Capability meets innovation
SULO MGB Australia is a market leader that matches significant production and delivery capabilities with innovation and quality. They operate one of the most highly automated and largest plastic injection moulding plants in Australasia, and are famous for the manufacturing of wheelie bins. The company itself offers a wide variety of services, including fleet planning, assembly and distribution, fleet maintenance, and the unique service of bin recycling at the end of its usable life. These services were introduced gradually over SULO’s extensive history as both a German and Australian company.
The history of SULO dates back more than 100 years, to when it was founded in Germany in 1890. The name SULO itself comes from the two German founders, who incorporated two letters from each of their names. At first, SULO was involved in making metal products for the agricultural industry. At that time, a lot of household waste was composed of ash from ovens, which was dumped and collected in metal bins. SULO capitalised on that phenomenon by manufacturing cylindrical metal containers to collect the hot ashes, and later got involved in actually collecting these containers.
The company’s focus shifted in the ‘60s as more people got central heating, and started using plastic bins for their waste. In response, SULO was one of the first companies to invent an MGB – a mobile garbage bin. This innovation spread quickly throughout Germany and Europe, and on the back of that success, SULO established an Australian subsidiary company in 1983. Later, in 1987, they set up a factory in the country to produce the bins themselves. Then, in the early 2000s, SULO started a unique service wherein they buy old bins from city councils, recycle them, and reuse the material in their production. Finally, in 2003, SULO MGB started offering ongoing bin support to city councils, and they have grown from there.
Thorsten Voss, Managing Director of SULO MGB Australia, credits the company’s ongoing success to their innovation, as well as their commitment to customer service. “Everywhere we are we have a service desk, or state managers,” he says. “The state managers’ travel around to maintain customer relationship and find new business, and service desks and such liaise with a customer and take orders and advice on price and quantities and how things can be delivered. So we’ve got a fair amount of people working in customer service and marketing.”
Voss himself is a mechanical engineer, specialising in plastics processing. He began his career with SULO in Germany in 1996, before leaving the next year to help set up their facility in Somersby, Australia, on the Central Coast of New South Wales. A few years later he moved again, setting up a SULO factory in Beijing. In 1999, however, he returned to Australia and became a production manager.
Another factor Voss attributes to SULO’s continued success is the quality of their product, and the fact that they stand behind that quality. “We offer a pretty long warranty period on plastic products,” he explains. “We also use approved material that have been tested in the field and in the laboratory for quite a long time. Some of those materials – and the roots of the materials – go back 30, 40 years. So we’ve done a lot of research over the last decade, not just in Australia, but also back in Europe, with the mother company. That’s to ensure that the quality of the bin is always up to a high standard.”
Over the past decade, recycling has become a growth market in Australia and around the world, and Voss says he sees SULO MGB having a future in that sector. Their bin recycling service is a good early indicator of their commitment in that arena. That service also has two other key drivers. “One is obviously that the costumers want to get rid of their old bins, and they don’t want it to end up in landfill,” Voss says. “The second driver is, from our perspective, that the recycled material is slightly cheaper than virgin material. Our end-of-life serves those two purposes.”
Recycling is important in Australia, Voss says, because the country is not growing fast enough to require more bins. “The market for garbage bins is stagnating, but the recycling streams in Australia have diversified,” he says. “20 years ago you had just one garbage can. 10 years ago the recycling bin came along. Maybe five years ago the green waste bin came along. Most cities these days have got a three-bin system. I think the waste separation will continue, because we want to reduce what is going to landfill. The next step is the organic collection, like kitchen waste and so forth, and we do see a bit of a future in that.” Also, because the amount of recycling in each household is going up as well, so Voss and SULO MGB see a potential market for larger bins, which they plan on capitalising on.
The main opportunities for SULO MGB, however, are in their ancillary services around the bins, rather than the bins themselves. Their customers are primarily in the government sector, like city councils, but Voss sees a growth area in selling to the industrial and commercial sectors, which includes restaurants, schools and hospitals. “We aim to provide the whole service around the bin,” Voss says. “This includes things like planning, fleet maintenance, even financing – whatever is required to get the sale.”
“We believe that the market on bins is stagnating,” he continues. “We believe we have got a future in the growth and replacement of bins, and the services around bins, and that includes what we call identification and weighing. So bins these days can be equipped with chips, and as an asset to the council or the contractor, they can actually track where the asset is, how often the asset has been lifted or emptied, or what else has happened to that asset. So we believe these are areas where we can develop in to.”
Finally, Voss says they are also diversifying from domestic waste collection into what they call “away from home recycling” and the area of public litter bins in general. In this aim, they have launched another brand called Morbel, which is focused on street furniture and the disposal and collection of waste in particular. “That could include above ground as well as underground containers,” Voss says. Off the back of those initiatives, Voss sees SULO MGB Australia continuing to expand steadily and carefully. “I’d like to think that in the next five to 10 years, we can grow the company at a reasonable size.”