Maddison Safety takes on multinationals
Maddison Safety celebrates its 30th birthday this October and owner, Tim Maddison, believes three decades of success is attributed to ongoing innovation within the business, as well as the formation of new business avenues. A good work ethic is also important and proven by Tim as he madly cut up elastics for his new environmentally friendly, Australian made masks on an electric heat cutter while chatting with AHJ recently.
Business: Maddison Safety
Owner: Tim Maddison
Location: Newcastle, NSW
Buying Group: CSS (Construction Supply Specialists)
While there is no doubt Tim and the Maddison Safety team are extremely hands on, Tim believes growing the business is also all about working hard and always pushing the boundaries.
“Three words we use at Maddison Safety include ‘dynamic’, ‘innovative’ and ‘successful’. We use these words all the time along with the word ‘ambitious’ because this is a major quality we try to breed amongst our team of 35,” Tim said.
“For a small, independently owned company, we believe we have the ability to take on the multi-nationals simply due to our on-going innovations. We always look outside the square. A good example of this is the way we have automated a heap of our processes over the years as well,” he said.
Tim’s father, Keith, first established Maddison Safety in 1990, with the family owned and operated business based in the coastal town of Newcastle, 160 kilometres north of Sydney.
Tim began working with his father in the early 90’s for four years before chasing a professional sports career for eight years, playing professional rugby league. It was when Tim returned from his sporting career that the business innovations began to take off.
“I played for a few different clubs and I moved around a bit from Sydney to North Queensland, and then Europe. But the whole time I kept tabs on what the business was doing and since I have been back on deck for 17 years, we have not stopped growing and evolving,” he said.
Time for change
When Tim came back on board in 2003, he had a good look at the business and believed it was just doing the same run-of-the-mill things as everyone else. Tim began to investigate how Maddison Safety could truly compete against the big guys “without being a big guy.”
Tim said the first thing he did was ask customers what he could do to make their job a lot easier.
“From this feedback we developed our Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) system, which saw many team members going to customer’s sites and conducting weekly stock-takes and replenishing stock. This meant that all of a sudden, the procurement guys on-site did not have to worry about running out of stock anymore and the system developed from there. We then looked into developing monthly invoices to reduce the number of invoices that needed to be loaded.”
“We also looked at how we could ensure those mini stock takes could be more efficient which is when we brought in iPads and systems, as well as developing our ERPs. We now have various sites using both our VMI and our vending machine systems,” Tim said.
“Today 60 to 70 per cent of our turnover is via automated transactions that go through a vending system. We have invested heavily in IT and automation and I now have a team that primarily looks after this. We also know that anything to do with IT requires constant maintenance so we have a team that does this for us, including researching different markets and looking at ideas to create new efficiencies with what we do,” he said.
Even though Tim admits Maddison Safety is quite different to the standard CSS member because the business is so heavily focused on wholesale, the CSS group was still the perfect fit for the business.
“While we do have a retail shop, a lot of our business is conducted via business-to-business, end user kind of work.”
Maddison Safety now manufactures a range of its products on-site, with Tim saying the manufacturing side of the business all began in the early 90’s when Maddison Safety bought a small company that produced mining belts.
“From there we have expanded this business into tool belts, pouches, straps and bags as well in-house embroidery machines. We also customize all of our customer’s workwear as well,” he said.
One of the biggest changes to the business occurred this year when Tim and his team went on to develop an Australian made reusable safety mask, the ENVIRUS Masks which were established soon after the major bushfires took hold on the NSW south-coast in January.
“By the end of January this year there was a national shortage of P2 dust masks due to the bushfires, and this was all before we knew what COVID-19 was going to do. My team and I quickly realised that the mask shortage could be an issue every year due to bushfires and we wanted to look into developing an Australian built mask for the general public just for passive smoke,” Tim said.
“Smoke is quite a large particle so it does not require a P2 mask, which is why we decided to design something that was all about being Australian made, because our reliance on China had become a real issue. This is when we brought in another business, Sharkskin, to help us in the designing process and we made some prototypes. Then all of the sudden in March the pandemic started to take over, and global demands on P2 products were at an all-time high. At the same time, we had 3500 to 4000 coal miners who needed P2 masks to work every day and we were scraping to try and make this happen,” he said.
It was around the same time that the use of disposable masks had grown six-fold globally, so the impact on the environment also became a concern for Tim who wondered where such a huge number of disposable masks would end up.
“This was when we really put a focus on the climate side of the product, ensuring that the masks were reusable and washable, while also combatting the virus. Our goal is to have a 100 per cent Australian sourced and manufactured product and at the moment we are still sourcing some components from China, such as elastic, but we are sourcing technical fabrics from an Australian manufacturer. Between Sharkskin and us, we have employed more than 30 people over the last few months. We also now have some beautiful older ladies in their 70s that grew up on a sewing machine and are helping us get through the demand,” Tim said.
“We want to turn these masks into a proper project and maybe turn this into a school where we teach people how to sew again and fire Australian manufacturing up again. We have also had some interest from the government through its Innovation Connections Program and we have been able to access some grants. We always try to think outside the square a little bit and think of different ways to take the big guys on,” he said.
While there is already a huge log of back orders for the ENVIRUS masks, thankfully Tim and the team had a head start on this before the pandemic hit.
“In the first few meetings we thought we had about a year to get ready for next season’s bushfires, but then we were hit by the virus, which is when we had to do some extensive research around the locally made fabrics. Even though the raw material is medical grade, the fabrics have also been independently tested against all kinds of viruses through Newcastle University,” Tim said.
While Maddison Safety grew rapidly during the last few months, Tim said it was highly important that the team remained extremely vigilant with its hygiene standards during this time.
“The last thing we want is for a staff member to catch the virus and then walk onto a site and close down a 1500 man mine operation. We had to be so vigilant with our social distancing, mask wearing and realigned our workshops so people do not have to work on top of each other, as well as changed hours and extensive sanitization. The upside is no one has been off sick at all this year,” Tim said.
On-line facilities also required substantial upgrading with Tim saying the ENVIRUS products continue to do well online at www.envirus.com.au
“However, the Maddison Safety website is now about 15 years old because it has just been one of those jobs constantly put on the back burner. However, we have invested heavily into a new website which will be live within the next couple of months and will be a full online shop for our customers as well as provide our wholesale customers with online ordering. It will be a very useful resource once it is up and running,” he said.
When I think of all the good business decisions we have made over the years, one of the best decisions we made by far is joining the CSS group.
“At the time of joining we were obviously very different to what the standard member was and I remember a few on the board asking what our motive was in joining the group. At the time our vending was starting to explode and a lot of our clients were asking if they could save money with us through industrial consumables, after saving quite a bit with us through safety products as well. Which is when I did a bit of research and came across the CSS group and they welcomed us onboard,” he said.
“Joining CSS really gave us a whole new range of products that we could sell and a whole new range of suppliers that we could also utilize. It has been nothing but a positive experience being involved with the group and I have just got such a passion for what we do. CSS Managing Director Jeff Wellard has been at the corner stone of the group, he is such an amazing guy,” Tim said.
Looking into the future Tim said he is keen to continually push the boundaries around efficiencies, automation and innovation.
“That is our big goal and we think we have really started this process with the ENVIRUS company. We have started with masks and we have plenty of other products in the pipeline we will look to bring out. We are heavily invested into machinery and people and we want to continue to do that and get to a stage where we have got a complete Australian manufactured business where we are producing products we can all be pretty proud of,” Tim said.