Creative Colour and Distinctive Style

Jimmy Possum

The furniture design and manufacturing business is renowned for its brilliant and bold colour palette and its rich, exquisite fabrics. Just as striking as Jimmy Possum’s vibrant colours and distinctive designs is the story behind the trend-setting Australian company.

Jimmy Possum was born in Margot and Alan Spalding’s backyard. Jimmy Possum the furniture company, that is. The other Jimmy Possum was a talented bush craftsman in Tasmania during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Credited with the creation of the “Jimmy Possum” chair (similar to the British Windsor chair), Jimmy may actually be an apocryphal representation of several contemporary craftsman. Or, he may have been a real guy. No one really knows for sure.

Either way, Jimmy makes for a great character – and a great name for a 21st century furniture company. “We were looking for a name that was quirky and memorable,” Ms Spalding recalls. “And it’s been a great name. It’s big fun.”

The Spalding family is just as unique and memorable as the name they chose. Husband and wife team Margot and Alan launched the small start-up with only one employee and a shed. The striking patterns and quality product that they produced captivated consumers almost immediately, and Jimmy Possum fans soon began popping up all over the continent. “[It] just exploded and was enormously successful,” Ms Spalding says.

The next step was to bring the kids on board – all seven of them. Today, the two Spalding parents, five of their grown children, two sons-in-laws and one daughter-in-law are all part of the Jimmy Possum phenomenon. “It is a very creative family,” Ms Spalding laughs.

Ms Spalding believes that the family’s natural creativity has been crucial to Jimmy Possum’s success. “We are a very creative and original business,” she explains. “We always look for a different way of doing things.” By doing things differently, she says, the family has been able to make a splash in the industry, rather than simply reflecting a bland imitation of old ideas. “You can’t do well in business if you are mimicking all the time,” she insists.

This devotion to originality has made Jimmy Possum an industry leader in the creative use of colour and fabric. “We specialise in very distinctive, highly coloured, highly textured, very high quality fabric,” Ms Spalding reports. “We are very brave with our fabric and that is what customers like and that is what customers order. It is very rare that customers order plain or neutral fabrics through Jimmy Possum.” Retail stores are set up in colour blocks so that customers have a chance to gravitate toward the colours that speak to them most. In addition, the sales staff are carefully trained to help guide customers through the colour selection process. “The staff are really skilled at utilising colour and finding what suits people,” Ms Spalding explains.

Jimmy Possum also leads the way in recycled timber furniture. The business is the largest producer of furniture manufactured from recycled timbers in the country, as well as the only manufacturer in Australia that produces furniture from both new and recycled timbers in designs that are both classic and contemporary. “We make very stylish furniture from recycled timber,” Ms Spalding points out. Indeed, there is certainly no chunky, out-of-fashion recycled product at Jimmy Possum. Recycled timber pieces, as with all the company’s wares, are known for their sleek and stylish look.

Jimmy Possum also stands out because it has managed to keep all of its manufacturing right here in Australia. “It serves us well to manufacture in Australia and we’ve been really committed to that,” Ms Spalding reports. One advantage with domestic manufacturing, she says, is that customers know that “we are here to stand behind our product if things go wrong.” The company can also supply product much faster, a feat that is particularly important in a business that carries no stock and creates each piece to order. In fact, because customisation is an integral part of the business, manufacturing in Australia is absolutely essential. “Every item is individually made,” Ms Spalding explains. “So if you order a table or a sofa, then it actually goes through the factory with your name on it.”

The team is also eager to help keep the art of furniture making alive in Australia. “We’ve been able to retain crafts and skills in Australia that would be lost,” Ms Spalding points out. “There are very few furniture makers in Australia, very few upholsterers.”

Most importantly, the demand is there. “There is a sufficient number of people who really want to purchase Australian produced product,” Ms Spalding insists. “There is an originality about it, as opposed to buying from China. Even if [Chinese product] were good quality, it is generally copied or imitated from somebody else. People are very keen on buying original product and they like to buy Australian produced product from an Australian company.”

Branding and personality has also been important. “Consumers like family businesses. And we have a nice story to tell, so people want the business to succeed,” Ms Spalding explains. “It’s a nice story that a family business started from nothing in a backyard and developed into a very successful and very big brand across Australia.”

A state of the art manufacturing facility and highly skilled staff also help to make domestic manufacturing feasible, she says. And of course, the family puts in the blood, sweat, and tears to make it all work. “We take it very seriously,” Ms Spalding explains. “We try extremely hard to do things well.” Indeed, the time commitment is huge. For example, Ms Spalding had some very rare time off recently – and chose to spend it at the factory. She worked all weekend creating original Jimmy Possum artwork. “Our daughter does most of [the paintings], but I had the opportunity, so that was great,” she remarks.

In fact, maintaining a hands-on approach (literally) has been integral to the company’s long term success. “I think the business has done well because Alan and I both like making things,” Ms Spalding explains. “We actually still enjoy making things ourselves… We are very involved within the business.”

The family is so involved, in fact, that they are able to keep every single aspect of the business in-house. “We do everything from the designing process right through to the retailing,” Ms Spalding reports. Jimmy Possum even does its own marketing, artwork, training, shipping, and delivery. As a result, the team can trust that everything is done to the highest standard. “We rely on ourselves [because] we are reliable,” Ms Spalding says simply. “Whereas once you start dealing with other companies, you are not their number one focus. Jimmy Possum is Jimmy Possum’s number one focus. So we have always found that it works better for us to do everything. And we do it well.”

The company is also known for its unwavering dedication to its staff. “I think partly it comes from having a very big family. And the staff just become an extension of that really,” Ms Spalding explains. “We care about the people who work at Jimmy Possum.” The company provides extensive training and development opportunities to ensure that everyone can make the most of their abilities.

Jimmy Possum also has a health program that “is regarded as one of the best in Australia.” A healthy breakfast, as well as fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts are all provided at the factory. A range of health services are offered, including educational opportunities, heart health checks, flu injections, and free mental health counselling – all of which are available during working hours. In addition, the counsellor is involved in developing team building and leadership programs. “We have a very strong leadership program because there is no business if you haven’t got great leadership,” Ms Spalding points out. And make no mistake, Jimmy Possum can also throw a great party. “Possum parties are very well renowned and they are great fun.” Not surprisingly, the company has no trouble finding or keeping staff. “People want to work at Jimmy Possum.”

Ms Spalding’s dedication to staff and community hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, it is one of the major reasons that she was named the Telstra Business Woman of the Year in 2006. Another reason behind the award, she believes, is that “people admire someone who can build a business out of nothing.” Indeed, the Jimmy Possum co-founder is a savvy business woman who, along with her very large and very creative family, was able to build an iconic brand from nothing more than a love for fabric and colour. “I have always been absolutely mad about fabric,” she explains. “And I am also mad about colour, so that is where it all started.”

From a family’s dream to an iconic Aussie brand, Jimmy Possum has made a colourful splash across the continent. And the team isn’t anywhere close to slowing down. They just opened two new stores last month, one in Kyneton, and another in their home base of Bendigo – and that is just the beginning. “We have plans for new collections and new stores,” Ms Spalding says. “We are always trying to make the business better. We’ve always got something else in mind.”

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October 19, 2018, 6:23 AM AEDT