PARTS: Fry's Spares

By: David Goeldner


This old house has lived a life, but spare parts dealer Matt Fry wouldn’t see it changed for quids

PARTS: Fry's Spares
SWF wiper kits are a big seller – and there are boxes upon boxes in stock

A small colonial era house on the corner of Alexander and Devonshire Streets at Crows Nest on Sydney’s lower north shore has had a varied and colourful past.

At one time it was the 19thcentury’s equivalent of a bus interchange, before buses, but with a Cobb and Co stagecoach company’s ticket office, waiting area, and horse stables out the back.

Later it morphed into a popular grocery store and sandwich shop during the mid 20th century and since 1977 has been home to Fry’s Spares – a leading distributor of German-made automotive parts.

Taking cues from a perennially popular BBC TV series, the shop has been described as ‘Tardis-like’ in that its exterior belies what is contained within.

The building and surrounds are heritage listed, which means little can be done by way of renovation, but that doesn’t faze Fry’s Spares Managing Director Matt Fry who regards the property – although he doesn’t actually live there – as ‘home’.

Fry’s Spares was founded by John Fry, who sadly passed on a few years ago. The business reins were picked up by middle son Matt as the company’s MD, while another brother Mark tends to warehousing at an outlet in Queensland.

Matt Fry is passionate about parts, and dedicated to the business left in his care.

"I am in the business of being in business," is one of Matt’s maxims.

There are four brothers and one sister in the Fry family, and Matt is number three.

The older two brothers went into different fields as did their sister, leaving John’s widow Sandra and the younger two brothers Mark and Matt as the Fry Spare’s custodians – but all family members were somehow connected with J C Fry and Sons from its early days.

"From the day we could count we were counting nuts and bolts," Matt says.

"I have worked here all my life, and when people think of Fry’s they think of Crows Nest."

But while the store at Crows Nest is regarded more as ‘home’ than ‘head office’, the Fry family recently opened a parts warehouse at Rozelle in Sydney’s inner west.

It’s the first time Fry’s has had a fully functioning 150 square-metre warehouse with a fully functioning pallet system and forklifts, and two staff members at the site.

There were two primary reasons for the recent expansion, explains Matt.

"We were running out of space here and a major part of our business is the automotive industry," he says.

"As cars get older and new cars are introduced you need more bits, so there is ever-expanding stock and range."

The other reason for locating a distribution outlet at Rozelle was to meet the logistical challenge of moving parts around Sydney, given that Crows Nest is on the northern side of the harbour and many Fry’s clients are in the south and south west of the city.

Sydney’s harbour bridge often chokes with traffic, prompting Matt to skirt around the problem with a Rozelle location.

"We can reduce service and delivery times to our customers.

"The new location is close to Sydney’s cross city tunnel, also providing faster access to the airport and eastern suburbs – and easily to the western suburbs. We needed more space."

Fry’s Spares specialises in German and United Kingdom marques, such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Jaguar, and Land Rover – with a parts range extending back to cars built in the 1950s.

"We have a brake disk and brake pad for every BMW that was ever put on the road, on our shelves today, ready to go," Matt says.

Beneath his charm and boyish good looks, with a resume that includes dating some of Australia’s leading female fashion models, Matt Fry has a depth of knowledge of automotive parts that goes well beyond the skill of parts interpreting.

He equates prestige European car building along similar lines to coach building. As an example, Matt says the leading makers, such as Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo or Scania, don’t make many of the parts – such as oil filters – that go into the build of their vehicles.

"They get companies like Mann filters or Zimmermann brakes to manufacture their required parts under licence and tender at the point of construction of a new vehicle," Matt says.

"Essentially BMW or Land Rover are coach building companies. They assemble stuff in their plant, quality check it, and off if goes.

"We buy parts from those companies that supply the original manufacturers, so therefore we are providing exactly the same quality as imported."

Although Fry Spare’s is an aftermarket dealer, the company does deal – based on the described scenario – in what could be equated to original manufacturers parts.  

But that doesn’t mean Matt Fry and his team is legally able to sell original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts with the car maker’s stamp – that is definitely off limits. But it’s a fine line between OEM, and ‘almost’ OEM.

Matt regularly travels to Europe to check out the latest product offerings from leading parts manufacturers, and he has recently returned with a new water pump – Dolz – from Spain for truck and bus.

"Because I buy parts directly from the manufacturer we are extremely competitive," he says.

"I try to stay under the radar a bit, because we like what we do and we have very good customers."

 BUS CONNECTED

Matt Fry is mildly rueful of the current situation he faces with bus parts, concerned that the recent influx of Asian imports has distanced his connection with the Australian bus industry.

"The increase in Chinese imported buses has had a massive effect on us," he says.

"Consequently we’ve seen a reduction in our market share in bus parts by as much as 50 per cent in the past six years."

Thankfully for the business, Fry’s Spares has moved solidly into prestige car parts, where there has been substantial growth – as much as 75 per cent over the same period as the decline in bus part sales.

But, that doesn’t mean there are plans to cut off contact from an industry he still admires and feels a part of.

Matt sees Australian bus operators swinging back to European bus brands, and that the ‘experiment’ with Chinese buses may be about to wane.

"Not only are operators of Chinese buses realising that parts are not available in a hurry, they are finding that the cheap bus is not so cheap anymore," he says.

"And to put your bus off the road is very expensive, no matter how cheap the bus."

 

SUBHEAD: GERMAN BUILT – DAS IST GUT

 

The New South Wales State Transit Authority recently asked Matt to prepare a tender submission for the retrofit of windscreen wipers into their fleet, based around the supply of German-made parts.

Matt says there has been a recent increase in demand for wiper kits following a high number of failures of kits made in China.

"When was the last time you changed the wiper arm on your car? Never," he says.

Matt finds it hard to believe that such parts are failing on some buses prematurely – the wiper arms and the internal linkages.

It might be a sales pitch to sell more wiper motors, arms and blades, but Fry’s Spares has a long history of carrying German-made SWF windscreen motor kits.

Wiper kits are a big seller at Fry’s Spares.

The link with SWF in Germany was established by Dieter Stoker, co-owner of Transit Supplies at Mona Vale, who was a close associate of Matt’s father, John.

Transit Supplies actually started at Fry’s Spares Alexander Street ‘home’, but even for its Tardis-spaced dimensions, running two spare parts businesses at the one increasingly cramped location became too much, and so the Dieter family moved on.

Matt has kept close contact with Lisa and Dieter Stoker, given there is a family bond between the Fry and Stoker families that run deeper than any business rivalry.

"Transit Supplies are now going very strongly and they are the leaders in mirror technology and lighting," Matt says.

Matt knows Dieter Stoker put his father onto a good thing with SWF wipers.

He says the German makers of SWF kits are so exacting about their manufacturing they want a lengthy and detailed report if anything ever goes wrong with one of the kits.

"SWF are safety conscious as well as brand conscious," Matt says.

Dashboard rocker switches form another key part of the business, and a big seller in the truck industry, as well as bus.

But more than keeping up a continuity of supply to bus operators in a period of diminishing demand, Matt feels connected with the bus industry on another level entirely.

"I feel that if you are prepared to take the ‘spoils’ from a particular industry, you should be prepared to contribute as well," he says.

Matt learnt from his father about community, and doing the jobs that no one else wanted to do.

"He was the maintenance man at our scout group when we were kids."

Matt recalls how his father would fix the walls, lights and just about anything else at the clubhouse.

"He knew the importance of utilising the services of a community outfit, and that rubbed off on me."

Fry’s Spares continues to be a sponsor of the annual Bus Industry Confederation conferences, for example, and Matt will sponsor and attend most bus industry events.

Matt also raises funds for a health service at Ararat in south western Victoria, based on the bus industry connection where one of the town’s main industries is making cabling and harnessing for Volgren buses.

To re-invigorate the connection with the bus sector, Matt recently employed a commercial vehicle sales manager Mark Bradley, based at Port Stephens on the central NSW coast.

"It’s good to engage the client again and Mark brings experience of running a bus workshop for the past 25 years," says Matt.

"He has a wealth of knowledge in servicing and maintaining vehicles."

Matt says appointing someone at Fry’s Spares directly from the bus industry has been reinvigorating.

"If bus operators want to see themselves grow, they need to recognise that there are family businesses on the supply side just like them – with their interests at heart."

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Although Matt Fry has engaged in some slick new marketing, a swish website created – check it out – expanded into modern premises at Rozelle, employed a commercial manager and travels often to Europe and elsewhere – his heart is always at home, and that home is the old workers cottage, turned spare parts outlet at Crows Nest in Sydney.

"We are a family, I put out the rubbish, wear the same clothes, and there’s no hierarchy here. Sure I am the owner and the manager, but I still clean the toilet – someone’s got to," he laughs.

Matt believes that Australian bus building will become fashionable again, and is worried that with the current decline in local manufacturing there may not be anyone to service spare parts needs.

"There are quality bus operators out there who want to keep their fleets up to scratch," he says.

He knows that there will be demand for high-end product, across cars, trucks and in bus, and with price creep in China also on the horizon, the demand for European product will still be there even at a slightly higher price point.

Matt doesn’t want to sell product other than from Europe.

"I just wouldn’t be happy doing it," he says.

Euro parts are Fry’s Spares’ speciality now and into the future.

You will soon see Matt engaging with the bus industry once again at September’s Australian Bus and Coach show at Homebush, just a few kilometres as the ‘crow’ flies from Rozelle.

When the show is done and dusted, Matt will most likely be counting up nuts, bolts and all manner of bits and bobs back at ‘home’ – and you now know where that is.

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