Big win for small firm
Leaders of a Wimmera manufacturing success story with roots at Rainbow hope a triumph in a prestigious statewide awards program will help propel the company into further international markets.
Horsham ‘air-movement specialists’ Smallaire won runner-up honours in the 2018 Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame Awards at a gala dinner at Melbourne’s Crown Palladium on Monday night.
Smallaire director Lolita Small said she was thrilled the company was a finalist in the small business category.
“Last week we found out we were a finalist, which was pretty amazing, but we didn’t realise we were going to be runner-up. It’s all happening at once – it’s really exciting,” she said.
“Monday night was amazing. It was pretty full-on to be surrounded by so many people on the same page in terms of the manufacturing industry.
“We knew we were up against some high-calibre competition so at the end of the day we were thrilled to be a finalist.”
Melbourne-based Osteon Medical won the category.
Miss Small said entrants had to complete an extensive application process.
“You have to talk about every angle of your business, because you’re not just being judged on your sales,” she said.
“It was a good reflection on the work that we do and what we’ve been through as a company for the past 44 years.
“We talked about where we started and some of the hurdles and challenges we have faced, from recessions to natural disasters such as fire, flood and drought. The process makes you realise that all of this has made us a stronger business.”
Miss Small’s father Gary Small started Smallaire at Rainbow in 1974.
“Dad was a tank manufacturer and people started to say to him that they wouldn’t mind an air-conditioner, so he designed one,” she said.
“Once everyone at Rainbow had an air-conditioner we moved to Horsham.”
The business advanced to cover agriculture, commercial, industry and domestic sectors.
“We started in agriculture after farmers began coming to us about problems with their air-seeders,” Miss Small said.
“Now we export our agricultural components across Australia and worldwide.
“Farmers are very important to our business. When the farming sector isn’t doing well, it affects us too.”
Miss Small said the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame recognition came at an exciting time for the business, which recently received a Regional Development Victoria grant to help with redevelopment and employment.
“We’re looking to expand our business to build another shed for freight and logistics,” she said.
“We’re also looking to expand further overseas. We’re trying to break into Eastern Europe, focusing on Prague and Warsaw. We’re also looking at the potential to market our products in Thailand and Mexico City.”
Miss Small said Smallaire was working with Austrade – the Australian Trade and Investment Commission – to further the company’s profile overseas.
She said Austrade representatives had been negotiating on Smallaire’s behalf, ‘talking to the right people’ in overseas market.
“The government has helped us a lot,” she said.
“I mean, we’re looking at cities like Prague. Without their help, where would you even start?
“They’re helping connect us with the right people and making sure we comply with government regulations from the other countries, which are often different from our own.”
Smallaire employs 20 people, which Miss Small hopes to grow in the near future.
“We’re hoping to employ another eight people in the next three years. Realistically it’s more like five, but we like to aim high,” she said.
Aiming high is a consistent theme for Smallaire, which continues to adapt to new technologies and customer demands.
“We’re producing new products all of the time,” Miss Small said.
“Whenever someone comes to us with an air-movement problem we custom-make a solution. We’re looking to continue to grow our product offerings – you have to in order to survive.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to stop producing what we’re already producing, it just means we know we can’t afford to remain stagnant.
“You need to keep pushing, otherwise you get left behind.”
ACCOLADE: Smallaire managing director Gary Small, left, and director Lolita Small celebrate the company’s runner-up honours in the small business category at the 2018 Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame Awards in Melbourne on Monday night with...