A cut above

After starting business life with the sale of shaving blades more than 50 years ago, the Sheffield Group has morphed into one of the nation’s most trusted suppliers of cutting tools.

By Cameron Cooper

Few family enterprises survive beyond one or two generations—making the Sheffield Group a true business success story.

Known for its cutting tools and power tool accessories, the Cardiff operation in NSW is a fourth-generation Australian-owned and -operated family company. “We’re unique,” says sales director Greg Allbut, the grandson of the business’s founder.

Set up in 1970, the business initially had a contract to provide British shaving razors to the Royal Australian Navy through a government supply agency deal. “That supplier is still our blade supplier today,” says Allbut, who believes that forging trusted relationships with all stakeholders has been at the heart of the Sheffield Group’s longevity.

Since then, the business has stayed true to its origins by providing cutting tools and a range of other power tool accessories to construction workers and tradies. After once operating out of a backyard shed in Sydney’s West Pennant Hills, the Sheffield Group now has a sophisticated plant in Cardiff, near Newcastle, and over the years it has introduced advanced CNC testing machines and fully automatic processing and development tooling.

“That’s what has made us different, having the capacity to develop and maintain quality here in Australia,” Allbut says.

HUGE RANGE

Originally specialising in utility knives and replacement blades, today the Sheffield Group sells more than 9500 products for tradies and professionals in the engineering, industrial and construction markets under the Alpha, Austsaw and Sterling brands.

Among its biggest sellers are the Alpha high-speed steel drills, driver bits and holesaws, while its catalogue also features items such as mag-based drills, hand tools, staplers, flooring tools and measuring tools.

On the innovation front, its Sterling Black Panther industrial snips have become the must-have cutting tool on mining sites, replacing knives that often cause a high rate of injuries from cutting accidents. “Our product has become the industry benchmark in the mining area,” Allbut says. “The competition has tried to copy it without success.”

The Sheffield Group has a team of more than 70, and it has fared well during COVID-19 as demand has risen for domestic construction work and renovation projects.

Managing stock during the pandemic has been one of the key challenges because of well-documented issues with international freight bottlenecks. “We’ve had to do some fairly aggressive supply-chain management.” Nevertheless, it is pleased with a 95 per cent order fill rate during this unprecedented period.

The Sheffield Group designs and develops products in Australia and then partners with manufacturers to deliver those innovations. A decision some years ago not to be too reliant on production in any one country led to a vast diversification of the business’s manufacturing base. It now partners with the best manufacturers globally to deliver its product range while meeting the business’s high specifications.

“The move has played into our hands as it’s opened up more supply avenues, rather than being hit with mass shortages. If you work with the right manufacturer, you can get exactly what you need when you need it,” Allbut says.

Rigorous batch testing is done in Australia, while the Cardiff team also oversees the finishing and packaging of more than 65 per cent of products, and this is rapidly increasing.

TIME IS MONEY

In developing first-class and efficient products, the Sheffield Group has an underlying aim—it wants to save time onsite for tradies.

“If we can save one person an hour a day on a site, that’s nearly $120 a day,” Allbut says. “Repeat that saving across a whole team of construction professionals and it adds up seriously fast.”

With that in mind, Sheffield Group has recently released the Alpha VersaDrive range of drilling, cutting and threading tools that is reinventing onsite metalworking processes. For example, instead of a worker taking various drills and tools up and down on a scissor lift for a job, they can now use the world’s first modular, quick-change cutting and drilling system designed for impact and rotary tools. “They can do it all with their standard tools, which has never been seen before.”

Likewise, it has a new range of saw blades for cutting metal that results in a massive time saving for workers. “Your outlay for the blade may be higher, but the time saving and the number of cuts you get before you’ve got to change the blade are phenomenal.”

PERFORMANCE IS KING

The Sheffield Group is built on two core pillars—a Culture of Care (looking after staff , suppliers and customers) and Products that Outperform (giving customers an experience that exceeds all expectations).

When an end user purchases an Alpha or Austsaw product, Allbut says they can be confident that they are investing in a cutting tool that has been tested and proven to outperform every other product within its category.

“Working onsite comes with many challenges and the last thing a tradie needs is for their drill bit or saw blade to let them down with the job half done. With Alpha and Austsaw you have confidence that you will get the job done.”

On the back of that strength and other great products in the Sheffield Group’s range, Allbut is confident that the business can thrive for another 50 years.

“We’re very thankful for the way things are going, but you can always do better and that’s what drives us.”