Making a difference; diversifying to thrive.

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Manufacturing is no stranger to fluctuating markets and the challenges of globalisation. The core markets many companies once depended on are now unreliable. So what does it take to stay competitive and get ahead in this new climate? Kate Fagan from the NSW Energy and Resources Knowledge Hub speaks to Rod Murphy of R&R Murphy to find out.

On a sunny day in Australian cities, you can look to the roof tops and find people enjoying gardens built into their terrace roofs. These private little pieces of paradise were not structurally possible in years gone by, but are now a common feature. This is thanks, in part, to the design and development of a steel structure fitted to reinforce the building, essentially innovating the terrace home and changing lifestyles and landscapes across Australian cities.

These terrace-changing pieces of architecture are manufactured in Gateshead, Newcastle by an engineering and metal fabrication company that ten years ago, would never have dreamed of taking on such a project.

In 2004, when R&R Murphy were starting out, their core business was making Cleanaway garbage bins. They moved into tanker fabrication and today their service list includes the mining, transport and food industries, structural architectural products and shop fitting products.

For Rod Murphy, owner and founder of the business along with his wife, Rose, diversification was imperative to surviving the turbulence of the manufacturing industry.

“Diversification equals stability. It means that when industries fluctuate, your bottom line stays even,” said Rod.

“The manufacturing industry is struggling. A lot of stuff is going overseas so to stay competitive you’ve got to think differently.”

Rod is a business owner who has been thinking differently since 2011, when he saw the risk in receiving all their revenue from the mining industry, and extended the focus with a strategy to diversify the business.

“Working with a consultant, we looked at where we wanted to be and what we wanted to do. We were able to formulate a business plan that included flexibility and diversification,” Rod said.

But before approaching new markets, Rod and his team recognised there was some ground-work to do.

“We made a decision. If we were going to seek out new markets, we needed everything in place first. We wanted to be a one stop shop and we needed to be ready to deliver.”

This meant significant investment in upgrading qualifications, investing in new equipment, installing new business management technology, finding efficiencies in the workshop and raising the benchmark for quality to world recognised standards, which included triple accreditation in 2013.

“To cut costs, we needed to find out how to do things better, smarter and quicker.”

Years down the track, this culture of continual improvement is embedded throughout the company, with all employees involved in finding new ways to improve the working environment, processes and the final product.

An added – but not accidental – benefit of that strategy has meant the business attracts high calibre employees.

“The working environment is well set up. It’s efficient, safer and easy to work in so the quality tradesmen want to work here. This makes for a better product and service at the end of the day,” said Rod.

Makers Festival R&R

Work space in the R&R Murphy workshop. All employees contribute to a culture of continual improvement.   

Rod knows their business is only as good as the people around them, and valuing his people and playing to their strengths has helped R&R Murphy achieve its diversification goals.

“You don’t have to be smart to do good business. You just have to be smart enough to bring in the expertise,” he explains.

This sort of thinking has allowed him to say yes to projects that may not have been within his core skillset previously, such as architectural and shop fitting jobs.

“I’m all for collaboration, I have an open mind about that. It’s a game of strengths and weaknesses and if you get the right partners that’s the difference between going for the big projects or not.”

Rod is now working with researchers from the University of Newcastle to solve some engineering challenges and create new opportunities for growth.

“What I want to do with research and development is work in conjunction with other companies. I have the ideas, they have the experience, we can get together to make things happen. Research and development opens up new doors,” said Rod.

Rod will be representing R&R Murphy at the upcoming Greater Hunter Makers Festival to be held at the Newcastle Jockey Club November 11-12, 2016.  The festival is a showcase of the Hunter Region’s world-class engineering and manufacturing capabilities where makers and educators will unite to inspire, inform and connect. 

Come and meet Rod to hear his story and many others from the Hunter region. http://www.makersfestival.com.au/

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