An innovative regional manufacturer has celebrated the inauguration of its first international office with blessings, gifts and the joyous throwing of petals and bananas.
The colourful event in Chennai, India, earlier this month marks a major milestone for family business Australian Turntables.
“For a long time we’ve had a global mindset, but we probably never thought that setting up our own office in an international location would happen,” Managing Director Ben Chapman said.
“From when the company started to having an office in India is an amazing milestone for us, and I think it will be the first of many forays into international locations.”
Australian Turntables makes circular rotating platforms for everything from revolving restaurants to mining vehicles.
Products are manufactured entirely in Australia and shipped around the county and the world.
“People often ask us: ‘Where is the market?’” Mr Chapman said.
“A long time ago, we understood that what we sell is space, safety and productivity.
“We allow people to optimise space because a turntable is a very efficient movement, regarding process.
“If you talk about a loading dock, it has to allow for a truck to be able to do a 4 or 5-point turn. That takes up a certain amount of space. A turntable can reduce a loading dock by 50%.
“That means they can use what is essentially useless land (for truck movements) for more retail space or more car parks, which have value.
“Using a turntable is a lot faster and obviously, a lot safer because we don’t have vehicles reversing.
“It’s the same for residential projects. Without the turntable, you might have one car park available. Adding a turntable will create another car parking space. In Melbourne, a car park is worth up to $70-80,000 on the value of your home.
“Once we understood the benefits, it really opened up opportunities.”
The company has put turntables into theatre spaces, on ships, at the end of piers and in tunnels.
“We’re bringing innovation to the world,” Mr Chapman said.
“Some of the products we’re bringing to the market aren’t available anywhere else in the world — things like portable turntables for tunnel and rail construction.
“We’ve done a number of revolving restaurants, mostly in the Middle East, including the world’s largest revolving restaurant in Iran.
“We get asked from time to time for some very architectural products. They’re great projects but now we’re heading into heavy industry.”
It was about four years ago when Austrade advised Australian Turntables, which was established by Ben’s parents in 1987, of India’s potential.
Since then, Mr Chapman has been making frequent trips to meet agents and partners.
“India is a relatively new market for Australia,” Mr Chapman said.
“It is not common for Australian companies to set up there, particularly ones our size. Therefore, setting up an office in India was a massive risk for us.
“It’s managing a remote office in a country that we don’t know intimately. You’ve got to put your faith in people who are working remotely, particularly in a culturally different country. But if you don’t take risks, you don’t get better.”
The journey has been a steep learning curve that continues to require much patience and nurturing of relationships.
“It’s a bureaucratic country with highly detailed systems,” Mr Chapman said.
“We have engaged some good lawyers and accountants over there who have helped us through the process, but it’s still a massive task.
“It’s also much slower over there. We have had to have a lot of patience. The beauty of me having gone over there for several years is that I know the system quite well whereas in Australia, we might get quite frustrated if progress is slow.
“But with patience, investing in the relationship, staying positive and communicating the right way, success will happen.”
The inauguration was an unforgettable event organised by Radha Venkatraman, one of their two full-time employees in India.
“The father of Radha is a Pooja Pandit (a Hindu scholar who performs rituals of worship),” Mr Chapman said.
“They built a shrine in the office with flowers, statues and candles.
“The Pandit chanted for about 20 mins and he’s throwing money, bananas and petals.
“It was an amazing and emotional cultural experience for me. It was beautiful. Then he blessed the company and all the people who work in it.
“It’s all about wishing for great success and getting energy in the right space. There was the lighting of another candle and then it was down to business.”
Australian Turntables is among only a handful of companies around the world that specialise in manufacturing turntables and the only one in Australia.
“There was no one in India that did anything like us, so we were able to go in as an innovative company with an innovative approach,” Mr Chapman said.
“India’s future is around embracing technology in a move away from manual labour.
“They don’t want to be the cheapest manufacturer in the world; they want to be the smartest.
“They truly want to embrace new innovation and technology and be smarter with regards to processes.”
Mr Chapman is excited about the company’s future.
“We’re a compact group but we’re sending, what we believe are, the world’s best products around the world,” he said.
“We’re getting recognised for the quality of the work that we do. French construction company Bouyges, a global player, is talking to us about a project in Hong Kong.
“They sent some of their staff here and were expecting to see something fairly industrial, but they said afterwards: ‘We’re just blown away by the professionalism and quality of your work.’
“Out of a small team in regional Victoria, we’re playing in the gobal market and doing a good job. We can always do better, but we do do a good job.”
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Australian Turntables has been a member of Ai Group since 2013.
“Australian Turntables has been designing and manufacturing turntables for a wide range of industries across Australia and globally since 1987. The company has grown from a two-person operation to now employing 38 staff plus establishing a subsidiary company, which also employs two people in India.
The support required to manage this growth is significant and The Australian Industry Group has been an important partner in the company’s success. Having a trusted source that: ensures we are compliant in many aspects of operation, works with Government to protect industry interests and promotes us through networks and trade initiatives is greatly appreciated.
The value that Ai Group provides has been far greater than the investment in membership.
Australian Turntables would recommend Ai Group to any business, big or small, and we look forward to working with them in building Australian manufacturing further.” — Managing Director Ben Chapman
Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.