When Colin Kuchel couldn’t find good suppliers for his blinds business, he set up his own manufacturing plant. For him, that was the only way to ensure quality.
“I was reluctant because I had no experience,” says Kuchel, the founder and managing director of Australian Outdoor Living. He took the plunge regardless and set up a manufacturing company in early 2006. “Having no experience worked out to our benefit though, because we started from scratch and didn’t adopt a complacent attitude.”
Kuchel invested in German technology, set up online ordering systems and appointed engineers to produce a high-quality outdoor blind that worked well and looked good. The result has been the growth of Australian Outdoor Living from a two-person operation in Adelaide into a national company employing 150 staff, with sales of $50 million.
“I had heard of outdoor cafe blinds for restaurant dining and they were becoming popular residentially,” Kuchel says. “The cafe blind means people get more from their entertaining space.” The blind is made of transparent and durable PVC panels and encloses outdoor cafes and restaurants in adverse weather.
In 2005, Kuchel set about selling made-to-measure outdoor blinds for private homes that initially he sourced from a Victorian manufacturer. The product proved very popular and by the end of the year he had seven staff. In 2006, he began manufacturing the product, too. According to Kuchel, word of mouth and referral business meant strong growth. Then a small TV advertising campaign in late 2006 generated another sales boost. Finally, the financial crisis seemed to alter market dynamics in the company’s favour.
“Surprisingly, we have continued to grow,” Kuchel says. “I genuinely think it must be because people are saving on stamp duty (by remaining in their existing home) and investing in improving their home instead of moving.”
The cafe blind remains the company’s best seller but it has also expanded its product line to include swimming pools, decking, pergolas and synthetic lawns. “We needed to diversify and create opportunities and the other products were common sense,” Kuchel says. Good staff is the key to success, he says. “If you put on the right people, the plan comes from there. We’ve invested in people, training, management and team buidling and we’ll continue to do that.”