Aussie made prospers as imports slow

by | Jan 14, 2022

The popularity of Australian Made products remains stronger than ever as Australians continue to actively seek out locally made products, particularly as imports remain difficult to source due to ongoing shipping delays.

Recent Roy Morgan Research shows that more than half of the businesses that manufacture products licensed to carry the Australian Made logo reported that their customers now actively seek out, request and buy Australian products on a daily basis. 

Australian Made Campaign Chief Executive Officer Ben Lazzaro says those surveyed in the recent research cited the COVID pandemic as the primary driver of enhanced interest in buying local.

“One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is that Australians appear to be more mindful of what they are buying and where products are made. What is most encouraging is that this pro-Australian sentiment has been in the marketplace for some time and is now translating through to the cash register, whether this is online or in bricks and mortar retail environments,” Mr Lazzaro said.

It seems last year’s increased popularity of Australian Made products has evolved from consumers simply wanting to support local business throughout the pandemic. This year, that pro-Australian sentiment has been complemented by the lack of availability of imported products, according to Mr Lazzaro.

Australian Made - Ben Lazzaro
Australian Made Campaign Chief Executive Officer Ben Lazzaro.

“While supply chain disruptions have made it difficult for both importers and exporters, this has also presented further opportunities for local makers. As a result, in many sectors Australian products have become a more attractive choice as they are readily available and often accompanied by local after-sales support and service. Buying local means consumers are not waiting around for imports or relying on overseas suppliers for after-sales care should the product fault.”

“This is particularly the case when it comes to building supplies and construction materials. Over the last 12 months we have seen an influx of building products registering to carry the logo. These include windows, blinds, doors, roofing and fencing, through to insulation, ducting, air conditioning and walling systems,” Mr Lazzaro said.

Just some of the prominent brands to join the Australian Made family in recent months include Clarendon Homes, Temperzone, Rondo Building Services, Fielders, Kingspan and many more. 

It seems that Australians now also perceive Australian Made products as creating ongoing employment, with 97 per cent of Australians associating the logo with ‘supporting local jobs’, according to the Roy Morgan Research. The research also found that 95 per cent of Australians associate the logo with a product that is ‘high quality’ and ‘safe’, while 89 per cent of Australians associate the logo with ‘ethical labour’, and 78 per cent of Australians associate the logo with ‘sustainability’.

“Ethical labour and sustainability have become a major part of the consumer’s purchase decision. While the logo’s job is to market the ‘Australian Made’ status of the product, it conveys a number of other positive attributes as well, including supporting local jobs, quality, safety, use of ethical labour and sustainability” he said.

“The renewed focus on climate policy and sustainability presents a number of new challenges for Australian businesses and many Australian manufacturers are well placed to communicate their commitment in this space through the use of the Australian Made logo,” Mr Lazzaro said.

While Australia is widely known as a clean and environmentally friendly place to live and work, Mr Lazzaro acknowledges that many other countries are not so fortunate and do not have the opportunity to utilise these same attributes.

“So yes, we are leveraging our assets here in Australia and highlighting some shortfalls in other parts of the world in respect to their manufacturing processes, which is why Australian Made products are well-known for not only being high quality but safe to use,” he said.

As international borders remain uncertain and Australians can no longer holiday overseas, it seems consumers are now spending their holiday savings on purchasing higher quality products instead.  

“When it comes to using tools, reliability is paramount, particularly in the hands of professional tradespeople who rely on tools for their livelihood. When there are safety and reliability concerns, the Australian Made option is often the product consumers will source.”

Mumme Tools is a well-known Australian manufacturer that produces high quality tools where safety is a priority. 

Mumme Tools is a prime example of an Aussie manufacturer producing high-quality tools that are made with safety in mind. Many of their non-sparking tools are used in applications where a spark may have a catastrophic outcome. We understand that some worksites and mine sites will deliberately choose safe, high-quality Australian Made products as part of their risk mitigation strategy. Often, the imported option cannot meet these safety requirements. As a result, those on-site can get on with the job with confidence when using this locally made product,” Mr Lazzaro said.

Despite the increased popularity of Australian Made products over the last two years, promotional activity for the Australian Made Campaign is stronger than ever with the Campaign running its first-ever Australian Made Week in May, 2021.

“The week was a great success in raising our profile and celebrating Australian Made manufacturing while also driving consumers to buy directly from the producers themselves. Our wonderful brand ambassador, Elyse Knowles from The Block, headed up Australian Made Week and was a big part of its success. Australian Made Week will run again in 2022 and promises to be bigger and better,” he said.

The Australian Made Campaign has also focused on the export market this year, successfully securing international pop-star Kylie Minogue and sister Dannii to head up a campaign in the UK and US.

“The campaign was specifically aimed at raising the profile of the Australian Made logo in those markets and to help educate English and American consumers about the brand. It was very exciting for the brand to partner with two Aussie icons like Kylie and Danni. So far this has been a great success,” Mr Lazzaro said.

Looking to the on-line space, the Campaign’s digital platforms continue to thrive with over half a million followers now on its social media platforms searching for Australian Made products. With website traffic tipping over 300,000 during Australian Made Week and hitting over 330,000 visits to its site just last month, the site continues to be a great asset to licensees as consumers seek out Australian Made brands.

“Pre-COVID site visits sat at around 100,000 per month with peaks at around 330,000, so traffic has increased substantially since the pandemic. This also shows we are absolutely now seeing the imbalance of imported products to Australian Made products in the market being addressed. While there is still a lot of work to be done and more room to manufacture here in Australia particularly in the hardware sector, the local manufacturing trajectory is continuing in an upwards direction. It will be interesting to see how this tracks in the next few years,” Mr Lazzaro said.

Applications to carry the logo on Australian Made products have also increased substantially, with an incredible 400 per cent increase in applications throughout COVID on a month-to-month basis, according to Mr Lazzaro.

However, policing the Australian Made logo and ensuring only registered licensees use the logo on approved products remains an ongoing challenge as the Australian Made compliance team and its network of support services actively monitor the brand’s use in Australia and overseas. This combination of compliance checks, on-the-ground policing, auditing and continuous monitoring of digital platforms globally, ensures the Australian Made logo is only used on authentic Aussie products, Mr Lazzaro said.

“The best police are consumers and competitors who tend to keep us very well informed of potential breaches and we have an obligation to investigate every single one. Here, our team does a great job. It is an ongoing task and it requires our full attention 365 days of the year,” he said.

This year the Australian Made Campaign also welcomed Industry Capability Network (ICN) as an Australian Made Industry Partner in support of a shared commitment to increase growth in Australia’s commercial and manufacturing sectors.   

ICN provides manufacturers with connections, contacts and advice to help unlock opportunities across Australia and globally. At the heart of ICN is the ICN Gateway which introduces manufacturers to projects of all sizes across Australia and New Zealand. The ICN Gateway is a platform that helps Australian manufacturers access new opportunities with buyers, governments and market analysts.

By creating a profile listing on the ICN Gateway, licensees can be listed on a publicly searchable database, search project opportunities and submit expressions of interest for individual project opportunities. 

While Mr Lazzaro said it is still early days, integrating the Australian Made logo into the ICN system ensures that the project managers and the specifiers can easily see if a supplier is able to offer locally made products that are certified to carry the Australian Made logo. Additionally, it presents as an easy way to source manufacturers who may meet certain local procurement requirements. 

“The ICN Gateway provides an opportunity for our manufacturers to access contracts to supply projects, some of them perhaps bigger than what they might be able to access normally,” he said.

While it has been so pleasing to see consumers’ enthusiasm for Australian Made products continue on a positive trajectory this year, Mr Lazzaro says it is the Campaign’s job to make sure it keeps this momentum going throughout the New Year. 

“We have some exciting plans for the 2022 Australian Made Week and the ambassadors we are bringing on board will help assist in selling this message into the marketplace. In the export market, we will continue to promote the campaign and then create channels for our licensees to take their product to overseas markets,” he said.

“As Australia continues to open up this will provide us with more opportunities to engage directly with consumers. You will see us at more trade shows and our people on the ground getting in front of businesses again and really making some of those connections that we were not able to do in the last few years. We are looking forward to another bumper year for Aussie manufacturers in 2022,” Mr Lazzaro concluded.

Pandemic sees HBT customers seek out Aussie made

While Hardware and Building Traders (HBT) does not have an Australian Made category specifically, it does have a number of suppliers who manufacture some or all products within Australia, with most seeing significant sales increases over the past two years.

Australian Made suppliers such as Holman, Reln, Haymes and Whites Group have achieved significant sales increases recently, but according to HBT General Manager – Buying Jody Vella, the hardware industry is also still riding a wave of sustained sales growth, so it is intriguing to know if this demand is driven by the Australian Made product or something else.

“Just one example is the very good growth HBT has achieved through Haymes Paints. Their products have been riding this wave of sales within the paint sector since April last year, but I also believe Haymes’ products are favoured due to their local origins as well. There is no doubt Australian Made products are resonating with the local community because our members tell us customers are coming in and actively looking for Australian Made products,” he said.

“There are a multitude of reasons why Australian Made products continue to grow in popularity, including many hardware products being in high demand as the building and DIY industries boomed throughout the pandemic. This coincides with supply issues with imported products as consumers seek high-quality locally made products,” Mr Vella said.

Many of HBT’s Australian manufacturers have already indicated to the group that they will increase their manufacturing footprint within Australia. However, because all expansion plans require time and extra resources, most notably extra staff,  those suppliers looking to move more of their manufacturing onshore are finding the process can be a slow one according to Mr Vella.

“I speak with suppliers all the time and the majority are looking to hire new employees to fill vacant warehouse or manufacturing roles. There is just not enough people available to fill these roles which has impacted the expansion of local manufacturing. A lot of suppliers are happy to move quickly on this but there are circumstances preventing them from moving as fast as they had hoped,” he said.

“I was in Dandenong South in Melbourne recently where a lot of industrial suppliers are located and the big facilities there have vacancy boards out the front advertising available positions within the company. I remember my Dad would tell me stories from the 1950’s and 60’s, whereby if people lost their jobs chances were that they would find another the next day and usually down the road from where they used to work. Seeing that reminded me of those stories,” Mr Vella said.

While it is great to see the popularity of Australian Made products boosting the local job market, this demand is no doubt coming from consumers’ on-going trust for local products over imported and also trusting that a product will be available if they seek it in-store.

“Irrespective of what category it is, if there is an Australian Made logo on it, it will see a real rise in sales no doubt. Two suppliers in particular come to mind. One being Melbourne Rotomould based in Pakenham, which is delivering plenty of innovation to the market, and ensuring it has a sustainable offer. Reln is another Australian company based in Sydney that is also continuing to expand its operations as its quality products continue to take off,” he said.

With close to 500 suppliers already on-board within the HBT group, Mr Vella said while HBT is not actively looking to increase its supplier base, if an, “Australian Made supplier comes along and there is a gap within our offer or product range, we will talk to them.”

“What we are trying to do is work more closely with our supplier partners. It is for this reason that every time a new product comes on board, we support them with their launch program. Supporting locally made products is definitely something that resonates with our buying team and within our members but ultimately it is driven by the customer as well,” he said.

Mr Vella said he believes that the growing trajectory for Australian Made products will continue, particularly as supply chain issues persist and shipping delays impact imported products’ on-shelf availability. 

“There was a bit of a groundswell towards Australian Made products prior to the pandemic but more recently there has been a real kick along. I felt that the notion of Australian Made really started to resonate with people when we saw the death of the local automotive industry. Australia was one of only a few countries that had the ability to design and manufacture a vehicle but this finished when Holden, Toyota and Ford ceased local production in Australia. The desire to support and buy local was resonating with Australians prior to the pandemic, just at a slower pace,” he said.

This groundswell is expected to only gain momentum, particularly as State and National Governments actively talk about restarting Australian manufacturing. Mr Vella believes the coming election will see both major parties have policies around this to incentivize and assist companies to increase their onshore presence.

“Federal and State Governments are seizing the opportunity to boost the local economy. From both a macro and micro perspective, not only does it create jobs but it also supports existing companies who can integrate themselves into the wider supply chain. Most importantly, being seen to actively support Australian manufacturing resonates with the electorate and will gain a lot of traction. I have no doubt that in the next five to ten years we will definitely see more manufacturing coming back onshore.”

“In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Australian manufacturing was at its peak. Even in the 1980’s local manufacturing was widespread, however since then manufacturing in this country has declined. Now the pendulum is swinging back and gaining momentum which is great news for all,” Mr Vella said.

Aussie products a priority at CSS

Construction Supply Specialists (CSS) has encouraged Australian made products within its business for many years, beginning with the implementation of its highly sought-after Impact-A house brand which came into the business almost 20-years ago. 

The Impact-A product range from CSS has made great strides with customers over the last 20 years.

The brand has grown over time to become a huge part of the CSS offer after the group saw too many holes in the local supply chain, CSS Managing Director Jeff Wellard said recently.

“By holes we mean a lack of positive, constant supply or quality issues from specific suppliers,” Mr Wellard said.

Initially, the Impact-A product range consisted of Australian made aerosol paint and some plastics for the tilt-up and precast concrete industry segment, according to Mr Wellard, with both items proving to be very successful within the local market.

“As opportunities presented themselves, we added further lines in a mixture of both imported and locally produced products. We would have preferred Australian made all the way but our relatively small market size meant minimum order requirements would always present hurdles, particularly when sourcing local manufacturers who met the pricing requirements for volume/commodity products,” he said.

While the ongoing campaign around locally made products and the need for consumers and distributors at all levels to get behind Australian manufacturers is evident, remaining price competitive has always been a hindrance to the campaign, according to Mr Wellard.

“This is particularly the case at a consumer, retail and wholesale level up to this point. While Australians love the concept of Australian made, there is a commercial aspect that puts the brakes on locally made products for many,” Mr Wellard said.

The CSS supplier base of some 130 plus ‘wholesalers’ remains a good mixture of local manufacturing and importing based companies. While the group does prefer to support local manufacturers, a balanced approach to supply is always required to ensure range and continuity, according to Mr Wellard.  

“Having said this, there is pretty clear evidence the severe shortages in some raw materials and what appears to be worldwide freight restructuring due to the pandemic, is dramatically affecting key manufacturing areas around the world. This has resulted in product shortages, quality issues and price escalations from what have been relatively secure sourcing regions and is now igniting the push for more Australian made products and services to be made available,” he said. 

“We have noticed a definitive increase of trade customers asking where a product’s origin is across most industry segments and there is also a willingness to opt for locally made products as a first choice. Quality, after-sales support and fitness of purpose are important factors of course, but the tide is turning with price being an absolute stopper in the buying process. This is a sentiment not lost on many local manufacturers and there appears to be an ‘understanding’ of the opportunities that exist here right now,” Mr Wellard said.

Under its ‘Australian 1st Sourcing Strategy’, CSS has already converted several previously imported product lines across to Australian manufacturing and continues to work with suppliers to see what opportunities can come about from working together on a mutual advantage.

“Specialist concrete chemicals like Crete-Off and Crete-Shield are now manufactured here in Melbourne, while our janitorial product lines, plastic buckets, jerry cans, shims and plastic bin liners are relatively new additions under the Australian made program and there is plenty more to come,” he said.

“There is an increased awareness of ‘support local’ from our industrial customers and Australian manufacturers are – for the most part – stepping up. We are finding that if you take the time to have a good look around, there are increasing opportunities to ‘support local’ now more than ever,” Mr Wellard said.

Sutton Tools – Australian, family-owned business for over 100 years

The history, milestones and achievements of Sutton Tools over the last century are primarily attributed to its strong commitment to keeping the business family-run and owned for over 100 years.

Starting out as a small family business back in 1917, Sutton Tools has since become one of the leading tool manufacturers in Australia. What is most apparent when talking with Board Member and third-generation family member, Jim Sutton about the business, is how staying committed to perfectionism and having pride in one’s work is something that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Incredibly five generations of the Sutton family are still involved in various aspects of the business alongside Jim, who at 85 years young continues to go into work once or twice a week. 

Current working family members not only include Jim Sutton (Board Member), but also Peter Sutton (fourth generation and current Managing Director), Jim’s son Robert (Commercial Director) and now fifth generation Oliver, who works in logistics, warehousing and supply. 

Jim Sutton (third generation Sutton) with Oliver (fifth generation Sutton) of Sutton Tools.

While Jim often muses that he and his brother Bill (father of Peter Sutton) were the last engineers remaining in the family, he is still very impressed by the incredible work his family continues to do at Sutton Tools.

When walking around Sutton Tools’ main premises in Thomastown, an industrial suburb in Melbourne’s north, Jim recalls a time when the factory was initially set-up in a converted stable in Westgarth, Victoria. It was not long before Sutton Tools was quickly forced to move to larger premises by 1925 to keep up with increased demand. By 1959, further growth within the business meant a move to a 4180 square metre factory to today’s current Thomastown location.

The high-quality tools and accessory products at Sutton Tools are not only used extensively by industry manufacturing and trade professionals but the DIY market as well. Originally manufacturing threads and gauges, Sutton Tools progressively expanded into a broader range of cutting tools. The 1960s saw a boom in home renovations and Sutton Tools was right there meeting the market’s needs. The DIY drill bit market now makes up a large share of Sutton Tools’ current output.

Investment in research and development has also continued throughout Sutton Tools’ history, resulting in several ‘industry first’ solutions. One such ground-breaking initiative was launched in 1960 in an effort to adopt the best method of producing the finest drill in the world. Jim recalls his father pressuring Bill and he to reinvest in new machines every year to ensure the drill bit quality was maintained. The quality control over machines and standards is one of the main reasons why Sutton Tools never conceded to pressures to move its manufacturing overseas – compared with some of its competitors.

The global pandemic has caused many problems but mostly delays in overseas shipping around the world. This has meant Australian buyers are now further supporting Australian Made and owned products as imported products become unavailable. Sutton Tools continues to be a name that tradesmen, DIYers and the industry alike know and trust to source reliable cutting drills in an unreliable market.

From Australian tools to Aerospace in Europe, Sutton Tools can make tools that were impossible to make 15 years ago on its high-tech machines. Sutton Tools also continues to support industries that require innovation and precision, particularly through the intense accuracy required for Aerospace projects. 

Sutton Tools’ ethos for durable and reliable products above all else, is not just a business goal, but a family value that continues today and well into the future.

Making Aussie paint for 87 years

First established in Ballarat in 1935, Haymes Paint knows there is nothing quite like buying, using and selling products that are 100 per cent Australian made. This is because, more often than not, customers feel a sense of reassurance and pride knowing they are buying local and that their money is going towards goods that are proudly manufactured in their own backyard.

This sentiment was recently reiterated by Haymes Paint Director, Matt Haymes, a business owner driven by putting community over profit.

“When people buy Australian made products, they know they are getting more than just a product – they are also supporting local jobs, businesses and employment opportunities,” Mr Haymes said.

“That way, they know that money stays in the community. It can be really uplifting for them.” 

Incredibly, Haymes Paint is currently in its third generation of family ownership. It is the largest Australian-owned and made paint manufacturer – a source of pride for a company that finds itself in a paint market that is 90 per cent foreign owned. 

In the 2020-21 financial year, Haymes Paint recorded double-digit sales growth selling its Australian-made products compared to the year prior. 

“Sales within the paint and coating industry have certainly risen over the past 12 to 18 months, in large part due to the pandemic. People were spending far more time at home. They also found themselves with more time on their hands, especially those in Victoria and New South Wales given the widespread lockdowns and government restrictions,” Mr Haymes said.

As many consumers spend more money on their homes during COVID, they are increasingly opting for Australian made products as well – perhaps not surprising given local manufacturers, including Haymes Paint, are known for making products that are tailored to the Australian conditions.

“We first saw a push for people supporting locally made products following the bushfires in 2019/2020. There was a real campaign to buy and support local. Then COVID hit, and suddenly the country was faced with various obstacles importing goods and supply chain issues. So, consumers turned to products that were locally made – including paint and coatings – aware of the positive impact their purchasing power could have.”

Haymes Paint Director Matt Haymes is driven by putting the community over profit.

“At the end of the day, I think consumers, both retail and tradespeople, feel a sense of pride when they buy Australian made products,” he said.

But buying local does not mean customers are compromising on quality. Quite the opposite, in fact, according to Mr Haymes.

“When it comes to paint, Australian quality standards are better than anywhere else in the world, so customers get great value when they buy local,” he said.

“Aside from profits stimulating the Australian economy and high-quality products, consumers also often know the people they are supporting, whether it be their local manufacturer or hardware store owner. That means if there is an issue, there are relationships in place to resolve it quickly.”

“If price, quality and service of a locally owned and made product are on par or often better, why wouldn’t you support the local drop? This is especially the case for family-owned and independent businesses who are essential to the fabric of our communities and eager to help customers in any way they can,” Mr Haymes said.

It is for these reasons that Mr Haymes believes Haymes Paint’s status as the country’s largest paint manufacturer that is not only 100 per cent Australian made, but also Australian owned, makes it stand out above the rest.

“Making paint in Australia is one thing – but being a three-generation strong family business with roots in Victoria’s Ballarat is another. It is an enormous point of pride for us and the reason we value families and communities over all else.”

“Ultimately, we exist to make high-quality, home-grown paint and coating products for Australians – and that is the way we will stay,” Mr Haymes said.