Traditional Values Modern Techniques

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-By Keith Roffey, Managing Director of Classic Resources Pty Ltd

The Retail Interior Fit-out Industry, or Shopfitting as it is more commonly known, is probably one of the most under estimated and least understood industries. It contributes in excess of $1.5 billion annually to the Australian economy, is highly specialised, vastly diverse within itself and encompasses all trades and specialised finishes. To the average consumer shopfitters are categorised as the builders, with respect to builders we accept that we are part of the Construction Industry but we don’t build shops, we fit them out.

Retail fit-outs are very costly compared to construction in general. Australia is a very small retail market but we still want our shops to be “world class” and why shouldn’t we? However, onerous lease requirements forcing retailers to re-fit regularly and the requirement to make a quick return on their investment in a small market puts great stress on shopfitters to perform at a very cost effective, yet high and efficient level. Time constraints and reduced fit-out periods, adherence to OHS&E regulations and the requirement to work after store trading hours has added considerable costs and, as we have experienced recently, a reluctance of financial institutions to finance retail fit-outs. The industry is experiencing a time of uncertainty and many companies do not have the expertise or resources to manage this. Regrettably, margins have dropped by supply and demand.

The majority of shopfitting companies in this country are considered small, their turnovers average between $4 – $7 million, some less and some more but there are not many with turnovers in excess of $10 million and even fewer in excess of $20 million. We are seeing groups of shoppfitting companies amalgamating and creating large enterprises, an interesting concept and certainly worth watching; however, the jury is still out on this and whether they can survive in the long term in this country remains to be seen. It will depend on their attitude and culture, their client base and the future economy. The industry still relies to a large degree on the relationship between the retailer and the shopfitter, it can be said it is a very personal industry.

The traditional shopfitter probably is a thing of the past; we are seeing the effects of off shore manufacture on many traditional companies and have done so for several years. Australian companies are setting up or becoming involved in enterprises throughout Asia, reducing or closing their Australian manufacturing plants and importing instead. Some retailers are now managing and importing their fittings direct, creating further specialised groups, we now have purely installation companies and more Project Management companies within the industry.

Does this imply the shopfitting industry in Australia is on the decline? On the contrary, I believe we are poised to see an expansion and exciting times ahead, but it will be a very different industry to what my generation is used to.

The traditional skill set is lost, but are the future generations concerned about this? Of course not, the young people in our companies are rising to the challenge and can’t wait to get involved in the latest technology. My generation would lovingly admire a polished timber and veneer counter, our apprentices today are excited about how quickly the flat bed point to point machine details the counter and how effortlessly they can assemble the pre-finished components, they realise the product has only a five year life span. A shopfitter’s job is to manufacture a product secondary to the merchandise, in reality a shop is a stage setting and theatre; it should create ambience and atmosphere so that the customer feels comfortable and enjoys the shopping experience, regardless of whether it is a supermarket or an upmarket boutique. It also needs to be durable and withstand the ravages of the customers.

During the forty eight years of my career I have seen and experienced enormous changes to the way we manufacture, the materials we use and the way we run our companies. We have gone from highly detailed and complicated fittings, using exotic timbers, glass, mirrors and various metal finishes to the minimalist approach. The shop fixtures and fittings we manufacture today do not have a long life span, it has halved and in most cases three to five years sees it passed it’s used by date. I salute these changes and am glad to be a part of them.

Classic Resources Pty Limited is typical of many shopfitters but one of the larger groups. We don’t necessarily consider ourselves traditional however we maintain many of the traditional values. A family owned company celebrating 25 years in operation, the head office and manufacturing plant is in Sydney with a smaller plant in Melbourne, employing an average staff of 60 personnel. Our people include Design, Project Managers, Contract Administrators and Estimators, Detailers and Set-out staff and in house fixing and manufacturing teams including apprentices. We are National and carry out works throughout Australasia and the immediate Pacific area.

Our core business is retail, ranging from small boutiques to large department store fit-outs, cosmetics and hospitality. In addition to this, we are well known for our cultural works, building temporary and permanent displays in Museums and exhibition centres. Although we have in-house manufacturing facilities in both states, part of business is off shore procurement, importing the fixtures and fittings with installation locally. An average fashion boutique fit-out can range from $200,000 to the larger multi million dollar contracts. We have a diverse range of clients from all areas of the retail sector.

I have a great passion for shopfitting and am excited about the way the industry is changing but, I would like to see greater respect for the industries contribution to the economy. Many shopfitting companies need to take this on board also, and look at themselves; there is still plenty of room for greater professionalism and ethics in the way shopfitters conduct their businesses. The client is important, contracts must be completed on time, to budget, built to a cost sustainable to the requirements and, importantly, any defects or rectification works must be identified immediately and managed well to ensure completion. On the other hand, developers, shopping centre managers and retailers need to give consideration to the complexity and cost of the industry. We are highly specialised and unique; all of us need to work much closer together. Perhaps this is too idealistic but it is something to strive for regardless. Combined, the retail sector, including merchandise and consumables, retailers, shopfitters and shopping centre managers are an integral and very important part of our economy.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

May 29, 2020, 5:21 PM AEST