Altronics has just celebrated 40 years as a company and its manufacturing and distribution is set to expand further. Simeon Barut reports.
Founded in 1976 by Jack O’Donnell, Altronic Distributors was initially a supermarket-style electronics store that was one of the first Dick Smith resellers in Western Australia.
The unique setup of the store gave customers the freedom of coming in and browsing for parts at their own leisure, rather than waiting for help from store clerks that would eventuate in longer wait times.
However, Dick Smith decided to open up its own store in Perth, which resulted in Altronics having to source products from overseas. The cost was a lot for a small start-up to consume, so the basic line of equipment that was imported at the time was offered to other electronic retailers.
This marked the birth of the wholesale side of the company which now has over 9,000 stocked items, fives warehouses across capital cities and over 100 people employed in five different states.
In those 40 years, general manager Brian Sorensen says that while there has been a fair amount of change in the AV space, Altronics has been able to remain consistent with its core values.
“Altronics itself hasn’t changed too much. Our range hasn’t changed too much either apart from changing with the times – modern TVs and different formats – but we’re still stocking some products that we were on day one,” he says.
“We’re always there for the trade and the electronics enthusiast. We’ve stuck to our core and service the requirements of the trade industry and its enthusiasts.”
The biggest challenge that Altronics faced in its history was arguably its rollout into other parts of the country. A loyal following was already built on the west coast so trying to sell on the east coast meant a long establishment period.
“Trying to break into the market was definitely difficult. The established businesses in the east already had the links and the contacts and the rapport with the existing suppliers. It is always difficult to break that cycle,” Brian explains.
“It’s understandable; people were doing business with other companies they’d built a relationship with and if you didn’t have something unique and different to offer, gaining a presence was hard. Ultimately, it was a lot of chipping away and never taking ‘no’ for an answer in a lot of cases.”
Brian says a major key to making an imprint on the east was holding stock in those eastern locations. Holding stock overcame a negative public perception about the company.
“There was always a perceived image that being based in Perth meant it was going to take a long time for products to get to customers – depending on the size of the product,” he says.
“Quite often we were able to get products to eastern state customers quicker than the local supplier. Even with the time difference and air freight, we could have something delivered by 8am Sydney time when it was ordered 4pm Perth time the previous day.”
This persistence and sense of establishment eventually lead to the creation of commercial equipment under the label of Redback. Not only was Altronics making a name for itself when selling to customers, but now its commercial presence was felt.
Bunnings, 7Eleven, ALDI, Coles, Dan Murphy’s, Woolworths and Kmart are just a few of the names that use Redback products; more specifically, its PA systems.
To stay relevant and competitive, Brian says that the company had to change the way it manufactured its products. Through the introduction of computer aided machinery for metal work and PCBs, Redback has been able to redesign its products to be more cost effective and more catered to the Australian AV market.
“Computer aided machinery allowed us to save money and then redirect those savings into improved feature sets for our product. We would hear what the local industry wanted and needed and then accommodated those requests where possible when we would develop a new product,” he says.
“Rather than just buying something off the shelf in South-East Asia, which may or may not suit the market, we would try and tailor it to suit the Australian market.”
Like all Australian-based companies that are in the relatively small AV space, the option and temptation to move offshore is always there and it was no different for Altronics.
Brian says that because prices offshore were significantly cheaper, the decision was looked at considerably. However, the fact that the company has built up a wealth of knowledge through its workers and made connections across the country, the decision to stay came easy.
“We believe in what we do and although the prices overseas are cheaper, what we design and developed is all in-house with years and years of expertise behind it,” Brian says.
“As well as our product potentially being copied overseas and then sold to our competitors, all the experience and wealth of information we’ve accumulated here would be gone because there’d be no more jobs. It’d just be a waste.”
The future for Altronics remains bright with an expansion set to take place by Christmas 2017 that will no doubt continue the 40 years of service.
“We’ve already got wholesale, retail and warehouse premises in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as wholesale and retail, along with showrooms, in Brisbane.
“Just over Easter, we’ve started the building process of a new warehouse and distribution centre here in Perth which should be fully operational by Christmas, which is a very exciting step for us. We’re very confident on what the future holds for us.”