29/02/2016 - 10:16

Pool is deep for family firm

29/02/2016 - 10:16

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SPECIAL REPORT: Swimming pool manufacturer Aquatic Leisure Technologies is pursuing increased interstate and overseas sales from its new factory at Jandakot.

Pool is deep for family firm
POOL QUEUE: Lew (left) and Ben Beale with Lynley Papineau at the company’s $20 million Jandakot facility, which is helping attract business from across Australia. Photos: Attila Csaszar

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Swimming pool manufacturer Aquatic Leisure Technologies is pursuing increased interstate and overseas sales from its new factory at Jandakot.

Lew Beale remembers the first time he recognised the potential to export large numbers of swimming pools manufactured in Perth.

“There is an international trade exhibition at Lyon (in France),” he told Business News.

“It was amazing to walk in there and see how much better we were, that was quite exhilarating.”

His family company, Aquatic Leisure Technologies, started exporting from Western Australia more than 30 years ago, and has become a major supplier to markets as diverse as New Zealand, the Middle East and Reunion Island, a small French territory where it has sold more than 4,000 swimming pools.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, with economic shocks such as the Asian currency crisis in 1998 and the GFC in 2008 having a big impact.

However, the company is ready for renewed growth after investing close to $20 million constructing and fitting-out a factory in Jandakot, where it builds more than 2,500 fibreglass pools per year and has capacity to lift output to 3,000 pools.

Mr Beale, who runs the company with his son, Ben, and daughter, Lynley Papineau, said the company had become a lot more focused in recent years.

“We consolidated and built this facility; we specialised in the manufacture and distribution worldwide of unique, high-quality fibreglass swimming pools,” he said.

The consolidation process included selling the Jadan spas business, after the GFC led to a collapse in sales, and pulling out of the market for residential concrete pools.

“That allowed the management team to focus solely on our core business,” executive director Ben Beale said.

“That was a really important step for us.”

The company spent three years planning the move from Welshpool to Jandakot, which is the sixth manufacturing facility it has established in 40 years of business.

The planning process started with a commitment to having one large facility with economies of scale.

“Our philosophy has always been to centralise manufacturing at one high-quality facility, rather than lots of little satellite factories,” Ben Beale said.

Shifting its manufacturing offshore was one possibility but executive director Lynley Papineau said that was never seriously entertained.

“We could have gone offshore but as a WA family business we wanted to keep manufacturing here,” Ms Papineau told Business News.

The company evaluated multiple sites in Perth before opting for the location originally favoured, at Jandakot.

“We’re here in a prime location ready to expand. We have an 85-year head lease with a world-class facility,” Ben Beale said.

“It’s a very secure base for the business, it allows us to plan long term, and we have the resources and capacity to expand as opportunities arise.”

A lot of planning was focused on the layout and workflows in the factory, which Lew Beale said was worlds away from the company’s old facilities.

Diverse markets

The company’s largest market is still WA, which the directors believe is the most competitive in Australia.

WA accounts for 70 per cent of sales, with the balance split between the east coast and overseas.

It manufactures pools for its own retail brands in WA: Aqua Technics, which was established in 1976; Sapphire Pools, which was purchased in 1998; and Buccaneer Pools, bought in 2001.

Ben Beale said the company was unique in having a big presence in both retail and distribution.

“Our dealers love that, they know we understand retail,” he said.

“We’ve never lost a dealer in WA to a competitor.”

The company’s growth strategy includes both international and east coast markets, where Ben Beale is looking to sign up extra dealers.

“We’ve got a big push to the east coast of Australia and that’s happening at a rate of knots,” he said.

“We’re starting to get dealers on the east coast coming to us, they’re seeking our product.

“When we show them this facility, that gives them a lot of confidence to come on board.”

The company’s operations include a commercial division, which supplies mine camps and holiday resorts, amid other facilities

Ms Papineau said it offered modular construction of large pools; for instance, joining together four sections on-site to make one large pool.

“That’s really attractive to the commercial market because we’re able to get in and out in a shorter time frame than concrete pool construction,” she said.

The company also offers landscaping design for swimming pool surrounds and a ground control business that offers soil stabilisation services. “It was a natural for us to move into landscaping,” Ms Papineau said.

Lew Beale said an important contributor to the business was Hydrawall, which was set up in 2009 to research and develop innovative technology for swimming pools, spa pools and boats.

Its products include the patented Pool Colourguard, which he said was the world’s first non-fading surface protection for fibreglass pools.

Pool Colourguard has been licensed exclusively to Aquatic Leisure Technologies, and Lew Beale believes it’s a good example of how technical innovation has helped the business.

The company also has its own on-site gelcoat manufacturing facility, where the in-house chemist mixes gelcoat on a daily basis to suit weather conditions.

Cultural change

Ms Papineau said the directors were keen to maintain the company’s family business tradition, but also recognised the need to evolve.

“We were once a small family business; we’re now a lot larger, but what’s really important is that we maintain that family feel,” she said.

With 170 staff, the company has developed what it calls the ALT business excellence initiative to help enhance its staff culture and professionalism.

It has 140 staff going through a training course in competitive systems, with a focus on workflow, business processes and building in ‘lean’ principles.

Ms Papineau said she wanted to ensure everyone understood the vision, mission and values of the organisation.

The company has established a collaboration zone and regular toolbox meetings to help promote innovation, while also running staff awards and social events such as family fun days

Ultimately, Ms Papineau wants staff to focus on ensuring customers have a good experience – a goal the business found challenging during the resources boom when it experienced exponential growth but, like many other businesses, struggled to retain good staff.

Ben Beale said the opening of the Jandakot facility had been a significant milestone.

“There’s been a bit of a cultural change with this facility; its world-class and we’re proud of it,” he said.

Succession planning

Lew Beale said having three family directors, who are also the owners of the business, had worked well.

“It’s working well because we all have different areas of expertise,” he said.

“And different perspectives,” Ms Papineau added.

Lew Beale said he had been able to step back from day-to-day running of the business, leaving that to his children.

“It’s set up so well now that it runs without me; I could retire tomorrow confident the company would continue to prosper,” he said.

Ms Papineau said the directors were starting to think about planning for the third generation, who are currently at school and university.

“We’ve said we have no expectation they have to join the family business, but if they want to we will show them the ropes and see what they want to do,” she said.

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