Polished Act at Bamboozle

By Aimee Sargent

BUSINESS NEWS 25/11/2010

BAMBOO flooring company Bamboozle intends to build upon its established business with the opening of a purpose-built floorboard manufacturing facility and a new retail space for Western Australian hardwood floors.

The Lifewood showroom, scheduled to open in Osborne Park in January next year, follows the opening of new Bamboozle showrooms in Osborne Park and Myaree this year. The company has spent $500,000 on the fit-outs.

Bamboozle managing director Mark Hutchison believes there is room for a high-end hardwood flooring brand in WA and is hopeful that the company’s eight years’ experience in bamboo floorboard manufacturing and installation will successfully transfer to wood.

The new floorboard manufacturing facility in Manjimup will partly process local hardwoods as raw materials, before sending them to the company’s Chinese factory for final assembly.

The new venture was the main reason Mr Hutchison came out of an early retirement – he stepped away from Bamboozle during 2008 but recognised an opportunity to re-join the company after witnessing a lot of businesses fail during the GFC.

“Prior to the financial crisis, everybody didn’t necessarily need to be very good at their business, they just had to be in business,” he said.
“But now there’s no low-hanging fruit and you have to be pretty good at what you do; I needed to lift the bar because a lot of competitors tried to copy what we did, and in that environment you need a brand that stands head and shoulders above the ones that are all about low prices.”

Mr Hutchison invested $60,000 in market research and intelligence to gain an understanding of what potential customers were looking for, and from that developed the Lifewood business.

The goal is to get the hardwood brand up to speed, the showroom will be a showcase of what WA has to offer –Toodyay stone finishes, furniture from Margaret River and local art on the walls – it’s all about the luxurious WA lifestyle,” Mr Hutchison said.

He was quick to point out that, although Lifewood won’t present itself as a budget brand, it would be affordable and the pricing “won’t knock the average punter out”.

He said the price of the hardwood floors wouldn’t be too dissimilar to the existing bamboo products, but that hardwood was marginally higher because it was more expensive to work with and transport.

In 2006, Mr Hutchison won a WA Business News 40under40 Award for establishing Bamboozle and estimates the bamboo flooring business has since doubled its annual revenue to close to $6 million.

He said participating in the awards gave the business credibility and connected him with key business associates, who in turn introduced him to the WA chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation.

“[The awards] opened up a huge amount of networking opportunities for me and the key thing was meeting those EO contacts,” Mr Hutchison said.

“We also used the 40under40 Award in our showroom and had a write up about it on our website because it showed what’s beyond the products – it demonstrated that there was substance behind the company.”

Bamboozle currently employs 33 staff in Perth and China, a number Mr Hutchison expects could double by the end of next year with the new businesses.

The majority of his team has been with the business since its inception, which Mr Hutchison attributes to a strict hiring process that can take up to six months.

“We’re typically looking for high levels of responsibility in people’s lives. I’m not talking about professionally, because I don’t want a CEO driving a forklift; I want the person who’s driving the forklift to have some kind of responsibility outside of work because it shows their character has merit,” he said.

Mr Hutchison said it could be that the candidate has a family, coaches a local sports team or does volunteer work – something that demonstrates that they are humble and down to earth.

“If we can find that type of person, we can then train them in any aspect of the business because we have very good systems, procedures and products, but we need someone responsible to start with otherwise the whole thing is flawed,” he said.

Mr Hutchison said the long-term plan was to try and bring most of the bamboo floorboard manufacturing from China to the new facility in Manjimup, but his immediate focus was on establishing the Lifewood business.

“We see this next period as an opportunity to refresh and get back on track; effectively we’ll be racing a different car this time.”