH, I knew it was time to challenge myself once again and push outside my comfort zone.”
GEARWRNCH is a division of Apex Tool Group (ATG), one of the largest manufacturers of professional hand and power tools in the world, serving the industrial, vehicle service and assembly, aerospace, electronics, construction, and serious DIY markets.
In addition to GEARWRENCH, ATG’s portfolio of brands includes SATA, Crescent, Cleco, and Weller.
“ATG works collaboratively with distributors, retailers, and large customers across the globe to make sure end users have the tools they need to solve real-world problems,” Steve explained.
“Our unique category management approach provides customers with end user data, market research, and customer insight, which helps drive inventory, display and promotion decisions.”
Of course, Steve’s time on the tools serves him well as he pushes to grow the GEARWRENCH brand in Australia.
“There are currently more than 5,000 SKUs in the GEARWRENCH range,” Steve described.
“But we’re not stopping there, our product roadmap is extensive, and we have a huge number of innovative projects in the pipeline.”
Many of the new product innovations start with the end user, in this case, mechanics from around Australia. Steve’s extensive experience on the tools provides him with a unique insight into the challenges they face every day.
“A big part of my job is to get out and talk to mechanics in their workshops,” said Steve.
“I work with them, and together we identify processes that slow down their work and develop products to help them become more efficient.
“In the end, our tools are designed to help them get the cars out on time. It’s not just about increasing productivity and profitability. Our tools can make the difference between going home to your family on time or spending hours in the workshop.”
While it’s a vast, global business, Apex Tools goes to great lengths to listen to customers, with its unique innovation incubation program designed to take on board this feedback and bring new products to market quickly.
“The advantage of being a global business is that we’ve got strategic business units set up around the world, so we are drawing insights from multiple markets,” said Steve.
“We have a global innovation forum that meets once a month to identify new opportunities, and this, combined with our vertically integrated manufacturing capabilities, allows us to develop new products at a break-neck pace.”
The monthly innovation forum Steve described includes a broad cross-section of members, including the Chief Executive Officer, representatives from the factories, engineers, industrial designers, and, of course, new product managers.
“In these meetings, we gather all the end user feedback, identify new product opportunities and start the new product development process,” said Steve.
On many occasions, Steve has taken prototypes, 3D mock-ups, or pre-production hot off the production line and shown them to his customers to glean their feedback.
Steve is quick to recognise that a big part of his success is his ability to communicate and build rapport quickly, from the boardroom to the workshop floor.
“I get a big kick out of sharing our new products with my customers before they have been released,” Steve remarked.
“It shows them that we’re on this journey together, and I know they feel proud to have played a part in launching a new product globally.”
When it comes to strengthening their relationships with end users, Steve and his team at GEARWRENCH find their AAAA membership delivers exceptional value.
“The AAAA provides us with numerous opportunities to engage with end users,” said Steve.
“We can speak with them at trade shows and at the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Expo, get new products into their hands, and share our new product concepts and ideas.”
GEARWRENCH also runs a national campaign in the Australian Automotive Aftermarket magazine.
“Every quarter, we insert our latest catalogue into the magazine,” said Steve.
“We know it ends up on the tables of workshop break rooms right across Australia and that it gets read. It’s another avenue we use to great effect to communicate with our end users.”
GEARWRENCH has also thrown its support behind the AIS, supplying tools and advice to help the AAAA secure the success of this enormous project.
“There is no doubt that the AAAA delivers value of multiple levels,” said Steve.
“They help us keep our finger on the pulse of industry trends and provide a direct link to our end users.”
To find out more about GEARWRENCH, visit www.gearwrench.com.au