16/10/2007 - 22:00

Case study: Freedom finds synergies in Spain

16/10/2007 - 22:00

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Freedom Pools and Spas has come a long way since it started out as a water tank business in Narrogin in 1974.

Freedom Pools and Spas has come a long way since it started out as a water tank business in Narrogin in 1974.

Now a world leader in the design and manufacture of fibreglass pools, Freedom’s distribution network extends across the country, serviced by its manufacturing facilities in Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia,

Its Kenwick headquarters has been home for the company since 1984, and now produces almost 1,400 pools each year.

The company still manufactures and sells water tanks through its sister business, Freedom Tanks, based in Maddington.

Founder Bob Biernat and his wife. Rhona, still run the business. Two of their daughters are also involved in the business, with one running its Queensland operations.

The self-taught entrepreneur believes the company’s dedication to innovation, including investing heavily in research and development ($50,000 to $80,000 a year) in new designs, gives Freedom an advantage in a competitive market.

Mr Biernat said it was the company’s unique technology and product designs that helped it find its way into the overseas market, and in 1986 started exporting into South-East Asia.

Beginning with Singapore and Malaysia, Freedom moved into the lucrative Dubai market in the early 1990s and into western Europe in 1997, with France and Spain now its strongest export markets.

“Our technology and products are like nowhere else in Europe,” Mr Biernat said.

But as demand for its pools began to increase in the early 2000s, the company began to encounter a problem with shipping that could have potentially cut it off from the European market altogether.

The large and cumbersome size of each shipments, usually a stack of 10 pools, meant it couldn’t be packed into shipping containers, classifying it as oversized or out-of-gauge cargo.

As a result, pool shipments became intermittent, leading to delivery delays and unsustainable volumes being exported. “We couldn’t get pools out and we couldn’t guarantee delivery,” Mr Biernat said. “It just became too hard.”

Faced with the possibility of losing a major export market, Mr Beirnat decided to establish a manufacturing facility in Spain to service its European market.

Spain was also an ideal location for an overseas manufacturing facility because its mild climate was suitable for working with fiberglass.

The factory took six months to set up, with all the equipment and technical expertise transported from Australia. It began production in August 2004.

Mr Biernat said one of the biggest challenges with the Spanish facility was dealing with the cultural differences, in particular the siestas that tended to interrupt the manufacturing process.

“If you’re having siestas it doesn’t work well with fiberglass. Once you’ve started a job you have to finish it within a certain time.”

The facility is now home to between 45 and 50 employees and produces 800 pools per year. It is run by an onsite management team, with Mr Biernat visiting the facility twice a year.

Freedom is currently building on current markets, as well as identifying other potential export opportunities, particularly the US, where fiberglass pools have recently made their way into the mainstream.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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