Vic-based Hanover Displays Australia and Parts Supply Solutions look beyond local shores

Hanover Displays Australia and Parts Supply Solutions director Grant Watson explains some of the functions of the Mobotix MISD Camera

The old saying ‘two birds with one stone’ accurately describes the set-up of the Watson family business.

Grant and Fiona Watson are the directors of their own company Parts Supply Solutions, and run the Australian subsidiary of United Kingdom-based Hanover Displays.

Both companies operate from the 450 square-metre premises in Mitcham, Victoria— splitting the cost of overheads between the two.

The Australian Hanover branch is one of seven subsidiaries around the world, and the Watsons are also expanding into New Zealand and Indonesia.

The couple started Parts Supply Solutions over a decade ago in the family garage, and brought Hanover Displays on board about six years ago.

Grant has a long history working within the Victorian bus industry beforehand, allowing him to build up the knowledge required for specialist supply.

"We run everything together. The whole lot’s done together but it’s two separate companies," explains Fiona. "It’s all the same customer base."

"We still get people who will ring Grant, because they know he knows the answer — that’s where we sort of complement each other."

The couple moved to the Mitcham warehouse just over five years ago.

While eastern Melbourne may have a slighted inflated property cost compared to the rest of the city, the Watsons say the upfront investment was well worth the cost allowing them more family time.

"When it got busy and our kids were getting bigger, we decided it was time to move," Fiona says.

The couple primarily started the business to focus on bus supply, but have recently worked on major projects for other modes of public transport.

"Buses are the biggest part of the businesses," Fiona says.

Grant says the two companies working side-by-side is a big draw for customers, and a business model which works well.

 "If you compare what they do in the market, they’re similar companies," he says.

The Hanover Displays side of the business focuses on LED signage, while Parts Supply Solutions specialises in parts.

Grant says some early major state contracts helped start the business off.

"We’ve got some really good, loyal customers all over the place that really support us. We’ve got no competitors that do exactly what we do," he says.

 "That’s probably what sort of keeps us going, that probably makes us fairly stable."

The family shepherd King is also onsite daily — acting as security —– and gives the business the traditional family feel.

Grant and Fiona are also actively involved with industry as Bus Industry Confederation (BIC), TasBus and Queensland Bus Industry Council (QBIC) members.



Hanover Displays has recently undergone company-wide rebranding — the first of which is to be unveiled at the 2015 Maintenance Conference and Bus Expo.

Fiona says the brand was due for an update to stay relevant to industry, so the company took up to 10 months researching the re-launch.

"It’s been a fairly big exercise," she says.

"People aren’t just ringing up and saying ‘we want a sign’. They want voice, they want passenger counting — we can do it all."

The couple are pleased with how the re-brand has gone and are looking forward to unveiling the new signage.

"It’s just a new image — it’s clearer and it fits better with what we’re trying to achieve now," Grant says.

The relationship with the main company is very favourable, with the Watsons basically able to run the Australian business as they see fit.

One of the unique aspects of Hanover Displays is all parts are manufactured in the UK or United States.

 "It’s not China. It’s all made in the UK — that’s why we can offer a 10-year warranty," Fiona says.

The US manufacturing plant was developed specifically so the company could comply with the local Buy America Act.

Under this act, all parts relating to mass-transit projects are to be completely manufactured within the country, but the US site only supplies to the one country.

Grant says UK manufacturing ensures the quality of the product which is why the company can also offer lifetime support.

"For the life of the product," he reiterates. "If it’s a software update, you’ll get it for nothing.

"If you need help with your sign, we’ll do it for nothing."

Some of this support includes loading text onto the software for operators — such as 500+ places recently done for Australia Capital Territory’s Action fleet.

"That’s just part in the parcel of what we do," Grant says.

The couple were recently at the head office site in Lewes, in East Sussex, which has recently expanded and now employs about 250 staff.

"We didn’t realise it is as big as what it is — it’s very impressive," Fiona says.

Research and development and technical support resources from the UK are utilised by the Australian subsidiary as needed.

The Watsons have also expanded the sign business into Indonesia, becoming a major supplier to the railways.

The project has been so successful — involving the installation of over 120 signs including 20km of cable — that the couple are considering appointing a permanent staff member in the country.

"We were fairly fortunate that we got a good contract with the railways over there fairly early in the piece," Grant says.

"Our resources are fairly tied up here at the moment, without having to venture over there every five or six weeks.

"To keep the momentum going we need to have someone on the ground."

Grant says Indonesia is embracing the public transport movement and actively trying to build the correct infrastructure to help move its people.

"For a third world country they are quite progressive for public transport," he says.

"At least they’re trying to put in infrastructure to deal with it."

He says there are over 15 dedicated BRT networks near Jakarta, with a couple of hundred buses on each route.

"They’re trying to develop their BRT network because they’re under pressure," he says.

"It’s an interesting place to do business — it was fairly difficult in the first instance."

Grant is hoping to expand business interests in Indonesia, particularly off the success of the rail project.

"These sorts of projects in these sorts of markets, they lead to other things but we’ve got to have someone there to do it.

"Everyone remembers your last mistake, but they don’t remember your last success.

"They remember when something goes wrong, and something will always go wrong."



While the sign part of the business is taking off, Parts Supply Solutions is still thriving in its own right.

The business got its start with major state contracts — particularly with the State Transit Authority of NSW.

The business has had the contract renewed for the third time, although is not supplying all parts this time.

"Second time around we lost the fixtures but this time around we got them back," Grant explains.

The businesses work side-by-side, and often a quote will be given for parts from both companies.

This works out to be a better deal for both parties — both monetary-wise and in terms of convenience.

"It might be products across both businesses — we just do it all," Grant says, who has also managed to make installation a big draw factor for manufacturers.

"It’s not our primary focus but it certainly has become a big part of business over recent years," he says.

Parts supply is an interesting game, with demand skyrocketing from one week to another.

"We may not sell a grab handle for two weeks then all of a sudden we’ll send out 200," Fiona says.

There has also been a change in which parts are in demand due to the increase of completely built-up Asian exports.

"They all want something different," Fiona explains.

Grant and Fiona are continually testing new products to help them stay ahead of industry, and are convinced the latest Mobotix MISD camera is the way of the future.

The CCTV camera offers a range of features including voice recording, remote mobile phone access and control and 360-degree surveillance.

"Three years ago CCTV was something that was really high tech. Now almost everyone building a new bus wants some form of camera system," Fiona says.

Grant says the cameras are very advanced for their fields, and are affordable with a one-off installation fee and any ongoing data costs.

"We just can’t become complacent and rest on our laurels because there’s always someone out there that’s willing to give it a crack," he says.

"We’ve just got to be doing that next thing."

There are many examples where cameras have protected all involved on bus work, and the importance of surveillance is becoming increasingly apparent in industry.

"It not only protects the customers, it protects the drivers and it protects the company," Fiona says.

"You can see the driver and you can see what’s going on from sitting in the control room.

"It’s very, very high tech and it’s not very hard to operate, at all. And it doesn’t take up a lot of room on the buses."

And while no company can ever claim to be perfect, Fiona says customer service is also a focus of the business to keep the clients coming back.

"Quite often our Hanover data loader will come back with a real nice note of thanks for our work – they don’t have to do that but I think it’s lovely," Fiona says.

"I love good customer service and I like to think we do the same thing.

"We just try to help."

And while the future is unpredictable, the couple is happy they will remain a supplier to the industry for many years to come.

"We’ve had great support from bus companies who have been with us since day one," says Fiona.

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