“Probably in the eight years we’ve been here, we’ve quadrupled the amount of sales that we do,” said Brett Thompson, the manager of Richmond Wheels and Castors’ WA store, which opened in 2005 and which he joined in 2006.
“When we started the materials handling industry was quite competitive and people obviously took notice of us, but not seriously.
“And now we’re probably public enemy number one to every wholesaler in Perth at the moment.”
The Welshpool store – along with outlets in four other Australian cities and one in Auckland – are part of the Richmond organisation, which says it has – in what will likely be remembered as a less-than-brilliant year for Australian manufacturing industry – enjoyed continued success and its 55th anniversary.
The third-generation family-owned business, founded by Frank Winslow, began in the Victorian suburb it takes its name from in 1958, relocating to the industrial hotspot of Clayton, south-east Melbourne, in 1963, where the company still manufactures its products.
In its very earliest days it worked in steel fabrication for the building industry. Richmond acquired a materials handling company in 1961, and sold materials handling products under the LiftnMove brand.
Materials handling solutions still contribute a significant part of the company’s business, but wheels and castors – which became the focus of the company when Winslow retired in 1987 – make up the bulk of its sales.
“That’s our bread and butter at Richmond in Perth,” explained Thompson.
“You could say that for any state. We also deal with material handling and stack-style trolleys and appliance trolleys and platform trolleys and pallet trucks and electric and manual stackers… right down to plastic tubs and so on. You’d have to say that probably about 70 per cent of our earnings would be from wheels and castors.”
The company’s wheels, castors and rollers are put to use in a variety of industries, from hospitals to huge infrastructure projects (such as the Victorian Regional Rail Link project) to the resources industry.
Thompson gave an example of the Richmond’s engineering know-how being used to greatly reduce lead-times for a major mining engineering company through custom-making a product.
The well-known company was looking to source pipe-rollers for a project from Germany, however Richmond was able to provide an alternative.
“[The engineering company] said ‘can you do these, we can’t get our hands on these for about three months; we need them in about three weeks,’” recalled Thompson.
Some drawings of the German product were made, a quote was provided in a day, and Richmond’s engineers went to work.
“The customer’s response to this custom job was absolutely ecstatic,” said Thompson.
“And this is what keeps those customers coming back. If it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg and it’s going to take so much time we to get we can do that at probably half the price and in only a tenth of the time.
“That’s one of the custom jobs, but that’s just one of many.”
Thompson said that his state’s remoteness meant some businesses are used to long lead times and have been forced to become patient. A quick turnaround and effective service through Richmond’s network has been able bring about a better result than some clients had previously been used to.
However, keeping appropriate stock levels is a constant challenge.
“It’s hard to have all the stuff here, everything that you do here in the one place,” the store manager said.
“And a lot of things have to be stored in our existing warehouses, so getting things over fast enough and being able to serve the customer fast enough is also a challenge,” he said.
When asked of other regular challenges, Thompson said that protecting the dominance in the state that the company had established was foremost.
“There are a lot of challenges, but the biggest is staying number one in the market,” he said.
“Over here we’re pretty much number one.”