The Case For Australian Made

Australian products and manufacturers often lose out to cheaper imports, but what they lack in price competitiveness they make up for in other ways. Tom Prince investigates…

“The prospect of low-priced imports attacking our home markets is frightening – and the fight for survival in our industry has begun,” Geoffrey Ward, president of the Federation of British Hand Tool Manufacturers has said. “We must stop being soft on countries with a highly-developed hand tool industry continuing to obtain an increasing share of world markets at prices which represent dumping,” Mr Ward added.

This firebrand passage appeared in the January 1980 edition of the Australian Hardware Journal. While it may seem over the top, it nonetheless alluded in some respects to a modern reality – more and more imports compete in the Australian hardware retail industry, usually at the expense of locally made products.

It is true that many overseas imports have the upper hand in a price sensitive market. It is also true, however, that Australian hardware manufacturers enjoy advantages over imports other than the price tag. According to Tim Harcourt, Austrade’s Chief Economist, these advantages are in innovation, quality and service. “Evidence shows that Australian manufacturers and exporters are very able, very good at quality innovation, and very good at after sales service,” he said.

Indeed, overseas buyers of Australian products consistently believe that Australian made is superior. A recent survey in Thailand found that most people perceive Australian products to be of high quality, and another survey in the US found that products featuring the Australian Made logo are seen as having a “quality guarantee”.

Funnily enough, the perception within Australia depends on who you ask. A major survey in 1999 found that 70% of consumers look for information about a product’s origin when making purchasing decisions but only 55% of business people thought this was the case. 51% of respondents looked for country of origin information when purchasing tools and electrical appliances but over 89% felt that it is important to buy Australian.

So why is this? Why do cheaply priced imports continue to undercut Australian products, even though Australians think it is important to buy Australian and Australian products overseas are perceived as being of greater quality? “Confidence” is one reason, according to Tim Harcourt. With the exception of the Australian Made trademark – 86 % of people surveyed trusted the logo – consumers are somewhat sceptical about “it’s Australian” and business people probably even more so. It seems that in the highly competitive retail market (Australia’s retail sector is one of the most competitive in the world) a company’s Australian-ness alone isn’t as big a draw card as a company’s ability to offer an attractive bottom line. “Gone are the days when you can fly the Australian made flag. Your business has to offer flexibility of manufacture,” said Glenn Brown, National Sales Manager for BDS, Australia’s last domestic shelving manufacturer. Or great innovation. Or unique quality. Or great service. Or all of the above.

Australian companies have a knack for doing things well. It is these qualities that explain why Australian companies are so highly regarded overseas. A low price does not always mean value for money, so it’s important for people to understand what Australian businesses do best in lieu of lower prices.

Innovation

Innovation is found at all levels of the Australian hardware industry. Two inventions by forward thinking tradies that were recently showcased by the Journal included the Jigolo (November) – a device specifically designed for hexagonal screws used to fasten corrugated iron sheets to roof trusses – and the Power Snips (April) sheet metal cutter, a device that solved many of the problems from manually cutting sheet metal.

More often that not, developments by Australian companies become world class achievements. D & D Technologies’ MagnaLatch magnetic gate system and HM Cowdroy’s sliding aluminium track were the first of their kind, as is Ezimate’s patented labour saving handle attachment. The list goes on and on so it’s fair to say that Australian developments are some of the most progressive in the world. Another side to innovation is the common ability of Australian manufacturers to develop and supply non standard products, an option that is often not available from standardised imports. For example, nail producer Otter’s local production facilities allow it to produce marine-grade and other unusual nail designs, while BDS can make pretty much any form of shelving to specification (BDS currently offers 17,000 variations in terms of depth, sizing and so forth).

“I think for the most part we are competing on things that we are good at,” says Tim Harcourt. “Particularly in design and highly-skilled industries.” However, one problem in Australia facing new innovations is the lower prevalence of venture capital compared to other Western countries. “Costs associated with developing or commercialising a good idea or innovation are far greater than the costs of the research. For that reason, many inventions that have had their origin in Australia get commercialised from outside Australia,” said Australian Made CEO Ian Harrison. “The incentive available to financial institutions to become involved in early stage development of ideas and the commercialisation phase need to be significantly greater.”

Quality

Quality is another area that Australian hardware is well known for. Most retailers offer genuine money back or replacement on goods so the overall quality needs to be high. Effective retail packaging is also important, since a lot of products need to “sell themselves”. According to Ian Harrison, the main challenge for Australian products is to differentiate themselves to cheaper imported options by establishing a firm point of difference, of which quality is one. Generally speaking, Australian products have more exacting standards, are made by a skilled workforce, are made to last, and are made with a purpose in mind beyond a mere price. Unfortunately, this makes them more susceptible to be undercut by cheap imports which don’t offer those essential qualities. Australian machinery also tends to be far more advanced than that in developing countries. Indeed, Australian quality is evident by the demand for Australian exports to countries with high standards, like New Zealand, the US and the Middle East. An example of an Australian quality manufacturer is plastic identification and accessory products manufacturer Kevron Plastics. When their Swedish distributor receives an order it is literally for “a box of Australians”.

Service

Every aspect of contact from delivery to general accountability to all that lies between is a measure of service. For obvious reasons this is something that Australian companies can do substantially better than the imported competition. Australian companies can offer shorter lead times and greater opportunity to adapt to changing fashions/consumer preferences. They offer greater ease of communications should problems arise, and deliveries are usually more reliable (often no more than a phone call away). There is usually the possibility of working closely with the local manufacturer in developing the most appropriate advertising budget and there are no problems with currency fluctuations. The ability to discount invoices with quick payment rather than having funds tied up for some time through the issuing of Letters of Credit is also a benefit.

Lead times are long in China. For instance, clothing is often ordered 12 months in advance and Christmas merchandise is often ordered in Jan/Feb. 12-18 weeks is an average turnaround time for a Chinese shelving product, compared to two to three weeks for the local variant from a company like BDS. Prices in China need to be negotiated often eight to 12 months before shipment and even then problems may arise. A common problem with overseas suppliers according to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia is the lack of attention given to the inner packs in shipments.

These are known as the “order multiple packs”, and although the export packs from overseas suppliers are usually acceptable, the order multiple packs are often not according to specifications. Australia is a large country and wrong shipments broken into smaller lots and sent thousands kilometres to small retail outlets can result in expensive re-packaging costs.

Why buy Australian?

A lot of people still like to buy Australian for reasons other than high quality, fast lead times and closer relationships. Scepticism aside, those that do believe it creates jobs, helps the economy, supports fellow Australians, ensure the country’s future, reduces imports and helps manufacturers.

According to Australian Made, buying Australian is much more important to consumers than Australian businesses believe. Research conduct in 1999 suggests that the Australian business community undervalued the worth of promoting the origin of their products. Apparently, consumers are more concerned with where a product is made, rather than with who owns it. Vocal opposition on how imports (or the exportation of Australian businesses) affect Australian jobs is also common. “If you choose an imported product, you’re exporting an Australian job,” said former Australian Made Campaign Executive Director Ms Da Rin 2001. Chris Spindler from the Australian Manufacturers Workers Union estimates that China took 50,000 jobs in the 12 months before May 2006. Even Dick Smith had some unkind words attributed to him. “I think we should get our politicians from China,” he said. “Because they’ll be a lot cheaper, too.”

Few people, however, are opposed to Australian exports. “Australian manufactures should always look to export their product,” says Tim Harcourt. And with good reason too. “The proportion of Australian S-ME sized exports to China has doubled in two years,” he says. While the amount of product coming into Australia is enormous, the demand for product coming into China is also staggering. On average, the Chinese construction industry has grown annually by 20% since 2000 and demand for quality products from outside China is greater than ever. The Chinese DIY market is also predicted to be the world’s largest by 2015.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property – or rather, the infringement of intellectual property – from overseas imports is an ongoing problem. Quite often the finger is pointed at China and terms like “substantially identical with”, “deceptively similar to” and “an infringement of trademark” get rattled around by the authorities. Last year for example, US$155.4 million worth of imported IPR infringing product was seized in the US, a two thirds increase from the year before.

China certainly has made an effort to clean up its house and stem the flow of illegal products. On top of tougher laws and improved processes, the International Trade China Desk also produced a discussion paper titled “Intellectual Property Protection In China” to assist foreign investors. One problem for Australian companies is the way international law Trade Mark laws differ. In Australia, the company that first uses the Trade Mark is entitled to register, but in China, it’s the company that first files the Trade Mark. A Trade Mark can be revoked through China’s Mark Review and Adjudication Board (TRAB), but it can take up to seven years for a final ruling. In Australia, a Notice Of Objection can also be lodged with the Australian Customs Service, which is enforced for two years unless revoked.

The best measure of all though is prevention. Austrade, which has 27 points of contact in China, stresses how important it is to take proactive steps before entering into China. “If you go to China first without protecting your IP, there’s very little basis to protect your brand and trademark. It’s so important to protect yourself and then go,” said Rhonda Steele, Marketing Property Manager, Asia-Pacific, Mars Incorporated group of companies. The same applies to any industry.

Australian Business Limited suggests Australian companies take the following proactive steps to protect their IP.

 

  • Ask professionals about IP protection in China, find an agency if necessary
  • Develop IP protection strategies
  • Stipulate IP protection in contracts and business plans
  • Keep core elements of processes and technologies conducted/developed in hose
  • Conduct due diligence in potential partners and put appropriate contractual protections in place
  • Register all relevant rights in China, including a Chinese version
  • Monitor the market frequently
  • Send strong IP messages to business partners from the startThe Ultimate Labour Saving Accessory

    Ezimate is a multi award winning innovative new handle that is designed to give the user dramatic labour saving and safety benefits. Its unique patented assembly attaches easily to long handled tools, thereby addressing all shortcomings in current tool and equipment design. When attached, Ezimate encourages a posture that is less stressful on the back by altering the pivot point where the hand meets the tool. This improved leverage point minimises unnecessary bending and strain on the working person. It increases productivity and dramatically reduces physical effort, blisters, back and hand fatigue.

    Ezimate’s endless applications span household chores, gardening tasks and commercial work all the way through to leisure and sporting activities. Attach it to a rake, broom, shovel, paint roller or even a vacuum cleaner and you will instantly feel the improvement.

    Ezimate is manufactured in Australia and is made from extremely high quality glass coupled UV stabilised polypropylene. It uses only the best (316) stainless steel fittings and has an in inbuilt allen key. Built for every environment from Arctic -40ºC to Desert +50ºC for a lifetime, Ezimate is purposely designed to withstand heavy work and punishment, going the distance for the consumer.

    Australian made with Integrity! Gainsborough – Made In Australia

    Developed and made in Australia, the Trilock Traditional series and the Trilock Contemporary series combine world renowned ‘3 in 1’ locking technology, advanced engineering and world class tarnish resistant finishes. The Trilock Contemporary series features modern handle designs combined with higher, convex styled escutcheons with aesthetic design grooves. This series includes the ‘Angular’ or ‘Precise’ lever designs and the ‘Circular’ knob option. The Trilock Traditional series offers timeless styling, with elegant perimeter design lines on the escutcheon plates. Choose from either leverset of knobset versions.

    Everything in the Trilock series features ‘3 in 1’ locking technology, which received an Australian DesignMark for good design. 3 in 1 technology offers the security and convenience of lockset, deadbolt and passage functions combined into one lock.

    Also available is the new Gainsborough 2000 series (23mm backset for narrow stile doors) and 3000 Series (60mm backset) heavy duty mortice locks. These feature the key cylinder below the lever for greater convenience and ease of operation. The cylinder’s location under the lever (rather than above) provides a more convenient position in which to lock or unlock with the key. A more proportionate distance between the furniture and the cylinder has also been created, adding an element of style and aesthetics to the lock. This distance is the same for both 2000 series and 3000 series, allowing uniformity throughout the building. Both the 2000 and 3000 series feature a range of functions for any commercial or residential specification.

    Australian-Made Hardware Leading In Safety

    Pioneers of safety latches and hinges for swimming pool and household gates, D&D Technologies is a family-owned Australian company that now delivers its comprehensive range of gate hardware to the world.

    “Because of our comprehensive range and innovative designs, a lot of people assume we’re a foreign company,” says Bill Land, D&D’s National Sales Manager. “In reality we’re about as true-blue as they come. All our products are designed and manufactured at our facilities in Sydney, and we’re very proud of our ‘Australian Made’ heritage,” he said.

    Established in Sydney nearly 20 years ago, D&D Technologies became famous worldwide for its invention of the MagnaLatch® – a magnetically triggered safety latch that virtually eliminated the possibility of gates jamming and not closing properly. The innovative design was a first in many ways. Not only did it replace the traditional latching mechanism with a powerful and reliable magnetic action, it was also made largely from engineering-grade metal polymers. This made it highly resistant to rust and staining, and it was suitable in a wide range of temperatures – an important consideration in our harsh Australian environment.

    Awarded a prestigious Australian Design Award for the MagnaLatch® design, D&D set about expanding its range of gate hardware products throughout the 1990s. The company’s range of TruClose® self-closing safety gate hinges were also recognised with an Australian Design Award for their easy-to-adjust tension mechanism and strong, robust construction. The LokkLatch® range of key-lockable latches, which provide safety and security suitable for a range of different gates, were also recognised with an Australian Design Mark.

    “It is always a great honour for a company to be recognised with an Australian Design Award and there are very few companies in Australia who have done this three times,” said Mr Brandon Gien, National Manager of the Australian Design Awards.

    With its products now sold around the world, including the USA, New Zealand, Canada, France and the UK, D&D is a home-grown success story that continues to set new standards in gate safety, security and privacy.

    Everhard’s Story Of Watery Innovation

    Everhard Industries boasts an epic history of Australian innovation that parallels the growth of the country itself. Everhard Industries has changed the way Australians do things, from designing and using ‘wet’ areas in their homes to managing water in their gardens to the way their Councils provide water services. This has always been on the basis of innovative water-based products.

    Everhard Industries now supplies the Australian plumbing and building markets with some of the most innovative products, all of which have a connection with water. There are products like the well known NuGleam™ Supreme laundry unit and the EasyDRAIN™ surface water drainage system, made from 100% recycled material. Then there are products like the Aqua Nova wastewater treatment system and the PL0506 gross pollutant trap, nicknamed the “Nipper” due to its size and light weight polymer construction.

    Over the past year Everhard also released new ranges in vitreous china basins with vessel, semi recessed and drop in designs in round and square designs. Another range to hit the market was a stylish variety of WELS approved mixer taps for the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms, all covered by a 5 year manufacturer’s warranty.

    Everhard’s new motto – “Everything Water” – clearly states how the company is now more committed than ever to designing and manufacturing home grown products that are about saving the Earth’s most precious resource – water.

    Another Innovation From HM Cowdroy

    Starting in 1890 as an advertising agency, HM Cowdroy is a company with a long list of Australian innovations under its sleeve. Amongst other things they were responsible for the first ever illustrated advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald and the world’s first sliding aluminium track. This latter invention forever changed the company’s direction, and today HM Cowdroy is the market leader in retail door tracking systems selling in Australia.

    One such innovation is the Heavy Duty Triumph Folding Door Track System, suitable for heavy internal doors for domestic, commercial and industrial use. This system has a capacity of up 60 Kg per leaf, with a maximum of eight leaves in any single run.

    It comes with nylon tyred four wheel carriages with lubricated steel ball bearings, meaning that it runs quietly and smoothly. Added strength comes from the hardened steel pivot body and a top pivot track clamp for vertical alignment.

    The Heavy Duty Triumph Folding Door Track System allows for thrust bearing at each pivot point and comes with a high strength height adjusting pivot with locknuts. Additional options include top, side or end fix brackets, as well as a guide system. Aluminium is wrapped around the ribbed track which means obstruction free use. This also adds to the visual appeal, and the brackets come with a chrome plated finish.Suits doors that are 32mm thick and above.