Video conferencing and working from home may have been the new normal for most in this industry, but not Kate Bessell. Working remotely for Adelaide wholesale fabricator Pinz from the south coast of NSW was the norm for Kate until March 2020 when she moved back to Adelaide in the midst of a pandemic. After 11 years of remote working, lockdowns couldn’t get in the way of her passion and she is now back in the office every day and loving it. Tony Cassar finds out more about Kate in this edition of Ask the Expert.
Tony: Kate thank you and welcome for being part of the WFA ask the experts series.
Kate: Thank you for having me
Tony: So Kate when and how did you enter the window covering industry?
Kate: I’ve been at Pinz for 23 years this year and came into the business in transition from something else. Dave (Snoad) the owner of the business, who is also my cousin, knew I was between jobs and looking for something else and said, “why don’t you come and work for me for a while, I could use some marketing and someone else to help grow the business” 23 years later I’m still here!
Tony: Wonderful that’s a great achievement which you should be very proud of Kate.
Kate: I am, and it’s been an interesting 23 years to look at where we started and where we are now and what’s ahead. You don’t get to sit still, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tony: Very good, I see Pinz are celebrating their 35th anniversary.
Kate: Yes, we are. It’s a business that has a fantastic history within South Australian manufacturing and it’s evolved and changed significantly since its inception by Dave’s mother initially and then his mum and dad 35 years ago. There are still some things that represent where the company started, but in a lot of ways it’s a completely different business and different focus.
Tony: I believe it started off as a pool and spa cover business?
Kate: That was certainly very early on in the business but initially Dave’s mum set it up as a leather clothing fashion label. That’s where it started but interestingly that kind of skill and machinery translates across to a lot of other things and one of the next products the business made was hard covers for spa pools. This part of the business has continued and is still thriving with 2020 also being a huge growth year for that industry as much as it was for the blind industry.
Tony: And are you still supplying goods to the military and agricultural industry?
Kate: Yes, we are, we’ve actually got a very large defence contract at the moment which is fantastic. It’s one of those things that keeps us very focused on quality and continuous improvement and assessment of work. Keeping those skills up to date is really important and it translates across all areas of the business.
Tony: Kate many companies are finding recruiting a little difficult at the moment, how are you finding it?
Kate: You’re 100% right we’re actually recruiting for two key positions currently. We’ve recently engaged a recruitment agency to assist in providing quality candidates because the job market is so competitive at the moment and having key people is more important than ever. Even looking for casual, seasonal labour in our seasonal peak period last year we were putting ads out for factory hands and having 400 people apply and then five people turn up to a group induction.
Tony: That’s incredible.
Kate: Yes, it’s been a really significant challenge to business and one that we are feeling the pinch of at the moment.
Tony: And using the new strategy about recruitment has that helped?
Kate: It’s helping enormously. Previously we’ve put feelers out for people to fill positions and sometimes we were left with a situation where you had a candidate that looked good on paper and might have interviewed well and even if you had some slight hesitations, you end up taking them on because there’s no back up option. What switching to an agency has meant is this has led to a number of good, qualified people and some choice and confidence you’re going to get the right person in the end.
Tony: Absolutely. And what are the two key roles that you’re trying to fill?
Kate: We’re looking for an administration role, someone to assist in freeing up some of our more senior management to do more high-level tasks and then we’re also recruiting for another purchasing officer to join our purchasing team.
Tony: Wonderful. The Pinz systems and processes are I assume vital to this. Can you tell me more about Pinz systems and processes and what the outcomes are?
Kate: Certainly. Before Dave came into the business with his parents and then took on the business in his own right, he had a background in McDonalds management. Anyone that understands what that means will recognise that it is 100% about systems and processes and forecasting. Dave is very focused on putting processes and systems throughout the business that are visual and are self-managed and in a lot of instances or where possible the input is what is measured rather than the output, as that should take care of itself.
Tony: Over the years in my visits to Pinz the systems and processes were very impressive.
Kate: Thank you Tony. It is something that takes consistent work and effort and anyone in any manufacturing business will know that consistency is key and it’s important to make sure that things are happening or continue to happen because they’re relevant and not just for the sake of it. We’re constantly assessing and reporting back to team leaders and team members about their KPI’s and about their output and making sure that everyone is on the same page with what we need to achieve and that we are achieving it consistently.
Tony: Very good. How are you finding stock levels at the moment Kate?
Kate: I won’t lie and pretend that the last 12 months haven’t been a challenge. As a management team we have spent a lot of time considering the current environment and we have been able to secure stock ahead of time and minimize the impact that it’s had to our business. We were watching a situation in Melbourne very closely when that first wave came and that first shut down. We jumped very quickly and through our relationships with suppliers we managed to get a lot of critical stock out of Victoria into South Australia and into our warehouses in a very short time frame. Having the cashflow to be able to make those decisions and have stock sitting here when we needed it was powerful, rather than hesitating and then missing out or having problems.
Tony: Your customers most appreciate that greatly?
Kate: It’s made what was a really hectic year in terms of growth, which would have been difficult to manage without the Covid stock complications, much more manageable. It’s still been a challenge and I’m sure our customers will point that out, however one that we have managed to get through and enabled everyone to take advantage of the recent and current market opportunities.
Tony: I suppose when that happens communication is the most vital thing?
Kate: Definitely, yes. We’ve always had a very straight down the line policy throughout the business and with our customers, we won’t tell you something is on track if it’s not on track. We don’t like giving bad news, but if you have to, give bad news early and then you can deal with it.
Tony: Wonderful policy.
Tony: What is the mix between external and internal window coverings for Pinz these days?
Kate: I would say we would be doing approximately 70 – 80% outdoor and then the remainder indoor. Our focus traditionally has been on outdoor and our interior program has grown quite organically. What we found when we were entering that interior blind market was it’s all very well to say we do interior blinds and just offer roller blinds and verticals, but if you seriously want to be in that game you have to offer a suite of products, and that’s been a challenge.
Tony: If my memory serves me correctly you were working remotely for a while?
Kate: Yes, that’s right. In 2010 for family reasons, I moved from Adelaide back to the New South Wales south coast where my family is from. After 11 years at Pinz, I thought that would be the end of my time, but Dave said to me right before I was leaving, “I don’t want to do this without you so let’s see if we can make it work and let’s just keep it going.” So, what many businesses globally are experiencing now in terms of video conferencing has been the norm for us and working from home, we’ve been doing that for the past 10 years. I moved back to SA in March last year, which was a challenge but since that day, aside from a few emergency shutdowns in between, I’ve been able to be in the office everyday which has just been fantastic.
Tony: You pre-empted my question there because you’re already used to working remotely so it must have been a very easy transition as you’ve said?
Kate: Yeah, interestingly what it proved to me is I didn’t want to do it anymore. Everyone’s talking about work life balance and making changes about how businesses moving forward might want to keep people working from home where possible, that’s not me, I’m done. I want my feet on the ground in here, everyday.
Tony: You’re an advertiser in the WFA magazine, how do you gauge its success?
Kate: We obviously have a call to action in our advertising and we can record and measure against that. But also, the WFA magazine is absolutely the place where our industry goes to get ideas, to get inspiration and to look for suppliers. We feel that if we weren’t there then it’s almost like people would be wondering why not? There’s an expectation that I think businesses like ours are showing the industry what we do through that channel, so it’s something that we would always want to participate in.
Tony: Great answer. I admire David Snoad’s business acumen and he has a great attitude towards businesses and life, I must admit. What have you learned from Dave over the years?
Kate: So much, where to begin? Dave is a leader who absolutely wants to lead by example. He’s a very strong advocate of work life balance and a very strong advocate of saying that people shouldn’t have to work more than a 40-hour week. Even within our executive team there’s a very clear communication that if we’re not maintaining a work life balance then we’re doing something wrong, we need to be working smarter rather than longer. Watching Dave over the years enjoy his sport and his social life and being able to trust his business to our team, it’s something to aspire to for sure.
Tony: How did Dave perform over these last few years as a leader?
Kate: Dave has this uncanny ability to be thinking three or four steps ahead and that shone through over the last 12 months. We, our executive team spent a lot of time strategizing and communicating and making sure that everyone was aware of what our strategies and plans were. Getting everyone on the same page and making sure we were all on board and working together was something that Dave did exceptionally well in the last 12 months.
Tony: That’s a great insight and Kate, what would be your greatest achievements throughout your career?
Kate: In a business like ours where we have started small and have grown year after year, you very often get people doing jobs day-to-day that is not the position that is on their job description. And although my job description says marketing manager, over the last 12 months in particular, that’s not reallythe role that I’ve been doing. Personally, my achievement is about been able to grow with the business and being able to step up to new management challenges. That’s been extremely challenging but also very gratifying.
Tony: Kate in my business dealings with you and Pinz over the years, you’re always courteous prompt and present and not just in the marketing area but all other areas, it’s always a pleasure doing business with you and you are a really, really great asset to Pinz.
Kate: Thanks Tony, I appreciate that.
Tony: I’m sure David is well aware of that because I’ve told him many times.
Kate: Thank you.
Tony: Dave has obviously been a great influence on your life, has there been any others in your life that influenced you like greatly?
Kate: In terms of the business, I have mentioned Dave obviously and also Dave’s dad, my uncle Paul. They both have quite different management styles that have helped me find my way and develop my own leadership and management style, so I appreciate the support and encouragement that they’ve both given me over the years, and I’ve learned a lot from them. Obviously, family is a huge influence on developing our personalities and I’ve been very fortunate to have some great role models within my family from my parents to my brother and my extended family.
Tony: And what are your passions outside of work Kate?
Kate: Over the last 12 months moving back to the city from a small coastal town it’s been really exciting, my daughters almost 15 and she’s never really experienced living in a city before. It’s been great fun exploring everything that a city has to offer again through her fresh eyes. Prior to moving back here my happy place has always been on the beach and coastal life. I’ve spent a lot of time working with the surf club as my daughter has grown up through the
Nippers program. I can think of nothing better on a Saturday or Sunday morning to get out of the water on my paddle board and put all the noise of work and stress behind me and just sort of enjoy the serenity and the sunshine and the salt water.
Tony: Wonderful. The window covering has seen many changes over the years, what in your opinions are the major changes over the last five years?
Kate: Over the last five years, everything is striving to get bigger and better. There’s been some really key product categories that have been instrumental to our industry and to Pinz in our growth over the years and to see those products mature and then improve has also been really exciting to see.
Tony: Which products would they be Kate?
Kate: There’s no secret that our relationship with Ziptrak as a company and as a product has been exceptionally strong over the years and remains a key focus for us. We are very fortunate to have had that partnership with Ziptrak over the years as I think a lot of our industry is very fortunate to have had a brand like that help lift everyone’s business and then create opportunities for other brands to grow and develop in that space as well.
Tony: Absolutely. What does the future look like for yourself and Pinz?
Kate: Hopefully a little more even keel than the last 12 months. It’s interesting because we are at that time of the year where we are starting to consider budgets for the next financial year and it’s one of those still great unknowns about where we go to from here and what the trends will bring. But I think heads down, business as usual, and just try and consolidate things after a really hectic twelve months and then I guess build another platform to leap off from there.
Tony: Very good. And are there any new products on the horizon you make?
Kate: We are always looking at what the industry trends are to see whether they fit within our model but we’re also very customer driven. So, we have as you know great relationship with a large supplier in Spain for a lot of our outdoor product. And I can see that there’s some really exciting things that we could take on coming out of that market, so we’ll certainly be looking at that quite closely. But like I said, I think just the new product development, or the new development of existing products is something that I think will be our focus over the short to medium term anyway
Tony: Very good. That’s been excellent Kate, as I said in doing business with you over the years Pinz and yourself have always been absolutely fantastic and professional and always a pleasure to deal with.
Kate: Thank you Tony, that goes both ways absolutely.
Tony: Good on you, thanks so much.