Simplicity Australia is a manufacturing business that produces a wide range of broad acre planting equipment, including Australia’s largest range of air seeders. “Our main focus is based directly on broad acre planting” says Troy Law, the Company’s General Manager. “We manufacture products to cover the typical broad acre operation for primary producers in Australia, but also service raised bed farming, which includes equipment that integrates into cotton, corn or rice irrigated farming situations.”
Simplicity is a Queensland-based business, but they have a dealer network that extends all across Australia, so their productsare serviced and sold in farming regions in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. They also export to different parts of New Zealand, Africa, as well as other parts of the world. Their relationship with this network is a solid one, and maintaining that relationship is one of Law’s focuses. “That’s critical to our business,” he explains. “If we don’t provide both a solid product and service it well, and have a good relationship with them, then our business stops.”
The company first began over 30 years ago, and was founded by Law’s father who had previously worked in different industries as a mechanic, welder, and othervarious roles. “A guy was building an air seeder in his backyard, and my father and a neighbour brought that business. Approximately 12 months later he bought the other half of the business and started from there,”Law recounts. The first machine they build was a very small, very basic model that allowed room for improvement – improvement that came early and often. “His focus since then has been to develop that product and grow the business,” Law says. Since he grew up in that environment, Law is very familiar with the Simplicity products and thebusiness surrounding them. Although that business has grown over the years, there is still a strong element of connectivity between Law, his father and their employees. That, Law says, is the natural result of being a family business. “In a corporate business managers or owners sometimes have different motivations,” he says. “We are here for the long haul and need to be consistent.”
As General Manager, Law has a number of areas of focus. Product development is a particularly important one. “I think product development’s a key area that we are now focused on, and we’re continuing to move our product forward to meet our customer requirements. That’s a big part of what Simplicity does,” Law says. “We try very much to provide a standard product line that will cover the majority of what our customer requirements are.” Simplicity does delve at times into different specialty product lines, which can sometimes develop into more standard product lines. An additional focus is interfacing with customers. Law says interfacing with end-users helps keep me fresh and motivated. “There’s nothing like physically standing by your customers and your product to keep you on your toes.”
An important part of attracting new customers is having a good reputation, and fostering the Simplicity reputation is another one of Law’s focuses. Mostly that entails making sure that the company is doing their best work at all times. “I have a consideration that the last machine that goes out the door – in other words, what you’re doing right now, today – is important, and it affects you,” he says. “You can’t rest on laurels at all. If you’re not producing quality continuously and trying to service continuously, then that makes a difference. Being focused on what you’re doing today and doing it as best as possible makes a difference.”
One of the things that set Simplicity Australia apart from their national and international competition is their unique location. “Ourorigins are Queensland-based, so we’re really blessed in that we have a broad range of farming within a two hour radius of us,” Law says. “In one direction we can be in lighter soils with broad acre, big machinery but very close to us is irrigation. Then within an hour or less we’re in hills with rocks and mixed farming including cropping, plus dairy or cattle production.” The wide variety of farming conditions that surround them means that Simplicity can effectively provide products that meet the needs of a broad section of their market. They can easily touch base and connect with those different sectors and receive feedback quickly. A lot of their competitors are international manufacturers who cannot compete with that level of locality and client outreach.
As far as challenges go, Law says their biggest one is contending with a fluctuating market. The unpredictable exchange rate and Australian market size means that Simplicity’s business needs to be able to cater to both tough and boom times. Some years they will have to build a smaller number of machines, and some year’s larger numbers will be required. “The business needs to stay in that middle capacity point where it’s able to survive in those lower years and also able to cater successfully for as big a portion as we can of the higher sales volume years.” Holding position in that middle ground is tricky, but important. “That’s one of the major challenges that we have,” says Law. “That’s one of the things we need to do successfully, otherwise we’re not here long term.”
Another one of Law’s challenges is also another one of his focuses: employees. “One of the biggest parts of my role is people,” he says. “Working to have the right person in the right place, and working with them.” Attracting and then holding on to skilled labour is an issue industry-wide, however. “The demand for skilled people is consistent. The way we try to manage that is by continuously incorporating apprentices in our skill base and they can then over time take up other roles within thecore functions of our business.” Ongoing training like that can be difficult, but Law says it is worth it, and Simplicity has been effective in implementing it. “We have been relatively successful in keeping a core team,” he says. “We have numerous people in the business who have been here for 10 years, 15 years, some even longer.”
When it comes to future growth, Simplicity Australia will remain conservative. Again, the field they operate in has its ups and downs and they have to remain at the right size to deal with both of these realities. Additionally, Simplicity has opted to stay within its own core field rather than branch out into other opportunities – despite them being there. “You take your eye off one ball and you focus on the other one and a ball drops,” Law says. “We’ve always maintained that ‘Our core business is this, and let’s focus on doing that well, and keeping our core customers.’ Our growth strategy is expanding our product range within that field.”
Overall, Simplicity plans to keep doing what they are already doing successfully. “We’re not a buyer of parts bolted together which are then sent out,” Law says. “We’re actually a producer. Engineering, design, drawings – we do that internally. We do all the manufacturing processes, cutting of raw materials, right through to folding, welding, to machining, to assembly. So in five years time I’m hoping that we have continued to do that successfully.” Additionally, they need to maintain their high level of flexibility. “I think that’s one of the key points in being here profitable and successful in five to ten years time,” he says.