Patriotism in the Bathroom

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-By John Boley

Australian Weaving Mills Pty Ltd, (AWM) known for its trusted Dri Glo Australian made quality towels, is supporting Australian farmers with the launch of new Australian Cotton towels. The premium cotton is grown in Glenn Rogan’s farm in St George QLD and the towels are manufactured in Devonport Tasmania. The range is truly unique as from crop to consumer, Dri Glo Australian Cotton towels are Australian owned, Australian grown and Australian made.

AWM has a long history of manufacturing towels in Australia and is a leader in the industry. The company has a sales and marketing office in Melbourne, and a factory in Devonport, Tasmania where all of the company’s weaving, dyeing and hemming is carried out and which employs 130 people. Chief Marketing Manager, Bronwyn Morgan says that trying to survive in Australia as a manufacturer has been difficult over the years, however AWM has managed to maintain market share and grow as a business.

‘The quality of the cotton is paramount’, Bronwyn explains, although essentially consumers regard towelling as a commodity. AWM has therefore worked towards finding “more points of difference for consumers, so there are some real reasons for them to buy our towels.” The launch of the new Dri Glo Australian Cotton range is an example of how AWM has succeeded in developing a range of towels that feature a strong point of difference in the marketplace. Together with Farmer Glenn as the ‘face’ of the campaign, AWM is proud to be supporting Australian industries with locally grown cotton. Images of Farmer Glenn in his field are displayed across the nation in department stores including Myer, David Jones, Harris Scarfe, Pillow Talk and specialty stores as well as in a range of print advertisements including the Qantas in-flight magazine (September 2011).

Since the Dri Glo Australian Cotton launch, Bronwyn and the AWM team have seen a dramatic upturn in sales with the new range. “We think putting the two together, Australian grown and Australian made, is striking a chord with consumers.”

The superior properties of this premium Australian Cotton produce super soft, highly absorbent towels that will last for years. The seed was developed with the CSIRO, Cotton Australia and the Cotton Research Development Foundation who have worked together over the last five years to develop a cotton that could be grown using less water, as this was the main issue for them through the drought. This cotton seed was developed to also grow as 32 mm staple length, which is vital for the quality of the yarn. “The 32 mm staple is the same as the high quality Egyptian yarn we order from our spinners overseas,” says Bronwyn. “This Australian Cotton developed by CSIRO, in conjunction with the other partners, is now as good if not better than the quality of Egyptian [cotton] that we have been purchasing.”

“It’s a real coup for Cotton Australia,” because the partners have also managed to grow the new long-staple product using less pesticides. Bronwyn estimates the new crop needs only 20 per cent of what conventional cotton was being sprayed with and traditionally applied in other parts of the world. CSIRO has also developed companion planting techniques and other innovations that have seriously improved the basic crop.

Bronwyn is confident it will provide a better product for the Australian consumer who, she says, likes to buy Australian but only if the local product has attributes at least equal to that of imports. In the case of towels, that means price, colour, weight, feel and size. Her market research shows that Australian made “is not the attribute that is their definer when they buy a towel. It’s a ‘nice to have’ for the customers, but it’s not a deal breaker.”

AWM markets a number of brands of towelling and bed linen, all with individual brand identities, right up to super-luxury deep-pile products for the most prestigious bathrooms. These include Dickies which has been an Australian brand since 1927, Dri Glo since 1930 and brands under license such as Esprit Home, Country Road Freckles and Christy. The Christy range of towels is a UK brand based in Manchester and AWM has ‘a long relationship with Christy and it’s a lovely fit with our company” as it is also a brand with a lot of heritage.

AWM is also a leading supplier of bed and bath products to the hotel industry with brands such as The Cottonfield Collection and Tara Plus. AWM retains “a very large share of the market in the 4 and 5 star hotels in Australia and is the preferred supplier to the Accor Group (in Australia) and Marriott group throughout Asia Pacific.” The commercial business balances the more rapidly changing retail sector with its relatively consistent and usually less fashion-conscious demand, which is good for AWM’s product planning.

Each brand managed by AWM “covers a different demographic segment” and AWM also supplies own-brand labels to several retailers. Bronwyn points out that the company is essentially a wholesaler. “I have got two customers, the retail buyers and the consumers. For the retail buyer, essentially we manage their inventory.” This keeps their stock low and the ‘pipeline’ short although demand varies considerably during the year – not to mention taste for colour, which can be very volatile. In this context, everyone likes local production.

The Australian crop (one per year) satisfies only part of demand. In any case, unfortunately for AWM, all the cotton has to be spun overseas because of that lack of a local facility. “There is not a spinner in Australia that can spin the quality of yarn that we need for our pile yearn” (the looped part that does the drying). We do use a local spinner for our ground yarn (for the base of the towel) but the rest does have to be spun overseas now which is most unfortunate.”

AWM has looked at whether it would be possible to have its own spinning mill in Australia but “it is unfortunately just not a feasible proposition at the moment because there is not enough industry left in Australia to support it.” Farmer Glenn is in favour for calling on the government to redress the situation via a grant or similar funding for such a grass-roots occupation, but for the private ownership of AWM, the payback period would unfortunately be prohibitively long.

However, says Bronwyn, “if you are looking to the future, we know the cost of logistics is going to increase in the coming years, so at some point there could be some more benefits to being self-contained. Even some of the environmental factors are coming to play there as well. If you are not shipping as far there are less emissions, so, longer term, I could see some more benefit.”

Although AWM traditionally does not sell direct (to the customer), it recently opened the Dri Glo website: Bronwyn does not anticipate any negative feedback. “I don’t think it will damage our relationship with retailers, not least because we are finding that many of the customers we’re selling to online are quite regional so they are in outlying areas, where they are probably not well serviced by department stores. The website in any case features ranges that complement what the department stores are selling rather than competing online. So we are hoping it will be a happy marriage together with our retail partners and online space.”

Shopping online is such a growth area that the company knows it has to get on board. “We know the consumers look for us online. So, it is part of our brand integrity that we really have to showcase that we are there” and it complements conventional retailing. In addition, it is highly likely the brand is catching younger consumers who tend to be most comfortable shopping online.

Cotton can be very well travelled and AWM has “very healthy business” in several export markets including the Middle East where it also holds the licence for its Esprit Home brand. Like the commercial business, exports help provide a balance, says Bronwyn, which is vital to continued prosperity. “I think that as an Australian company, if you rely on one sector alone it’s going to sometimes be difficult for you. But if you have a balance between your exports and your local market, it helps to offset changes in the dollar.” Doing everything locally is also helpful, especially when supporting Australian farmers and industries and giving consumers the opportunity to buy towels that are made in their very own backyard.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

November 21, 2018, 3:46 AM AEDT