Each quarter we interview one of our clients to get an insight into their business. This issue we spoke to Bruce from Big Tyre.
When did your business commence?
It was started in 1954 as a tyre retreading factory.
We purchased it in 1992. At that time the business was primarily retreading tractor tyres (50%), grader tyres, truck tyres (15%), speedway & drag racing (15%), etc.
What does your business do?
These days our company primarily manufactures and reconditions solid wheels for underground forklifts, used in longwall coal mining, and rebuilds rubber tracks and solid undercarriage wheels of large agricultural tractors. We also repair large pneumatic tyres for the local mining trucks that typically weigh about 3 tonnes each and we even retread a few tyres.
In addition to manufacturing, we are the Australasian distributor for two of the top three brands of rubber tracks for agricultural machinery and we have developed an on-line tyre store where we market over 3,500 tyres covering over 40 brands and 1,100 sizes.
What makes your business successful?
We innovate. We are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve our products and services as well as working at the edge of our business to find new opportunities that fit well with our existing market and are consistent with our strengths and/or manufacturing processes. Although we are very pleased to supply our products through dealers, we also supply end-users directly and attend agricultural field days and mining expos where we can not only market our products and liaise with customers but also learn of opportunities and developing trends in the industries we serve.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
It is hard to identify a single achievement as being our greatest. Our major achievements that vie for such include:
Surviving an industry shake-out that occurred when there were too many players in a shrinking mature tyre retreading market. Retreading prices in the market were at cut-throat levels that could not be sustained long-term. This occurred during the first 3 years after we purchased the business and were still learning how to run it! We concentrated on lowering our cost structure. Late in 1995 this situation was exasperated by significantly increased rubber prices, causing 75% of our competition within 1500 km to cease retreading. This gave us a bigger client base with the nearest competitor 900 km away as well as the ability to price products properly which gave us a strong business until …
We were back to survival mode due to the Government’s abrupt removal of import tariffs in July 1997 that resulted in us losing 70% of our tyre retreading business over the following 4 years to much cheaper new tyre imports. We survived this only through the product innovation we had already implemented to recondition rubber tracks for agricultural machinery and solid wheels for underground mining. These two product lines grew quite rapidly and offset about half of the lost business from retreading.
In 2009 we captured the solid-wheel business of DBT Australia, a large manufacturer of underground mining machines, which was later bought by Caterpillar Global Mining – our biggest customer. The mining boom propelled us soaring; the bust was bruising! Survival mode again!
We export our solid wheels to China and South Africa directly but indirectly to over 50 countries through Russell Mineral Equipment which sells their machines with our solid wheels fitted.
In 2011 we received acknowledgement and a significant award and prize in “What’s Your Big Idea, Queensland?” for our attempts to reinvent the wheel, inspired by the realisation in 2002 that neither pneumatic nor solid wheels suit the underground mining industry well. This project has had very significant support from ACARP (Australian Coal Association Research Projects) but we are yet to design a non-pneumatic non-solid wheel to carry 10 tonne that is financially viable.
In 2014 we were granted the Australasian distributorship for new agricultural tracks from Goodyear and then later from Bridgestone also. This is a market we know well from rebuilding over 1,000 tracks in the last 20 years. Marketing new agricultural tracks has become a primary product line for us and is much easier than manufacturing!
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting up a business?
Equip yourself in all aspects of business and finance. “Make hay while the sun shines” and keep a reserve for resilience to handle the cyclical nature of business. Be genuinely keen to provide the best service you can to your customers and always work at the edge of your business and invest in the future because the world rapidly changes and you can’t afford to be left with an old dead cow that has been milked to death without having a line of young calves to follow.
How do you relax from the pressures of being in business?
Operate within your area of expertise and your comfort zone for risk. Avoid undue financial pressure so that when major challenges arise this added resilience makes it easier to chill out – for me the beach is good.