Our History – I Know Parts

Bob Carpenter lives in a high-rise apartment in Kuala Lumpur and has done for two years and nine months at the time of interview. It’s a long way from Rotorua in New Zealand where the 63-year-old businessman was born and raised.

Bob is happily married to Carole, and they have four children.

Bob tells you he has limited education, and that everything he learned about business and the spare parts industry was learned on the job. He left school at 15 and took a job sweeping floors in Rotorua in a truck workshop, Industrial Steel and Plant.

“After I’d been there a month, they offered me a job in the workshop as a costing clerk,” Bob said.

“I did that for three months and the spare parts guy left, and they said well, you better get into spare parts and help out there.

“So, I went into spare parts and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

In 1974 at 18 years old I took the position of spare part manager of I.S.P. Napier branch.

In 1976 I was offered the position of parts manager New Zealand Motor Corporation commercial division back in Rotorua. It was my first venture into selling British Leyland parts.

Bob migrated to Australia in October 1978 when he was 22 years-old. He said he did it for the challenge “because I thought I was a big fish in a small pond in New Zealand.”

I Know Parts is based in Military Road in Guildford, a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales. Bob says it is the third premises the business has worked from in the same suburb as the business continues to grow larger premises were required and is the company’s Central Head Office. There are two other branches, at Ingleburn and Gosford, in NSW.

Prior to starting IKP, Bob worked for a company called Multi Spares and at that stage the company decided it was going to concentrate on European trucks.

“My background prior to IKP was Leyland truck and bus, then Hino truck and bus, so I wasn’t overly interested in doing European truck parts,” Bob said.

“Multi Spares formerly was Leyland Spares, which was a privately-owned company. Then they went public, and one of the reasons I left was I didn’t like the structure or the direction the company was headed in.

Bob started IKP in 1994 when he was 39 years old selling replacement parts to suit Hino vehicles. He said it was a big risk and he had everything on the line: “I cashed in my superannuation, re-mortgaged my house, and then I went for it.

“I had about $148,000 to kick off with. I thought that would be plenty of money, but it turned out to be nowhere near enough.

“You know, in 1994, I was a lot younger and naïve.” My bank manager assured me 90 per cent of new businesses fail in the first 12 months. Now armed with this valuable information I was even more determined to succeed

Bob had budgeted for sales of $30,000 a month and believed he could “scratch out a living” if he could maintain that.

“I started selling parts in February off my kitchen table,” he said.

“I had a 486-computer set up on my kitchen table and started there while I was setting up the building and placing overseas stock orders.

“And just off the kitchen table in February I did $20,000 worth of sales. In March I sold $40,000, and in April when I kicked off, I did $60,000 so the business literally took off.”

However, as Bob explained, in the first three months he had already sold $120,000 but there was $100,000 out in debtors already.

“I had overseas shipments coming, which needed to be paid for; so, I was pretty financially strapped then,” he said.

“In August 1994 I took on a partner, and we expanded the business to do Isuzu and Mitsubishi replacement parts.

“The idea was that my partner was going to throw in $100,000, but that never eventuated.”

What followed was a stroke of good fortune for Bob. Arnold Ritchie from Don Kyatt Spare Parts (Qld) was down in Sydney at a bus show.

“We’d been buying a little bit off DKSP (Qld) so Arnold popped in to say hello, saw what we were doing and how we were just surviving.

“A few weeks later I got a call from Ed Williams at Don Kyatt asking if we’d be interested in selling him a share of the business. They were just doing Isuzu parts so to them it was a good opportunity to have our knowledge on Hino and Mitsubishi and expand into them.

“It was also a good opportunity for us to get a lot of cash to keep us going.”

Bob said Ed basically saved his business: “At that stage I was almost homeless, paying a high mortgage and renting a warehouse.

“Don Kyatt originally had a third, but when my partner didn’t come up with any money and departed the scene, they got half of his share and Don ended up with 41 per cent.”

I Know Parts has come a long way since 1994. On its website, the company says its focus is on customer service, parts availability and competitive pricing: “IKP is possibly Australia’s largest distributor of aftermarket truck and bus spare parts, supporting Japanese commercial vehicles.  We offer an extensive range of truck replacement spare parts and accessories for vehicles manufactured by Hino, Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Nissan UD as well as service lines for Mazda T series, Toyota Dyna and Daihatsu Delta diesel powered light commercial trucks.” 

IKP imports product from leading international manufacturers. Many suppliers appointed IKP as their distributor in the Australasian market, and the company supports brands including SEA clutch, NBC brake drums and hubs, HIPPO steering and suspension components, HNTC brake valves, KINMA rubber products, MINTYE brake linings, TBK water pump and wheel cylinders, SADTAKIJ WATTANA radiator hoses and intake ducts, EVERGREEN hub bolts and nuts, SING YUNG clutch hydraulic cylinders, brake master and wheel cylinders and SIN CHAU engine flywheels and ring gears. IKP is also a major stockist for and distributes Gabriel / Powerdown shock absorbers, Exedy / Daiken clutch, NSKRHP bearings, Britax Mirrors, Nippon Max Filtration and Ranger brake drums.

It’s not surprising then that the I Know Parts website lists more than 28,000 parts, although Bob said the real number was probably closer to 50,000 stocked part numbers.

“We only do about 3 per cent of our sales off the Internet,” Bob said.

“But it’s so hard to judge because we have a ‘chat now’ screen on our website, and many enquiries come through the chat now facility, which often turn into sales, but not website sales.

“Our internet sales figures are probably closer to 10 per cent of the total sales, but that’s guesswork. Online selling is becoming an increasing business for us.”

IKP has a focus on customer service, parts availability and competitive pricing and is one of Australia’s largest independent distributors of aftermarket truck and bus parts, supporting Japanese commercial vehicles.

IKP imports parts from Japan, Taiwan, China, Malaysia and the Philippines to ensure premium parts are available at the right prices. The company offers an extensive range of truck replacement spare parts and accessories for vehicles manufactured by Hino, Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Nissan UD as well as service lines for Mazda T series, Toyota Dyna and Daihatsu Delta diesel powered light commercial trucks.  

Bob said there had been many hiccups along the way, and that each hiccup was a learning curve: “You know, with limited education I have become a lot smarter.”  

Interviewed May 2019