While Australia escaped the worst of the global financial crisis, there’s no doubt that a number of our destination markets were badly affected by the downturn. Fortunately, there were a number of exportersthat not only survived, but also thrived in this period.
Rise of the Phoenix
The Bronze Age was thousands of years ago, but in the form of an innovative Australian exporter it has enjoyed at least an economic renaissance of late. Phoenix Foundry, located in the small New South Wales town of Uralla, has enjoyed a steady growth thanks to a downturn-proof trade: death. "Our bread and butter comes from bronze plaques that are put into cemeteries. People continue to die, unfortunately, so we're in a completely different environment to luxury items," says chief financial officer Monicka Baird. While Phoenix have been known to do one-off plaques for prestigious sites such as the rising sun on Sydney's Anzac Bridge, and the coat-of-arms in Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial in London, it owes the bulk of its success to the repeat business of cemeteries worldwide. And success hasn't just been financial, says Baird, noting that having overseas clients has improved their production efficiency and innovation. "We use bronze alloy of the highest quality, which minimises failures, so we can send the plaques out quicker. Because the quality of the product is so good and we can make an infinite number of styles of plaques, it means we've set ourselves apart to other companies in the marketplace," she says. "It's about selling really good product in good timeframe, then you're giving the customer what they want." Its challenge in the past couple of years has been one of growth, including having to increase capacity and efficiency without affecting customer service. Coming from a small town, the business also places great importance on ensuring a ready supply of talent, Baird notes. "The reason we've been able to rise out of the GFC is our people. They're skilled at what they do. We have a very tight group of managers who work together closely to the common goals that the company has, and that all comes down to the quality of the product and the service we give our customers." Phoenix's next move will involve this winning combination of the right people and the right product. The foundry has strong footholds in Canada and the United Kingdom and is on the lookout for their next destination. "We're constantly looking at countries around the place. It comes down to research, down to someone on the ground doing the legwork, talking to the customers and listening to what they need," says Baird. "Get someone on the ground who understands the customers. When you have that right, it spreads via word-of-mouth." The business also has some new lines emerging and a development that could "revolutionise" bronze making, according to Baird, though of course she can't elaborate. But there's no doubt constant innovation has proved part of a good formula. "We have a very strong research and development team and we're constantly researching and developing new products for the marketplace," Baird says. "We don't go out there and compete with existing markets unless we can provide something that is new and interesting. It's certainly the innovation that wins us business." Don't think that the business' ambition stops there, either. Like the bronze it produces, Phoenix Foundry wants to be around for a long time, she remarks. "We're hoping to be the best producer of this product in the world, and we think we're very close.