ENTERPRISING Charters Towers businessman Peter Doonan has survived a trifecta of floods, change of government and recession in the early years of his new business, pulling through to celebrate his company’s seventh birthday this month.
The Steel Supplies Charters Towers (SSCT) founder and entrepreneur heads regional and rural Australia’s leading supplier of steel products for the cattle industry, with a wide range of supplies from cattle handling products to steel shed fabrication.
Today, the company continues to progress strongly despite its rough beginnings, with Mr Doonan taking great pride in his survival in the challenging downturn.
“The timing of everything all at once was tough, especially because steel and most commodities were high-priced,” Mr Doonan said.
“That was a telling time for the industry; a lot of steel businesses went broke then. We were challenged as well, as business basically stopped for an entire month, but we hung in there even if it meant having to sell our steel under cost,” he said.
“Luckily, we had enough surplus stock and a bit of cash left over, so I made a decision to sell that steel as quickly as I could. After losing money for a few months, we started making profits again in about six to eight weeks.
“We also diversified our variety, with a number of options in terms of price and quality. This gave us a point of difference instead of selling the same stock as our competitors.”
While other companies folded during the recession, SSCT flourished and grew its business before eventually moving to its new and improved Flinders Highway premises 12 months ago.
Mr Doonan invests heavily in his staff and their development, saying he believes in employing people like himself, despite the possible personality clashes.
“We are so proud to have continued expanding during the recession and keeping our business – during the tough times, we never put a staff member off due to lack of work.
“There is always work, and we’re always busy. This is because we went from selling cattle gear to cattle yard designs, then branched out into implementing the equipment and putting it together.
“At the end of the day, our staff members are happy to go the extra mile and provide that extra service, which has been a great help to surviving the recession.”
Currently boasting 600 repeat clients and 3000 customers since its foundation, SSCT has fostered a strong customer service culture as Mr Doonan trained his staff to offer the best service available.
Each staff member has a background in the cattle industry regardless of whether they work in administration or trades – the SSCT team has combined industry experience spanning more than 200 years.
“Our big hurdle was finding strong sales and administration staff, but now we have a strong team.
“Business also varies according to the time of year – it’s usually quite slow over the rainy season so we do have to keep our sales team motivated and pepped up as well.
“That said, we’ll always have ups and downs in our cash flow, staff and consistency at work, as it’s all so dependent on the government and weather conditions.”
As business peaks and troughs, Mr Doonan has learnt to be proactive in his customer service, capitalising on business leads even during a lull.
Traditionally, the months from December to March are sluggish for SSCT. There was also a spike in cancellations after negative coverage of live cattle exports.
“Everything has to be timed so we make enough profit to carry on over the next six months with the wet season – that’s when we follow up with our customers to stay at the forefront of their minds.
“Also, even though we’re based in Charters Towers, we’re delivered stock to Western Australia and Tasmania, which people are really pleased with.
“We want our clients to feel like they can ring up and be comfortable they’re getting the right advice for the right price and good efficient service.”
Mr Doonan’s basis for staff support and customer service was fostered throughout his 10 years’ prior experience in the steel and fabrication industry.
Formerly working with a corporate steel company, he soon grew disillusioned with management and decided to go his own way in the region.
After finding his niche in the cattle industry, he aimed for simplicity in his new venture with much success.
“I saw that my work had become too corporate, sacrificing staff and customer service – things had become too complex and they weren’t customer-orientated any more. “The business ran on reports and lost their focus on staff and customers, so I decided that the time was right for me to leave.
“To me, my own business had to be started simply; I aimed for good service and turned us into an efficient one-stop shop where customers were coming into the yard, doing their business and being loaded and gone in 20 to 30 minutes.
“When you work for a big company which shies away from letting managers grow their sales, it really does suffer from a loss of loyalty.”
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