Interview with Gary Walker, Marketing Director of Belmont Timber
How long have you been in the timber industry?
I have been involved in the timber industry now for over 40 years and have enjoyed the journey very much. My first official job after completing university was with Rheem
Australia. I began as a financial accountant based at Rydalmere, NSW, where I worked for three years before joining Belmont Timber in 1976
After a number of years the opportunity arose to become involved in a marketing role which I felt would be a new challenge still enjoying the role today.
Tell us a little about Belmont Timber
The late John Walker started Belmont Timber in 1950, so it has been trading in excess of 65 years. Belmont Timber started in Alexandria as a small timber manufacturer and moved to Fairfield with only five employees. Over the next 30 years, the business has purchased a number of the adjoining properties and now is covering approximately five acres with more than 60 fulltime employees.
From a timber manufacturing perspective, Belmont initially supplied scantling timber while growing to produce ready-cut hardwood frames for the Housing Commission throughout NSW. The hardwood frames were originally supplied from Port Macquarie and transported by rail or trucks to regional areas.
Our pre-assembled softwood frames and trusses business was the next progression in our growth within with timber industry. Ultimately, our success has come due to the business partnership and assistance of Mitek, which is our major engineering platform. Approximately five years ago, Belmont became involved in traditional hardware, expanding into lead, cement and other ancillaries, which have now become a larger part of our portfolio.
The reason Belmont is in the position it is today is due to the long-standing and genuine relationships with other small-medium sized, family owned businesses. The personal involvement with each of the principals within these companies has enabled our plant to expand into different areas we hadn’t thought possible.
How has the industry changed since you started out?
The industry has changed enormously over the years with the ever-developing technology. Most significant is the concept of manufacturing automation. We are now utilising a number of computerised machines, which are all connected throughout the factory by a network, linking our detailers direct to the end result. Some of our devices include plate markers, window packs, stud-nagging and frame nailers.
More specifically in relation to roof trusses, our Hundegger has made a substantial difference in relation to the volume of cutting of the components. This one machine now cuts a greater volume and allows for greater efficiencies to take on additional business.
What do you think makes the timber industry so special?
In my opinion, and although cliché, it truly is the people. The majority of our clients are family-run businesses, so not only do we discuss business with them but you become involved with their families and friends – attending weddings or sharing the birth of a new family member. Conversely, becoming so close to so many people and being in the industry for this time, I have also attended a number of funerals – saying goodbye to not only clients but true friends.
On a side note, when not negotiating or talking about a job due yesterday, I personally enjoy brainstorming new directions and concept with our clients. Whether it’s as simple as potential new products, evaluating the ways that we can work together more effectively or ultimately, exploring options to help both respective companies grow long into the future.
How much of a difference has equipment like Framequip Auto Nailers made to your business?
Belmont Timber has installed two Framequip Auto Nailers and we’ve found that they’ve helped increase production substantially. With the knowledge of the industry, Robert Armour has designed a stud nogg machine that enables us to produce our frames more safely. In essence, it has avoided significant injuries within the factory resulting in a safer working place, which is a continuous concern for management
What new developments do you expect to see in the coming years?
When I first joined the industry, there were minimal engineering products and as the industry were not growing enough radiata pine, Belmont began importing from the US to help complement supply. Now with LVL and I joists, the industry has changed its supply dramatically.
More recently, all our major current clients only use engineered timber for their floor joists and some use engineered timber for window heads to minimise deflection. Due to this, Belmont supplies a stronger pre-assembled wall frame. We also use engineered timber for our bottom chords in our roof trusses resulting in a straighter ceiling line with roofs that have larger spans. I believe other manufacturing plants may follow the same trend.
What do you see for the future of the industry?
Firstly and excitingly, with the frame panelisation acceptance, there have been forecasts of growth within the Australia timber industry of 15 to 20 percent. To note from a design standpoint, the future is very exciting, with the changes to the National Construction Code allowing muti-story buildings to be manufactured out of timber. There have been approved buildings for five, six, seven or even eight levels being planned.
Another formalised change is the Trussed Floor Cassettes that can be installed. As suppliers, we can now instate a lot shorter time then the way the industry is currently working
Belmont Timber plans to continue in the housing industry servicing our clients for years to come. It will be important for our company to continue updating our machinery, keep up with changing technology and ensure we train our staff appropriately. If there are new products in any areas of our business that our clients require, we will investigate, evaluate and then supply if it is the right fit for both parties.
Lastly, this industry has been good to our family business and we hope we can continue giving back to the industry in the future. John Walker received an AOM for his contribution to the building industry and hope we can continue in his footsteps