Well grounded in the attic and hoping to climb higher

Climbing to the top is what business is all about for the Attic Group. For 37 years the attic ladder and storage business has forged its way as a family owned and operated company.

Climbing to the top is what business is all about for the Attic Group. For 37 years the attic ladder and storage business has forged its way as a family owned and operated company.

But that changed last year when founder John Stewart told his management board he would be going into semi-retirement.

The board, which includes Mr Stewart's son, Robert, began looking for a general manager.

Enter Andrew Strachan, a 37-year-old wood machinist by trade, who came across the role through a recruitment agency and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

The Attic Group had a succession plan and Mr Strachan was interviewed for the role of general manager on the premise that he might ultimately fill John Stewart's shoes as chief executive.

"John has nine grandchildren and doesn't want to come into work every day any more," Mr Strachan says. "He's built a very successful business and he's done an incredibly good job."

Robert Stewart, who was part of Mr Strachan's interview panel, is the company's Victorian manager and his daughter, Rebecca, co-ordinates the company's home shows.

Mr Strachan was appointed last July and he admits it was daunting coming into the top level of a family business. "In some ways, John's children report to me," he says.

"Robert's first words to me when I joined the business were, 'I support you 500 per cent'.

"It's not easy to bring in change, new ways of doing things and try to open people's eyes to new markets. So yes, it has been tough.

"But it's rewarding overcoming some of the hurdles and tackling roadblocks."

He previously worked as the business development manager at Australian Portable Homes and sales manager at Clarendon Homes while studying for a degree in building.

Mr Strachan then went to Royal Wolf shipping containers where he was part of a team that devised the company's initial public offering.

In a hugely successful debut, the 2011 float generated $91.5 million for the container group.

He plans to carry that business know-how over to the Attic Group.

"What I can bring to the table is youth, enthusiasm and drive," he says.

"Our business has been very much focused on the mum and dad market, the traditional home owners, and what I want to do is take it into a higher volume market by bringing it to the builders."

Mr Strachan says John Stewart had previously tried upgrading the business with limited success.

"A couple of ideas I've raised with John and he told me the company had tried those things but weren't sure if they'd spoken to the right people," he says.

"So what I'm bringing to the table is a new level of business with the help of contacts I've worked with in the past.

"I'm planning to draw on my background and things I've succeeded in and done well in other businesses and try to mould those things into our business."

Founded in Sydney, the Attic Group now has three other branches in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.

It employs 50 staff and more than 30 full-time contractors.

The company's most common products and services are the basic attic ladder, costing $695, and providing attic storage areas for an average $2500 outlay.

Attic conversions are an increasingly popular option for families that are beginning to outgrow their homes. But as demand grows, so does competition.

The Attic Group has faced a growing number of competitors and "the challenge is to grow the business with competitors coming in," Mr Strachan says.

"What I'm doing is trying to make the business last for another 37 years and continue the legacy."

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