“I don’t know why I kept it. I think it was just a reminder of how tough things were and how we got started,” he says. By “were” he means the economic conditions in the early to mid-90s when unemployment was hitting record highs. Stuart was a boilermaker by trade, but he still couldn’t find work.
With four children under six (the youngest being just 18 months), he applied for any kind of job, even if it meant travelling an hour-and-a-half from his home in Maleny to Brisbane to do cleaning work.
“We really had to do something to make a change. We couldn’t just sit back and allow the situation to be as it was so we decided that we’d have a shot at our own business,” he reveals. “We knew it was a big risk but we wanted something better, so we decided to give it a go”. As an apprentice Stuart recalled that his employer would call on him to help build trailers during quieter periods of the year, so he knew that the barriers to entering the industry were quite low.
He also knew that most, if not all, trailers made in Australia had a serious flaw.
Turning a simple solution into a job
“We really had to do something to make a change. We couldn’t just sit back and allow the situation to be as it was so we decided that we’d have a shot at our own business,” he reveals. “We knew it was a big risk but we wanted something better, so we decided to give it a go”.
As an apprentice Stuart recalled that his employer would call on him to help build trailers during quieter periods of the year, so he knew that the barriers to entering the industry were quite low. He also knew that most, if not all, trailers made in Australia had a serious flaw.
"My wife Jenny and I had the idea to build a high quality galvanised trailer that didn’t rust,” he says. Having been unemployed longer than six months, Stuart and his wife qualified for the then New Enterprise Incentive Scheme – a federal government mentoring and funding program that still exists today. The scheme gave them access to training on how to start and run their own business, and to allow them to receive unemployment benefits while establishing it.
They set about making a business plan and then secured a $32,000 loan from Maleny Credit Union. It was just enough to buy a second-hand brake press and other engineering equipment to fit out a Maleny workshop.
Trailers 2000 secured its first wholesale customer – a nearby marine supplier – within three months and took on their first employee within six months. Today Trailers 2000 employs 40 people, turns out 5000 to 6000 trailers per year, and turns over seven million dollars annually.
Getting into business may have been relatively painless but staying in it was more difficult. The manufacturing might of China saw the market flooded. The Chinese imports were made from hot-dipped galvanised steel and sent flat-packed into the country meaning that they could be shipped just about anywhere.
To compete with Chinese importers, the company had to come up with a trailer made from pre-galvanised steel that could also be shipped anywhere in a sub-assembled form.
A stroke of luck cut 95% of this part of the manufacturing process
That created a complicated engineering challenge. It ruled out painting and that meant it couldn’t be welded - and trying to match the Chinese manufacturing process in Australia would be expensive and slow. “We ended up with a problem that we needed to make a trailer that was made from galvanised steel, that wasn’t welded and wasn’t painted,” he says.
By a stroke of luck, Stuart discovered a new technology called self-piercing riveting. It cut welding from the manufacturing process by 95 per cent and eliminated the need for painting altogether.
Eco-Friendly - the surprising environmental benefits behind a new manufacturing process
“We embraced that and then worked from ground up designing this trailer, and building it over a ten year period to a point where Trailers 2000 now ship this trailer all over the country, selling to the likes of Bunnings, and we’ve managed to keep the Chinese imports out of national retailers, and we’ve got a lot of interest,” Stuart explains.
The new manufacturing process was as much a triumph for the company as it is for the environment. Cutting the use of power hungry welding equipment reduced its electricity use by an astounding 85 per cent. Eliminating painting meant there were no longer poisonous emissions from thinners. Even noise pollution was cut as the company no longer needed to use hot-saws in its workshops.
"Overall material wastage has dropped from seven per cent to less than one per cent today," says Stuart.
Digital domination, something for all serious business owners to consider
Stuart believes that the company can double its revenue by making further improvements to its manufacturing process. However, he also sees opportunities to take advantage of technology for the company’s softer business processes.
“The other side of it is to understand the digital side of things. We call it click-and-collect, which is where we’re headed so a consumer can buy online and we can ship it through our network of retailers. Further to that we have to understand social media – which is just completely revolutionising the way we all think – and how to incorporate it into our business,” he says.
Accordingly, the company has undergone a digital makeover to adapt its brand to the online era. Facebook has become a major contact point between the company and its customers. “It’s a learning curve for us, but I think we’re doing pretty well at the moment,” Stuart says.