Reputation for high quality timber furniture restoration
Support service offers meaningful, suitable and enjoyable occupational and skill development options
It’s taken almost four decades but a unique Toowoomba business continues to go from strength to strength. In fact, its success has meant the need for new and bigger premises.
What started as a small enterprise offering specialised training for people with a disability, has gained a reputation as a centre of excellence in timber furniture restoration work, among any other facets.
KBH Enterprises was originally formed out of a partnership between Karakan and the Baillie Henderson Hospital formed in the 1980s. Initially, woodworking, craft and even glass bottle recycling was offered within the Occupational Therapy unit of the Baillie Henderson hospital to provide people with disabilities and/or mental illness the opportunity to develop new skills and also prepare for employment post-discharge.
Karakan was a local service provider in the region and joined with the Occupational Therapy unit to ensure that the services were maintained and developed to provide meaningful, suitable and enjoyable occupational and skill development options.
In the late 1980s the service was moved to ‘Bedford Street’ which was slightly removed from the general hospital grounds and allowed for the supported employees to work within KBH Enterprises as both inpatients and outpatients from the local community.
In 1994, Karakan was given complete control of KBH Enterprises as the business moved completely from the hospital grounds and into a purposebuilt Timber Workshop on 11 Grange Street, Toowoomba.
From 1994 – 2015 KBH Enterprises was funded by FaCSIA (Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) to operate as an Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE) providing Supported Employment opportunities for people with disabilities and/or mental illness.
“Throughout this time we were funded to support a maximum of 21 Supported Employees within our Timber Manufacturing and Furniture Restoration Workshop,” General Manager Paul Booker explained.
“Apart from our Supported Employees we generally maintained the workshop with a Program Manager, a Workshop Foreman with Furniture Restoration skills and a trade qualified Cabinet Maker to take on the more technical aspects of restoration as well as making custom timber pieces.
“We maintained a steady workforce and built a strong customer base throughout Toowoomba and the Darling Downs region with many repeat customers due to the high quality restoration and manufacturing work that was completed by our supported employees.
“By 2013 – 2015, although we had maintained a loyal workforce and a strong customer base our momentum had slowed and our growth was stunted with just 15-16 supported employees in our workforce,” he said.
In late 2015 there was a push to direct significant resources to KBH Enterprises to tap into the potential that could be seen within the enterprise but had simply dwindled over time. By early 2016 there was a big push from within which led to a significant time of change within every aspect of the KBH business including a significant restructure and review of how the organisation would survive and flourish into the future. A new Business Manager was brought into the fold and significant financial and human resources were invested in developing a plan for the future of KBH Enterprises. “The potential for the organisation was quickly rediscovered and in June 2016 we posted record monthly revenue of just over $28,000; pretty impressive considering the recent average was around $12,000 per month,” said Paul.
“Over that 18 month period we were able to increase sales, improve production and, most importantly, increase our supported workforce back up to our maximum of 21 supported employees. During this period we also developed significant partnerships with local high schools and the
Clifford Park Special Education
School in order to create pathways for young people with disabilities into our supported workforce; something that was vitally important with an ageing team of supported employees.
“KBH was also attracting funding from numerous philanthropic bodies to develop new programs, products and services and we were able to contract Timber Survey Peg production to the billion dollar Toowoomba Second Range Crossing,” said Paul.
With the significant development over the past two years and the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) KBH now employs over 30 supported employees.
“This growth of our workforce and increased sales and service has required a move into a new, bigger building that will allow us to provide more services locally and employ up to 50 supported employees into the future.”
The Grand Opening of this building was held on 14 of September to celebrate Disability Action Week.
“In order to successfully complete the move we needed to shut down production for a few weeks, move all of our machinery and products, install a new dust extraction system and move our spray booth,” he said.
“Not only is our new workshop around 50%, larger it also includes a retail shop
and larger office space for the individual support services that we now also offer to people with disabilities in the local community. We have also increased our team to include five full time roles including a Regional Manager, Support Coordinator, Workshop Supervisor, Timber All-Rounder and a Furniture / Timber Finisher in addition to a great team of volunteers that also support all that we do at KBH Enterprises.”
Despite its obvious success in providing training and help for those in need, KBH is definitely not resting on its laurels.
“We will continue to build on our local reputation for high quality, timber furniture restoration as this represents around 80% of our current business, and we will also continue our growth providing survey pegs and garden stakes locally and throughout South East Queensland,” said Paul
However, he was quick to add
... “we are always looking for new opportunities”.
A few of these are:
• - Timber Fire Logs. “We recently purchased a machine (with grant funding) that condenses timber waste including sawdust and shavings and compresses this waste into high density logs that burn longer and
hotter than traditional firewood”.
• - Range of Hand Made Timber Products. “With the development of the retail space in our new building and an online store (soon to be developed) we are now looking to design, develop and release a range of replicable timber products. These products will be sold as Corporate Gifts, Wedding Gifts, Homewares and Outdoor Games. We are working closely with a local University as they develop market research around which products will be most viable in the future”.
• - Garden Maintenance & Lawn Mowing Enterprise. “Not everyone enjoys woodworking and timber restoration so we are also commencing a Garden Maintenance and Lawn Mowing enterprise that will support people with disabilities and/or mental illness with supported employment in the Toowoomba community. We were given around $20,000 of funding to start this enterprise as well as the donation of a vehicle from Toowoomba Mahindra and sign writing by Signs On Time”. • - Tiny House Project . “With support from the Westpac Foundation we are building a prototype ‘Tiny House on Wheels’ that will offer a potential solution to housing affordability for people with disabilities and/ or mental illness and will also serve as a potential ‘product’ for
KBH Enterprise into the future as more people join the ‘Tiny House Movement’ throughout Australia”. When Paul was asked about the long term future of the enterprise he admitted that while it was difficult to identify exactly where it would be in 5-10 years he firmly believed the enterprise would be in the same building with a significantly larger supported workforce and a number of other ‘external’ social enterprises so that the timber workshop isn’t over crowded.
“I believe that we have a model that is highly successful and teaches our supported employees some great skills while also providing them with the intrinsic value that comes with being employed and part of a team that is turning out beautiful restorations and high quality timber products.
“We believe that developing a range of replicable, high quality and indemand timber products should allow us to continually grow our organisation while still ensuring that we can provide valuable, satisfying employment opportunities for our supported employees.
“With the last 2 years in mind – there are very few opportunities that we won’t ‘give a try’ and fortunately we have a great team of supported employees who are ready and willing for the challenge,” he said.
Who knows, there may be some retired, skilled woodworkers in the local area who could take on volunteer roles, and greater working partnerships can be forged with mills, timber producers or others interested in supporting what is done at KBH.
Official ceremony with a difference -- local State MP David Janetzki (a strong supporter of KBH) does the honours “Cutting the Ribbon”.
Members of the KBH team after received a $10,000 cheque from the Westpac Foundation.
The KBH vehicle.
Early times at KBH.
Rolltop desk restoration ... before.
Rolltop desk restoration ... after.