Australian manufacturing has had a tough few years. In fact, let’s face it, it’s been a rough few decades, ever since Gough Whitlam cut tariffs by 25 per cent in 1973 in a misguided effort to bring down inflation.
As protection was progressively reduced through the '80s and '90s, mainly by the ALP it must be said, and China joined the global trading system in 2001, manufacturing in Australia has been progressively demolished. What’s more, there’s no shortage of predictions that it’s on its way to disappearing entirely.
Well, the other day I met a small manufacturer that is doing pretty well. It’s even that most old-fashioned of manufacturers – a foundry – but it found a new future for itself by casting, and sticking its brand on, a putter.
Yes, a putter. You know, the golf bat thing; the one you finish the game with.
The firm is JA Dinte Pty Ltd, a third-generation family business that started out casting metal slides for guitars and now makes a full range of bronze and aluminium products from Botany Road, Alexandria in Sydney … and now putters, what Michael Dinte calls “a piece of metal at the end of a stick”.
The putters are the only products that carry the family name except they couldn’t fit the “e” on, so the golf clubs are called Dint.
The Dinte family foundry business is now roughly half a golf business, supplying not only putters but also a range of other metal products for golf courses – the metal cups that sit in the holes, ball washers, flagpoles and bronze plaques.
And to help build this golf business, the third generation brothers who run the company, Michael and Anthony, have given Michael’s son Adam, the 30-year-old first of the fourth generation in the business, and sales and marketing manager of Dint Golf, a 15 per cent stake in the golf business, for free. He is now a very motivated sales and marketing manager.
JA Dinte was founded in 1930 by Julius Alexander Dinte, who was a banjo-playing apprentice in another foundry. One day, during the Great Depression, the boss told his two apprentices that he only had work for one of them. He proposed continuing to employ them both – one day on, one day off – but Julius decided he’d be better off concentrating on the band, which he did, six nights a week.
Then one of the members of his band, a slide guitarist, said he needed a new metal slide and didn’t like the ones that were then on the market – they broke too easily. Julius said: “I could make one of those”. And so he did it in the kitchen at home. (Goodness knows what his wife said.)
It was a very good slide, so Julius made more of them in the kitchen and they sold well. He decided to set up a business and borrowed some money to build a factory, which wouldn’t have been too easy during the Depression.
During the war years he got some defence contracts for bits and pieces then later he and his son Ronald started making parts for the mining industry and then for poker machines. (Julius also had three daughters but, as often happened in those days, he left the business to the male child.)
It was, in short, a successful little foundry business, but then, in the mid-1980s, the family decided to expand, and bought another family-owned foundry in Sydney.
Gulp. Suddenly interest rates skyrocketed and a recession seemed (actually it was) on the cards. So Michael decided to cast a bronze putter – a simple, classic design – and stamped the family’s name on it (without the “e”).
There weren’t as many putters around in those days, and Australian champion golfer Craig Parry picked it up as an Aussie product. And then the Welshman Ian Woosnam, and then Bob Hawke bought a few dozen to give to visiting dignitaries as gifts.
And then the Dintes cast a superior hole cup and took it around to the golf clubs. They loved it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Despite the collapse of basic manufacturing in Australia, JA Dinte, going into its 84th year of existence and onto its fourth generation, is in pretty good shape – thanks to a strategy of value-adding and branding.
In a sense it’s a microcosm of all manufacturing: that’s what they all have to do.
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