Customer Service: +61 3 8470 7300
Founder: Graham Stewart (pictured) and Les Clifford
Founded: 1981
Business: Automotive service specialists with a store network across Australia.

Short History of ABS

Graham Stewart was one of the founding partners in Australian Truck and Auto Parts (ATAP) and Auto Brake Service (ABS). Now 62 years-old, Graham started his working life as a trainee at PBR brakes in 1971.

Ten years later, Graham and Les Clifford formed a partnership and opened an automotive workshop in Fitzroy, where they repaired cars, and reconditioned brake components. The business was called Auto Brake Service.

As the small business grew, a brake shoe and industrial bonding facility was introduced to meet the demands of an under-serviced market. This period also saw the foundations of the wholesale aspect of the business develop, with sales of hydraulic and brake components to specialist workshops.

The business grew to the extent that by 1984 a larger site was needed. Graham and Les moved their small Argyle Street, Fitzroy operation to George Street, Fitzroy. This provided the room needed for growth and additional lines, brake hose and cable manufacturing were introduced. 

“Once the business got growing the re-manufacturing side of the business outgrew the repair side of the business by about six to one in the first year,” Graham said.

“As we grew it enabled us to carry parts, which was how we got into the parts side.”

In 1982 Graham and Les bought, Morwell Clutch and Brake, and in 1983, the pair attended a seminar on franchising. In 1984 they opened their first franchise store in Glen Waverley.

“This store was an existing brake place, so we converted it and called it Auto Brake Service,” Graham said.

Having three outlets gave the business more buying power. “We were getting better deals from everybody we were dealing with,” he said. “So, we set up a delivery run and started selling parts to other brake people.”

“Parts were a by-product of the beginnings of our business,” Graham said. “It wasn’t intentional, it just happened.”

In 1986, Alan Jolly joined the company as a minor shareholder. As the business grew, opportunities continued to come their way. In 1987, PBR in Footscray Road, which was a big commercial store doing trucks and buses, wanted to sell.

“It was the biggest opportunity that we’d had,” Graham explained. “We scraped together the funds and bought Footscray Road, and Les Clifford, my original partner, went to Footscray Road to manage the store.

In 1989, Les asked to be bought out of the business and Alan took the opportunity to top up his equity and become a 50-50 partner.

Graham and Alan’s partnership spanned 27 years, and their roles crossed paths on both sides of the business: “It wasn’t a sort of business where we said you just look after this and I’ll look after that,” Graham said.

In 1990, ABS opened its first interstate store in Hobart, followed the next year by a Hindmarsh, South Australia, store. By 1992, ABS had 10 outlets. The company was renamed Brake Parts Australia in 1993, and by 1994 there were 20 franchises in four States. The company got a major boost in size in 1996 when it purchased Adelaide Brake Service off the receiver. There were 13 stores.

“We bought the business cheap, invested a lot of dollars building it up, and eventually we only kept nine of the stores,” Graham said.

In 1997 there were 40 Auto Brake Service franchise stores in five States, and Graham said this was when they decided to launch the ABS (Auto Brake Service) image.

“We shortened it because most of our customers referred to us as ABS, even though we called ourselves Auto Brake Service,” Graham said.

In 2001, a joint venture with a Queensland-based company failed. In the end the company wanted out and sold its franchise network, which took ABS to 50 stores.

“From then on, we just kept on adding stores whenever the opportunity arose,” Graham said.

“It took eight years to reach 10 ABS outlets, but it’s the old story: business is hard when you are small, but once you get some critical mass, things move a lot quicker,” Graham said.

“By the time we sold the business to Metcash Automotive in 2013, there were 57 stores.”

“We didn’t plan on selling,” Graham said. “I was 57 and Alan about 54. We envisaged working on for another 10 to 15 years.

“When the sale went through we looked at one another and said what are we going to do with ourselves because it had been our lives, the auto industry?

“One thing I can tell you is that I don’t miss the business, and I don’t know how I ever found the time to go to work,” Graham said.

Interviewed November 2017

view the full history

History of ABS

 

1981

Auto Brake Service opens in Argyle St, Fitzroy.

1982

ABS purchases Morwell Clutch and Brake.

1984

ABS move to larger premises in George St, Fitzroy; first franchise store opens in Glen Waverley.

1986

Alan Jolly joins as minor shareholder.

1987

Purchase PBR building in Footscray Road, and Les Clifford moves over to manage.

1989

Les Clifford leaves and Alan increases his equity to become 50/50 partner with Graham.

1990

First interstate franchise store opens in Hobart, Tasmania.

1991

First SA franchise in Adelaide.

1992

ABS franchise network reaches 10 outlets.

1994

First WA franchise in Perth and twentieth franchise established; ABS now in four States.

1996

Purchase of Adelaide Brake Service adds nine more outlets. Three more are added in NSW in conjunction with ATAP’s warehouse purchase.

1997

Franchise network reaches 40 sites across five States and ABS new corporate image is launched.

1999

ATAP business started. State of the art computer system unites the nationwide franchise network. Protex brand is launched.

2000

Gabriel Shock Absorber Program introduced. Distribution agreement with Brembo.

2001

Purchase of ABS Queensland adds 11 locations. Distribution agreements signed with Lucas and Tekonsha; Protex/Daikin clutch program launched.

2002

Open Darwin ABS in the Northern Territory, bring franchise stores to 50.

2013

ATAP and ABS sold to Metcash Automotive.

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