Wholesale Hub

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-By John Boley

The Brisbane Markets is a complex situated some 10km southeast of the CBD of the Queensland capital which forms the state’s central distribution point for produce. There are several subdivisions of the complex: Brisbane Produce Market, Brisbane Flower Market, Brisbane MarketPlace retail markets precinct, Brisbane Markets South Gate industrial estate and the Brisbane Markets Commercial Centre.

Andrew Young, Chief Executive Officer of Brisbane Markets Limited (BML), came to the job via Brismark, an organisation of wholesalers that had in the 1990s been lobbying the government about trying to do something with the ownership of the Markets. It was a government-owned market, though it had also been through stages as a trust, an authority and a government-owned corporation. Andrew says the board structure of the body was cumbersome; “it caused a lot of fragmentation within the industry and the odd adversarial relationship.” Brismark sought clarity as to the future ownership of the markets. “I was made CEO of Brismark in 2000. In 2001 the government announced that it would sell the Markets by way of an open public tender and that transaction ran through to the end of September of 2002.”

When Andrew took over as CEO of Brismark, “we undertook a decision model analysis that looked at the options of relocating versus staying put.” Brismark got external expertise involved in that analysis, and could not justify moving to a new site. “When you’re an industry based organisation which wasn’t flush with funds, trying to buy the land and establish a whole new facility while leaving an existing operating site, the numbers just couldn’t stack up. So the decision was taken to continue to push for the sale of the Markets and look at buying it and then doing a gradual upgrading of the site.”

That was seen as being affordable and also avoiding a second market springing up, which would have made life difficult. Through 2003-2004, “we worked to get some development applications through Brisbane City Council that took somewhat longer than expected,” but led to a finalised Master Plan for the site which was released in 2007.

The location is good and space adequate. “We’ve got 77 hectares of land. It’s naturally buffered from residential areas and it’s close to major arterial roads, so it’s very accessible.”

BML is both an industry body and a landlord and although there are usually around at least 4,000 people on site on an average busy day, only 65 of them are BML staff looking after some 150 tenant companies. “Our employees include maintenance staff, operational staff who are monitoring regulations, making sure we control traffic and ensuing people do the right thing with health and safety issues etc., then right through our back office staff, admin staff, communications and marketing staff. It’s a small, diverse team, spread across a lot of areas. Property management is of course a big element in the job, as well as developing the site and promoting ourselves throughout the industry.”

The government built the market at Rocklea in 1964. There was “massive growth” after the 1974 floods right up to 2000, with lots of investment. More recently there has been another spate of growth, and BML has been building for the future. “The new buildings we are putting in are state of the art warehouses.” South Gate East, for example, is 16,700 square metres, with eight tenants; it has state-of-the-art refrigeration and is fully temperature controlled. In addition, “we’ve built the new northern warehouse which was constructed through the [January 2011] flood period; it’s only just recently been finished. That’s a single tenant facility, 4,700 square metres of refrigerated space.”

Extra office space was needed, so BML has renovated an old three-storey building that was partially derelict back to modern office space; this has become a commercial hub for the market, with BML itself occupying the top floor, other companies in the middle and the ground floor occupied by training rooms, a café, service centre and a new demonstration kitchen. It’s a state of the art commercial kitchen that “will be available for ourselves to use, but we will also hire it out and try to get industry groups involved. If an industry group wants to promote their product, they can run cooking classes there, during the day or at night. We are really investing in the facility. We want to encourage the industry to use it to promote itself through healthy eating, fresh foods, and how to better use food products.”

Brisbane Markets’ 56 primary fruit and vegetable and flower wholesalers and an additional 93 support businesses act as a clearing house for about 7,000 growers who supply produce. Its wholesalers compete with each other in one location, each trying to get the best price for the produce they sell. Prices change on a daily basis, influenced by supply and demand, with factors such as size and quality also playing a part.

A further 1,000 buyers, including fruit and vegetable retailers, secondary wholesalers, provedores, restaurants, cafes, food service businesses and exporters, source their fresh produce requirements from the Brisbane Produce Market. These buyers inspect the wide variety and range of products available and compare various grades and prices to ensure they are getting the best produce available at a fair market price on the day.

Some of the companies using the Brisbane Markets have been there since it was founded; others are more recent as the produce industry has grown, not only in Queensland but throughout Australia. Andrew points out that BML has to look after the interests and requirements of large, medium and small businesses which are often quite different. “You’ve got small and large growers supplying small and large wholesalers who are on-selling to small and large retailers, food service operators some exporters etc., so each finds their own level to operate at, which is one of the strengths of the industry. It’s just not about the big doing business with the big. It does enable a lot of people to find their level and operate at that level and or aspire to grow their business as they see fit. There are opportunities here for everyone at the various levels they want to operate at.”

For the future, once flood restoration work is complete (please see sidebar for further details), BML has some major projects over the next couple of years. These include a retail markets precinct and fine-tuning the whole operation to the changing needs of the industry – “seeing what more can be done in terms of more imports coming in, whether there can be more done in terms of building export growth and interstate trade.”

Andrew is interested in providing facilities for tenants to use the incoming X-ray technology that is replacing chemical sprays for preservation for many markets. The Brisbane Markets can also be used in the future as a consolidation point for export markets. “These Markets provide a good consolidation point, a location for a treatment facility, a transport hub, marketing hub, distribution hub. They play a very valuable role in a number of different areas.”

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?

June 19, 2018, 10:38 AM AEST