Gippslandia #9 - Lindsay & Toni Wakefield. - People Department.

Lindsay & Toni Wakefield.

Undoubtedly you’re pretty strong.
We’re guessing that on more than one occasion you’ve had a cheeky flex of the ‘cannons’ in front of the mirror — just to check that you can still bust out the ‘sun’s out, guns out’ line when the situation arises. Unfortunately, even with a triple serving of protein powder, you still aren’t ripped enough to lift everything. That’s when you need to call Safetech — they can lift nearly everything.

Based in Moe, Safetech design and manufacture materials handling equipment, dock equipment, scissor lifts, vehicle lifts, hoists, cranes and other lifting devices. As company director Lindsay Wakefield explains, “We build standardised and specialist equipment with lifting capacities from 100 kg to 30 tonnes and beyond. [We also offer] an almost endless variety of modifications and variations”.

Releasing their first product, the PALIFT, over 30 years ago, Safetech now service companies across Australia and the United States. Here’s a bit of trivia, Safetech was the first Victorian regional company to win a Telstra Australian National Business of the Year award, and they did so back in 2006.

The key markets that Safetech operates in are diverse, including warehousing and logistics, as well as industrial and retail applications, not to mention the resource industry and building applications. Lindsay says, “More than 70% of Australian supermarkets use our dock products, but you can find our products in almost any company in Australia. Recently, we have begun selling vehicle lifts for apartments, houses, showrooms and retail centres”.

Two of Safetech’s directors, Lindsay and Toni Wakefield, kindly spent time with Gippslandia to educate us on their business, share why Gippsland is a great place to be based and also provide some wisdom and advice to our next generation of entrepreneurs.

Before diving into their responses, Toni explains the roots of Safetech, “After travelling and acquiring a couple of retail stores in Moe, we started Safetech in the mid-80s. My husband’s brother, Lindsay, came up with an idea for a back/arm saving industrial lifting device when he was working as a young doctor. That started our Safetech journey with David (my husband and our lawyer) and Bruce Cox (our technical director)”.

What a journey it has been. Safetech presents another shining example of Gippsland ingenuity and business acumen performing at a national and international level.

On their educational pathway before beginning Safetech.
Lindsay: I grew up in Newborough, then went to school in Geelong and did medicine at Monash University in the early 80s. As a resident doctor, I spent some time in an occupational health clinic in Melbourne. I was treating injured workers, and after I visited their factories [I saw the employment conditions], that was how I came up with the idea for our first product — the PALIFT. It was very successful, both here and overseas, and is still selling well today.

Toni: I started out at Traralgon High School, then the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education (a million years ago…) and, some years later, I returned to the same campus after it became Monash University Gippsland.

Safetech’s recent challenges and opportunities.
Lindsay: We bought a competitor, Tieman Industries Pty Ltd Materials Handling Equipment. This tripled the size of our business and gave us a much stronger national presence with new offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. Integrating the [new] products and staff and developing business efficiencies have been a great challenge but have yielded excellent results.

Opportunities lie in expanding our vehicle lift market, large specialised lifting applications in retail developments, improving our local and international supply chain, developing remote monitoring and data collection of product performance and improving our customer feedback and interaction.

Toni: Acquiring one of our competitors is by far the biggest challenge. Our business model became infinitely more complex overnight and it was a huge challenge to build a national sales and installation model that worked for us. Happy to say that it has been rewarding.

Continuous improvement in the way we run our business is always a key theme for us and also a great opportunity.

Why Gippsland is a great place to establish a business.
Toni: Who would want to live anywhere else? It’s a beautiful part of the world and close to everything.

Lindsay: First and foremost, it’s a great place to live, with a quality of life that is hard to match. For Safetech, we are close enough to Melbourne, yet able to offer the attractions of a regional lifestyle.

How Gippsland can be more attractive for business.
Toni: Digital infrastructure is an issue for most of regional Australia, and Gippsland is no exception. We need to share the benefits of operating businesses in Gippsland more effectively.

Lindsay: Improved internet, enhanced networking opportunities, and the promotion of the region as a great place to raise a family, away from the cost and congestion of the city.

Who is getting things done in Gippsland?
Lindsay: CapriLac [Australian goat milk products] and Flavorite [Australia’s premier grower of vine-ripened produce].

Toni: There are so many progressive and effective businesses in Gippsland operating locally, nationally and internationally. Exciting and innovative Gippsland businesses operate across all sectors — manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and, of course, education.

Should upcoming businesspeople read business books or is it about job experience?
Toni: It’s important to read, listen, question — wherever you can. [Utilise] all sources and stay connected. There’s a lot to learn from business models that may not even be similar or aligned to your own. The smallest ideas can prove to be fruitful.

Lindsay: Both. Not just books, read the business media, study trends, visit other companies, network with as many other business people as you can — inside and outside your own industry, nationally and internationally.

Promote learning and sharing of ideas within your business. Above all, business is a team sport.

How important is mentoring for our younger businesspeople?
Toni: It’s important for businesspeople of all ages. Don’t ever stop asking questions and wondering if there is a better way. Be generous with your own time, as there will be a time when you will benefit from others sharing theirs.

Lindsay: The right advice can be an extremely effective business accelerator. It can also keep you out of trouble.

Networking is essential to most business growth. Which Gippsland groups should I join to develop my local business network?
Toni: Join the groups that work for you for your own stage in your business life. It could be an industry group, a regional group or even a group external to the region.

Just stay connected and keep sharing.

I am on the Board of the Committee for Gippsland and, apart from our industry connections, C4G provides me with an excellent network of interesting, and interested, businesspeople to connect with.

Lindsay: [It’s] very dependent on the kind of business. Join the local business groups and form your own network. [You’ll] also need to develop connections in the cities for real sustainable growth and opportunity.

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