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For most, longevity in construction is an aspirational goal that a good many fall short of achieving. So, what does it take to ensure your family-run business goes the distance for more than 50 years, especially in an industry that experiences high and low periods of cyclical activity?
For HIA member Neumann Steel – which celebrated its half-century milestone in 2020 and even garnered a special visit from Prime Minister Scott Morrison – an entrepreneurial spirit coupled with an ability to listen to the market has helped the company grow over time.
In the words of the PM: ‘[There are not] too many places where there have been three generations of family at the one facility and still [be] family-owned’.
The manufacturing company’s scope in supplying concrete reinforcing steel to major infrastructure projects as well as residential developments has quite literally helped to shape the Gold Coast over the past five decades.
Established in 1970 in Currumbin, Queensland as Nucast selling precast concrete products, the company expanded to introduce a steel division in 1984, riding the wave of Queensland’s high-growth activity, particularly in the south east. Five years later, it rebranded to Neumann Steel, and proceeded over time to open several service centres outside of the Gold Coast and Brisbane areas – north towards the Sunshine and Fraser Coasts and south of the border to the Hunter region.
Second-generation Director Marc Neumann, who made his start as a 16-year-old working in the company’s steel yards, says Neumann Steel’s evolution is steeped in a customer-centric culture.
‘We’ve always innovated, delivering steel solutions to support projects big and small…serving our customers’ needs, no matter the size of the job,’ he says. ‘Today we are the largest, Queensland-owned reinforcing steel manufacturer carrying on the Neumann legacy.’
Focusing on manufacturing solutions for its customer base along the east coast of Australia and investing in its people has always been an important feature of the company’s history, a strategy that has built internal resilience to see it through the volatility of the construction sector.
‘Our offering has evolved with new product releases and expansion into new innovative markets all while maintaining our core product lines,’ says Kathy Bartley, General Manager. ‘Retaining key people, moving them up through the business and providing pathways for growth, this is what makes up the fabric of who we are today.’
The company’s influence has had an impact on the industry too; in the 1980s, it was responsible for introducing rib wire and rib mesh from Europe to Australia – building materials that have since become standard.
Kathy says building an injection moulding facility capable of producing a wide range of plastic reinforcing steel spacer products and bar chairs was something that gave Neumann Steel an edge in the market.
‘No other company was really offering that,’ she explains. ‘We listened to our customers and realised we had something quite special: when they had a problem onsite, we often had a solution we could provide them.
‘The NuRail 40-55 combination spacer for [waffle] pods was created out of a particular customer’s need for a product onsite.’
Successes such as these spur the company on to new ambitions. Kathy says that the business is excited to be officially launching a new product called the NuPod in March 2021 after a number of years in development.
‘We had customers looking for an alternative solution to a polystyrene pod so we came up with an environmentally-friendly waffle pod made from 100 per cent recycled plastic. This is a huge achievement for us and part of our efforts to build a sustainable future for the company.’
Like many other businesses during 2020, Neumann Steel felt COVID-19’s impact and is continuing to navigate its effects. Supporting local where possible but also relying on imports to meet customer needs, Kathy says supplier’s production facilities have downsized as a response to market uncertainties and that has placed a strain on supply.
‘When COVID-19 hit we were expecting a massive downturn in the market, but then it swung around with the federal government’s stimulus package so demand ramped up suddenly and our suppliers had to try to keep up,’ she explains. ‘We’re in a stage of playing catch-up with supply and demand now, doing what we can to continue servicing our customers.’
Kathy adds that despite current importing concerns, including increasing prices, builders can be assured of Neumann Steel’s quality of product. ‘We are extremely strong in our quality and traceability, all our steel is certified,’ she says. ‘Everything goes through a strict quality and checking process. We are members of SRIA, which is working to educate both engineers and builders about quality issues in the industry.’
She adds the ramp up of construction activity – especially in south-east Queensland – has certainly been welcome. And while Neumann Steel has supplied large-scale commercial projects, such as the Gold Coast Light Rail, servicing the residential building industry remains ‘at the heart of the business’ and is a crucial growth area for its future.
‘We are very proud to support our existing customers, of our service and enjoy delivering to home builders,’ Kathy says. ‘We want to remain strong in the residential building market. For us, it’s important to always be listening to our customers – not growing our market share through increasing what we do but innovatively increasing what we do.’
A big factor in the ongoing success of reinforced steel manufacturer Neumann Steel is its ability to read and react to the market. For this, the Queensland-based business says HIA is a crucial support partner.
‘When we look to the future, we are very much in tune with what is happening out there,’ says Kathy Bartley, General Manager. ‘We are always mindful of forecasts and reports, and use HIA Economics [resources] a lot to understand the market moving forward.’
Kathy says the HIA events available to members have been widely used by the business. ‘The industry meetings and networking events are fantastic for our staff,’ she says. ‘We utilise quite a broad spectrum of HIA as much as we can. From our point of view, our membership is very beneficial.’