The latest of the FCJ (Furniture, Cabinets, Joinery) Industry Leaders Forums was recently held in Perth (on 18 March 2015) and it has proved as productive and successful as the 3 preceding Forums convened in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne respectively over the course of 2014. The Industry Leaders Forums are an initiative of the FCJ Alliance (FCJA) and have been run with the support of the Federal Government’s Department of Industry and Science.
The purpose of the series of Forums is to identify the core issues confronting the FCJ industry throughout Australia and consequently derive a policy framework to drive the industry’s ongoing development over coming years. The FCJA will develop an Industry Position Paper based on the deliberations of the four Forum meetings held to date and present this to Government for formal response, both of which will then provide the basis of focus at the fifth and final Industry Leaders Forum to be held at Parliament House, Canberra in mid-August 2015.
Jason Windows hosted the Forum at its production facilities in Welshpool, Perth and this provided a conducive backdrop to some very lively and informed debate during the day.
The Hon Barry House MLC, President of the Legislative Council WA, officially opened the Perth Forum, firmly setting the scene for a very positive and fruitful round of discussions by Forum delegates. Barry’s knowledge of, and passion for, the FCJ industry was clearly evident, no doubt fuelled by his own family involvement in timber milling over the decades. Whilst noting the many challenges confronting the industry, Barry strongly commended the industry (and the FCJA) in taking such an evident leadership role, noting that it was clearly an industry that is “prepared to take its destiny in its own hands” and that he stood ready to help wherever he could.
Ron Scott, the FCJA’s Chair, warmly thanked Barry for his comments and more especially, for the evident passion he had for the industry and for his show of support. Ron noted that the industry has the same problems all around Australia and heeded Barry’s advice that it was important for industry to present with the one concerted and unified voice. He also welcomed Barry’s support of an industry position that is focussed on working jointly with Government to achieve positive outcomes for the industry. The FCJA recognises that part of the solution lies with industry itself, and Ron stressed that we all need to do our part. Of course, there are also areas where Government has a role to play, and the FCJA will continue to strongly advocate for Government action in these areas.
Andrew Trainer from the Federal Department of Industry and Science, highlighted that the Government’s own analysis of the FCJ industry and its supply chain closely mirrored the conclusions and recommendations derived by the FCJA in the development of its Strategic Industry Plan. The Industry Leaders Forums were then initiated as a collaborative effort between the Government and the FCJA to confirm that the issues were common throughout Australia and to gain consensus on the action needed to address the priority areas of concern and/or opportunity. At the same time, the Forums have provided a vehicle to introduce new prospects and ideas to the industry through keynote speakers from different (but related) sectors as well as introduce AusIndustry and its array of industry support programmes to the sector.
The first of the key-note speakers, Brad McGill of Kyoto Designs, presented a fascinating story outlining their evolution from agriculture to manufacturing to now export around the world. While Brad did not mention it specifically, it was interesting to note that much of the growth could be attributed to the company’s responsiveness to market signals, with quite different product being supplied from one period or one market, to the next. Brad and his brother Michael, have clearly listened to the customer, and have then designed and produced to meet the stated need, but with product that is clearly unique and innovative.
Brad paid tribute to the support the company has received from Austrade in helping with the right connections overseas, and the local industry (through WAFMA) to provide extra capacity when required.
Ron Scott and Frank Parker, WAFMA Secretary and from the Australian Furniture Directory, then conducted a Q&A on the challenges confronting the FCJ industry, particularly in Western Australia, and the implications of the changing retail environment. Not surprisingly, the challenges confronting the WA industry are much the same as encountered throughout Australia, with low cost imports setting the price points, yet not meeting the same craftsmanship or regulatory standards of local manufacturers, limited scope for differentiating product at retail given need to match price-points and the SME nature of local businesses limiting scope to find alternate routes to market. Frank stressed the importance of providing enhanced value to the customer, through better, differentiated product with an obvious service element (exclusive/ customised design, right product at the right time).
Greg Redden, WA State Director of AusIndustry – Entrepreneur Development to outlined the Federal Government’s new Industry Support Programs, which are specifically focussed on Advanced Manufacturing businesses, ie businesses undertaking leading edge design work or supply chain innovation, or with the intention to do so. That is, the programmes are not intended for businesses that plan to just continue on the same path as always.
The final formal presentation was made by the host of the Forum on the day, Jason Window’s Managing Director, Brendan O’Reilly. Brendan outlined how Jason Windows had repositioned itself as the dominant player in the industry in WA through a strategic systematic process focussed very much on:
- Strong customer service, producing whatever the customer wants whenever they want (everything made to order)
- Quality – “Right First Time”
- Operational Efficiencies – enabling very short lead times
- People – becoming an “employer of choice”
Brendan and his team then led the Forum delegates on a tour of the Jason Windows manufacturing facilities. This proved a highlight of the day, especially as the tour provided a clear demonstration that the strategies Brendan espoused had clearly been implemented as was reflected in the highly productive and efficient operations in evidence.
As with the previous Forums, participants then engaged in intensive round-table discussion about the future prospects for the FCJ industry and the priorities that should be pursued. There was valuable contribution from all participants with insightful comment being provided by a diverse range of industry executives, including not just the speakers but also representing from Inglewood Products Group, Antry (and the Cabinet Manufacturers Association of WA), Upholstique, Blum, Proform, Clarence Valley Kitchens, to name a few. Copies of presentations, from this and earlier Forums can be found here.