You know you’ve got a good product on your hands when your customers are your best salespeople.
While doing the rounds at the Diesel Dirt and Turf Expo, we noticed a customer exuberantly pointing out all the features he loved on a bucket while the bloke in the branded shirt stood silent and nodding. Since writers are curious by nature, we hung around and listened as the customer completely sold the attachment to himself, leaving only the paperwork for the salesman.
This is not normal sales behaviour. Curiosity piqued, we moved in to find out what was so special about these attachments that they literally sell themselves. The company responsible is an Aussie owned and run operation called Roo Attachments.
What makes them unique in the world of attachments is, they own and run a manufacturing facility in China. This allows them to keep all the costs that don’t affect the end user down, while beefing up all the features that count, all while keeping prices affordable. We spoke to the owner of Roo Attachments, James Fishburn, about how the whole thing came about.
Roo attachments: origin story
As an 18 year old lad, James headed over to China, with no clue how to speak the language. When asked what took him on this unusual mission, James’ laughed, memories tickling the muscles of his face but not quite making it out of his mouth.
“How many beers have we got?”
He explained he’d already had a bit of exposure to China when buying and selling and decided to have a go and see what he could do over there. He did quality control work and some trading before saving up enough money to open his own factory.
This first venture was in the manufacturing of wheel loaders and was less successful than James anticipated. Here he learned one of the greatest lessons an entrepreneur can grasp: failure is not a bad thing. Just as Paypal shifted from marginally successful cryptography into their phenomenally successful payment service and Twitter abandoned their original podcast subscription service to create the revolutionary micro-blogging platform we know today, James shifted his focus.
They’d been building attachments (solid finger grabs) out of scrap from wheel loaders and realised, while they weren’t going to survive making wheel loaders, the attachment side of the business was highly profitable.
“So we axed the wheel loaders and went with what was working. Since then we’ve produced about 19,000 attachments worldwide in both mining and construction.”
Shifting focus onto attachments only, allowed James to go hard with the quality of his design and materials. He shifted to using quenched and tempered steel plate, gained the attention of some huge customers, and was soon selling his attachments all around the world. Now, a decade on from the start of James’ adventure, he’s looking at doubling his 18,000 m2 manufacturing facility to keep up with demand.
“We go right across mining and construction and can build for 0.8 ton right up to 600-700 ton machines. Everything learned from the mining requirements—and they’re very very solid terms of performance and robustness—filters down to the construction attachments.”
So each industry benefits from the inclusion of the other.
What the company is doing now
Roo Attachments have a string of major markets outside Australia, including: Russia, Mongolia, America, Canada, Korea, Finland and South America. Just as building for the mining industry has allowed them to bring added strength and quality to their construction attachments, so too has building for countries with extreme climates allowed them to bring innovations to the attachments they build for Australia.
“In Mongolia, attachments don’t tend to last long in the -50 degree weather. Even soft ground becomes like solid rock because its frozen all year with permafrost. Russia is similar. Supplying to these countries has taught us a lot and our designs are now able to stand up to those extreme climes and perform from -50 to +50 degrees.”
Some elements, like the wear strips on the back and a few other small things, will be changed for the cold. But, with the latest attachments, they have blended the best of both, with all the strongest features worked in.
“For the cost difference, it’s not worthwhile trying to skimp on little things.”
While there is a standard range everyone buys from, the team also do plenty of custom work. For example, a demo company might request the fingers at a certain spacing so bricks don’t fall through. Same bucket, different industry and larger spacing may be requested. Say if you’re digging rocks out of dirt and you just want to grab the bigger rocks and not have smaller ones clogging up the bucket.
“We might also put a lot more wear parts on it, make it bigger, stronger, beef it right up.”
Why does Roo Attachments manufacture in China?
The company has always manufactured in China, never in Australia.
“To be honest, I looked at it a fair while ago and it’s just not conceivable. To do what we do in Australia, the costs would be astronomical.”
Doing it in China, it doesn’t cost much more to take the extra time and use the best quality resources. The big point of difference between Roo Attachments and others who import products from China is, they are more than just an importer.
“We own the manufacturing facility so we control our quality. Even though we are importing a bucket, we’re importing it from ourselves. We know the designs and can guarantee they are better that any other import.”
Manufacturing in China allows James and his team to add next-level features to their designs. For example, no other skeleton bucket on the Australian market feeds the bar through the middle of the bucket.
“What that means is, as the bucket starts to get worn, the bars go first. So then you’ve gotta pay a heap of money to get someone to put new bars in there. Whereas we feed the bar through so you get the entire life out of it before you have to do any maintenance.”
And then it’s probably time for a new bucket anyway.
By maintaining their facility in China, Roo Attachments can continue to offer the highest possible quality and have space to come up with new innovations to further improve their products.
Roo Attachments in the future
With this concept of continual improvement in mind, for the first time, Roo Attachments sold directly to end users at the Diesel Dirt ad Turf Expo. The lads were excited about the prospect of being able to deal directly with the people who would be using their attachments. This arrangement gives them even more scope for ideas and innovation.
“We’re an Australian owned company, here to listen to the Australian market, open and flexible about what people want. From mining companies to a sole traders, if anyone wants a custom made attachment, we’re happy to work with them.”
As the business grows, they have set themselves the challenge of having stock on hand for Aussie buyers.
“We know that’s what they want—the attachment they’re looking for, right away. Our objective is to have stock covering the 2 ton through to 35 ton range and will build from there. Anything larger than that will be made to order.”