Charlie Rudd, Ian Mitchell and Henry Raymond are from the Phoenix Foundry in Uralla. Chief Financial Officer Monica Baird (also pictured) explains how these gentlemen are very proud to be a part of a company that is now recognised internationally as the best in the industry.
How did the business come about?
Neil Cooper, Henry Raymond, Charlie Rudd and Peter Wright commenced business in 1983. The foundry started because the only existing supplier of bronze plaques in Australia was giving particularly bad service (and especially so on the Tablelands) to the local funeral director, Neil Cooper.
Neil had found it difficult to obtain bronze plaques, which were manufactured in Melbourne, for the bereaved families of the district. At the time, Charlie and Neil were Scout leaders and knew each other through their participation in this program, so Charlie became aware of the problem. Henry and Charlie are brothers-in-law and Henry had a background in engineering, so it was only natural for Henry to become involved.
Charlie’s current employer had suffered extreme financial difficulties and Henry was between positions, so along with Neil they thought it would be a good idea to see if they could produce a plaque locally.
It was deduced that the production of a plaque required only small calibre foundry equipment and involved a high degree of hand work, which meant that in 1983 it would be relatively simple to start a small production facility. The transport of the product and the freight of manufacturing inputs also presented no great issues.
At the time, the production of a plaque still required a lot of hand work and specific linguistic knowledge, which could not easily be replicated.
The old Phoenix Foundry in East Street Uralla had been acquired by Peter Wright to ensure its preservation. Neil, Charlie and Henry approached Peter, who agreed to join the group in founding the new Phoenix Foundry. The group decided to reuse the name Phoenix in order to preserve the historic context of the original foundry. From something old, something new had been started.
Today, the business is probably more unique than in 1983, because of the large amount of hand work still involved in the manufacture of a plaque.
How has the business grown over the years?
The business has grown in various ways.
We moved out of the old factory to our current factory in 1989, which was built specifically to suit the foundry processes.
Of course, our staff numbers have grown, as has their expertise over this time. It is because of the dedication of the staff that Phoenix is recognised as the leading manufacturer of bronze plaques in the world.
Did you recently receive a Premier’s award?
Yes. We won the Highly Commended Award in 2008 and were a finalist in the 2010 NSW Premier’s Export Awards. These awards are highly competitive, so we have been extremely proud of these achievements.
What local awards did you recently receive?
This year we also won the Armidale Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year Award, the Innovation Award and were the runner up in the Northern Inland Innovations Awards Manufacturing category. The awards are an important recognition of the standard of work our family of employees produce year in, year out. Phoenix is known for the quality of product and high degree of customer service.
Some works that make you proud?
We see a lot of work that makes us proud of what we do. From a small plaque dedicated to a child, to a memorial for a dedicated group of volunteers.
We are proud to see some of our work commended by the media e.g. the Centaur hospital ship plaque, the Anzac Bridge rising sun, the Coats of Arms in NSW Parliament or the Australian War Memorial in London.
In the end though, it’s that special thank you from an individual for manufacturing a plaque, which can be the last tangible memory of an individual, which makes us most proud.
Describe what you do internationally?
Phoenix manufactures and exports plaques, primarily to Canada and the UK. The Canadian market has exploded in the last few years, as the product becomes known. There are very few foundries in the world which can manufacture bronze plaques to our standards. Each plaque produced is unique, which means each plaque must be treated as though it was the first of its type through our production process.
Canadian plaques are much larger than those we normally produce for Australia.
Canadians also love to adorn their plaques with images, which we produce in both two and three dimensions. Currently we have a library of over 3,500 images, which can be reproduced in any number of combinations on our plaques – not including our new process known as Bronze Images, which reproduces a photographic image in bronze.
Of course, the weather in the northern hemisphere can also be a bit more extreme than Australian weather, so our product into those markets has to be thoroughly tested to meet extremes of weather e.g. cold to -40°C.
Are your staff local?
Most of our staff are local or have become local. Some of our staff have been with us for around 18 years. We are proud to employ and train local people to become highly skilled in a very unique industry. We also employ staff in Canada, who look after the business in that region.
Benefits of operating from Uralla?
All very selfish, really. It means that we can all enjoy living on the Tablelands, without the mad rush of a city life. The greatest benefit of operating from Uralla is the family of staff, which has developed over a period of time. Currently we employ around 40 people – most of whom live in Uralla with their families.
The foundry is located close to the highway, which makes distribution relatively streamlined. Similarly, our product arrives via the highway, and while a rail network would be beneficial for the delivery of some supplies, the current arrangement works extremely well.
Thank you Monica.