Solid Footing

Sunstate Cement

No matter what kind of construction cement is used in, it is a reliable bellwether for the construction industry as a whole.

Queensland came off a peak around 2008-09, so volumes are not where they once were according to regional leader Sunstate Cement. They are lower, no doubt about that, but the industry has adjusted. “Of course we would like volumes to be higher,” says Sales and Marketing Manager, Michael Thompson. There is talk of a modest increase through the next financial year, but there are mixed views among customers. “The expectation is that the market will remain relatively flat with the prospect of a slight upturn in volume, due to improved conditions in the residential construction market.” Most customers are cautiously optimistic, based on improved housing approval numbers. While other industry sectors may be flat, the data on house approvals is more positive.

With public sector spending expected to be weak, investment in major infrastructure projects and road stabilisation is likely to decline which will impact on volumes in the construction materials industry. The question is, will this decline be replaced by increased activity in the housing sector?

Sunstate is a leader in the Southeast Queensland market and has invested in its business over the last four or five years, placing it in a “good position in terms of capacity for future growth.” The company is a 50-50 joint venture between its owners Adelaide Brighton Ltd and Boral Ltd, two of the largest players in the construction materials industry in Australia. The ownership provides a solid backing to the business and substantial support when required.

Cement is cement, right? Well, Michael says it is a little more complex than that and posits that, “there is always room for innovation.” In fact, Sunstate has some new product developments it is working on, although Michael understandably would prefer to keep his powder dry until the launch of the new items. “That is one issue in the industry – anything new is very quickly taken up by the competition, although that is probably the case in most businesses.” However, he acknowledges that cement is a very mature and therefore sometimes a slow-moving industry – it’s not like consumer products where a little marketing and a new flavour can boost sales in a relatively short period of time. Cement is generally quite highly specified and Sunstate’s end users have their own requirements to meet the needs of their customers, so it is far from a simple matter to introduce change into the product itself. Despite the constraints, though, there are opportunities, says Michael.

In the absence of a pipeline of new products, Sunstate has to distinguish itself through other means: service, quality and value. Given that no one really likes to compete just on the latter, it’s the two former elements that come to the fore in this industry. Michael points out that even quality is largely pre-defined through Australian Standards and end user specifications – and that is no bad thing. Cement manufacturers have to make a product that complies with the standards. “Quality in this industry is generally regarded as a given. All the manufacturers turn out products of high quality. So service becomes the big-ticket item in terms of trying to differentiate oneself.”

For Sunstate, service means “an unwavering focus on the customer. I know that is probably something of a cliché, but we have to ensure that when dealing with Sunstate – no matter which part of Sunstate – the customer has a great experience.” Ultimately, whether it is answering enquiries in a timely and accurate manner or on-time delivery of product, it is all about ensuring the customer expectations are met and wherever possible exceeded.

“I believe we then have to take that focus to the next stage; that includes all the stakeholders in our customer’s business, whether it is the person placing the order for the cement, or the cartage contractor they may be using, or anyone else who is interacting with Sunstate.” It is imperative that everyone involved in the transaction should come away with a positive view of the experience. “It’s not just about salespeople; it’s across all areas of our business.”

The regulatory framework includes, of course, areas of safety and the environment. Safety “has to be the number one priority on everyone’s agenda,” says Michael, “all our employees and contractors have a right to expect to leave work the same way they came to work, injury-free.” Sunstate operates from headquarters at the Port of Brisbane and is well aware of the sensitive environmental and marine ecosystems not far away. Rather than merely comply with regulations, the company is serious about minimising the impact on its environment. The company’s policy sums up this commitment:

“Sunstate Cement Ltd is concerned with the quality of the environment and is fully committed to environmentally responsible management of the business, whilst meeting the expectations of its customers and providing a safe working environment for its employees. Sunstate recognises the need to protect the environment in order to allow sustained economic development for the long-term benefit of the community.”

“Our business must be conducted in such a way that adverse environmental impacts are controlled, and minimised or eliminated where possible. It is the duty of us all to exercise care in our work to ensure that this goal is achieved and maintained, and to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Environmental Protection Act by the use of appropriate equipment and processes, and by regular testing and systematic audits.”

Sunstate is a milling operation and with its Port Brisbane location, the company is favourably situated with quick access to market. “Trucks leave the site and very quickly access motorways heading north, south and west.” The product range itself is a wide one and Michael says there is considerable flexibility. “There are times when a customer requires a different product and we are able to respond with a solution that satisfies our customers’ needs.”

In addition, the installed capacity at the Port of Brisbane site is adequate to meet current and foreseeable demand. “We have the ability to ramp up very fast to deal with any upcoming major projects or changes in demand. We have three grinding mills capable of producing 1.5 million tonnes per year. This capacity means that while we can meet demand we can also ensure continuity of supply.” A further advantage of Sunstate is its transport fleet: Michael underlines it has access to a sufficient number of carriers to satisfy peaks of demand with no delays.

One way or another, Sunstate ticks all the boxes for added customer satisfaction. This is not only about a bag of cement for the DIY market – it’s about housing and infrastructure all down the eastern side of Australia. So if that includes you, why not ask this company for a solution to your particular construction needs?

For more information about Sunstate Cement, please visit http://www.sunstatecement.com.au/

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January 17, 2019, 4:54 AM AEDT