Dave Bell, founder of BOgear, tells how Australian manufacturing is far from dead and how the use of the Made in Australia logo has played a role in his success.
“We always say we’re made in Australia; we’re fiercely proud of that,” says Mr Bell, the founder of Brisbane-based bag and outdoor gear manufacturer Bogear.
Mr Bell, an industrial designer by trade, launched Bogear in September 2008, having graduated from university with a degree in design.
“Because i had that hands-on mindset, sewing was the easiest business to start, with low overheads and low start-up capital needs,” he says.
Around four years ago, the business moved out of Mr Bell’s home into its own premises in Logan City, just outside Brisbane. However, with his wife based in Katherine as a lawyer for Northern territory indigenous communities, Mr Bell now finds himself working remotely most of the time.
“I now live in Katherine – three weeks up here, and then I fly to Brisbane for one week,” he says.
“I struggled so much trying to find skilled machinists … in a big city like Brisbane, let alone in a tiny little country town up here in Katherine. I know there’s a lot
of government support with remote workers up here, but unfortunately I just don’t think I will be able to get the reliability of the machinists and the skilled trade.”
Yet despite the added cost of travelling between the two locations regularly, Mr Bell admits that there are substantial business benefits in doing so.
“It does give me the time to take a step back from the business and not get sucked into the day-to-day ‘doing’, and instead start to focus on that bigger picture,” he explains.
“I’m a designer by trade, so being down in Brisbane I wanted to get my hands dirty a lot and I ended up doing a lot of the sewing and working out all the production things.
“Whereas when I’m up here, I take a step back and start to look at it from a product perspective and a brand perspective and see it as a different picture.”
Mr Bell was adamant from the outset that he wanted his products to be made in Australia.
“There’s a big cottage industry overseas, particularly in the [United] States, where people are returning to production onshore, and I wanted to replicate that,” he says.
But it means that, from a business perspective, the stakes are also higher.
“The biggest challenge is actually what sets us apart – Australian-made and custom,” Mr Bell says.
“The Australian-made side of things means that the labour costs are very high; the material costs are very high; trying to find skilled staff is very hard. And then from the custom side … everything is a one-off, so if you’re creating one bag and you make a mistake, 100 per cent of your stock has a mistake in it.”
He adds: “[But] they are the two things that set us apart and make us different. so we are fiercely proud of what we do, but it’s also the hardest thing that we do, and that’s why we shout from the rooftops that we’re custom and Australian made.”
The latter has been boosted in the last year by joining the official Australian Made Campaign, allowing Bogear to display the iconic kangaroo logo on its products, website and advertising.
Mr Bell admits that he initially had reservations about signing up for the campaign, including the requirement to pay registration fees. However, a good friend’s experience was the clincher for him to make the decision to register.
“I’m very good friends with the owner [of another business], and they firmly believe in Australian-made gear. They are also Australian Made Campaign registered,”
says Mr Bell.
“They sent artwork to the box manufacturer to get printed up and they forgot to put the Australian Made logo on, and they had one batch of boxes done like that. The amount of calls they then got from people saying ‘oh, you’re no longer made in Australia’ was surprising. People recognise that brand and that logo … and they firmly believe it, and when it’s not there, they automatically assume [the product is] no longer made in Australia.”
Since registering Bogear, Mr Bell has already seen the benefits of increased growth.
“I’ve noticed that we’ve had a lot more international sales come through,” he says.
“The Aussie dollar dropped, but then also putting that Australian Made logo on, it was like a double whammy that really made us stand out from the rest of the crowd. It definitely carries weight in Australia, but I think it’s carrying more and more weight overseas.”
Mr Bell also notes that the marketing done by the campaign has increased the profile of his business, allowing him to grow further.
He says that after hearing of his friend’s experience, it was a “no-brainer” to register his own business, and he is more than pleased with the results.
“I do think we would still have seen growth [had we not registered] because of the Aussie dollar falling, so we would still have seen online sales internationally pick up. But i do think that the Australian Made Campaign’s backing and their marketing have definitely been helpful.
“And now, seeing the return you get on it, it’s definitely going to be continued.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.