Peter Taylor, CEO of the Multinail Group, has faced countless setbacks over the past few decades, but his dogged determination has seen him build a true Australian success story.
Peter has been at the forefront of the nail plate industry in Australia since the very beginning. Striking out on his own in what has become a hugely competitive, constantly evolving industry, he has managed to build a successful family business that continues to strengthen and grow.
Multinail began as a small, Canberra-based business that produced nail plates and machinery for frame and truss fabricators. From its humble beginnings in 1979, the business has grown exponentially and now offers software, engineering and training services as well as metal connector production and machinery manufacturing.
But to understand the real beginning of the Multinail story, we need to delve further back to 1952, when a US architect by the name of Carol Sanford first invented the punched nail plate to replace plywood gussets in roof truss fabrication. This heralded the very beginning of the truss industry, which has since revolutionised residential and commercial building construction around the world.
Taylor travelled to meet with Sanford in 1975, at his Pompano Beach operation in Florida, US. Taylor was sent there by his former employer, who was looking to boost productivity without increasing staff numbers.
“We were manufacturing trusses in Queenbeyan in the ACT area and we were using the Steelfast Framing System,” Taylor says. “They had a very old plate which was 2mm thick and only had two teeth per square inch, and their machinery was very old fashioned. The people I was working for wanted to increase their productivity without increasing the number of men, as labour was very expensive at that time.
“So I met Carol Sanford – he not only had a new type of truss plate, he also had a new method of manufacturing trusses. At that time he was promoting the 1mm tooth connector which had eight teeth per square inch, and the connector was able to be rolled in as well as pressed in.”
The rolling system that Sanford had developed was as efficient then as it still is now, and most high production plants in Australia today are using a moderated or an upgraded version of what Sanford was using back in 1975.
“It was revolutionary,” Taylor says. “I was very excited because making trusses the way we were in Australia then was very slow. Not only did it press the whole truss very quickly, it was then able to be ejected from the jig and removed from the factory virtually automatically, so the truss was ejected from the jig, rolled out through the factory and then stacked out the back. This was of considerable interest to us, because we could produce a lot more trusses with the same number of people.”
It was decided to move in this new direction, but before anything could go ahead, a new plate approval was required, and new approval methods and engineering had to be developed to enable the trusses to be designed and used.
“Once all that was done and we agreed that it would work, we then had to import the new tools which enabled us to make the 1mm plate and develop a new method of manufacturing the plate,” Taylor says.
“It wasn’t just a one-off – bringing in a new piece of equipment or bringing in a new truss plate – it was a total system we had to develop, which was quite intensive.”
This whole process eventually took Taylor three to four years. Then, just as he had got the job done his company, which owned the nail plate operation in Australia, decided to sell it. At first Taylor “floated along” with the sale and began working for the new corporation that had bought the business, but it wasn’t long before he decided to leave.
“Six months after I left, the corporation couldn’t handle the nail plate company, so they sold it to Gang-Nail,” Taylor says. “When they sold it to Gang-Nail it got absorbed into their business, and whatever customers I was dealing with before I left started to ring me and ask me to get back into the industry. Firstly for the engineering, secondly for the service and thirdly because they knew I wanted to supply the machinery and they wanted all those things to be provided to them. So, whether stupidly or otherwise, I incorporated Multinail in 1979. And my hair started to fall out and turn grey from that day!”
It wasn’t an easy road to follow. For the first two years the business consisted solely of Taylor and his wife. But once their initial engineering and marketing information was developed, they decided to commence manufacturing.
“We were based in Canberra at that time, but we had one fabricator who was willing to back us in Port Macquarie, so we decided to shift to Port Macquarie,” Taylor says. “We rented a factory, bought a press and we started punching nail plates. Six months after we moved up there we moved from Port Macquarie to Wauchope. We bought an old timber mill that was there and we then engaged an engineer and he did a lot of programming while I did a lot of the production, the sales, sweeping the floors or whatever was required and we started to build from there.
“But it was tough going. Sometimes I wonder how we got through, but we just kept our heads down and listened to what the market was saying and what the industry was doing and we tried to match our engineering and our technology to that era. We’re still here now, so we must have done something right!”
While the day-to-day struggle was hard enough, Mother Nature then decided to throw one or two spanners in the works. Wild storms that lashed the Wauchope area destroyed the Multinail factory, blowing the roof clean off. True to form, Taylor brushed himself down, borrowed more money, rebuilt and kept on going, soon investing in some new machinery from the US. But then another storm hit – an electrical storm this time – that set part of the factory alight. While only half the building burnt down, the heat generated from the fire melted the machinery. While many others might throw up their hands in despair, Taylor remained determined to succeed, and rebuilt once again. He has now been able to grow his machinery division into something quite substantial.
In early 2000 Multinail once again moved, this time to Brisbane. While the business faced criticism from the local council for taking jobs away from the area, Taylor felt it was the right thing to do.
“It was very disturbing as we had a lot of good people there, but we realised that if we wanted the company to grow we would have to move,” he says. “Since we’ve moved the company has grown extremely well. Of course, like everyone else the GFC hit us in about 2008, so that held us back again. But we got through that and over that and now we’re running very well. We’ve maintained our machinery division and now we are supplying machinery to a good proportion of all truss manufacturers in Australia.”
The company recently acquired two small businesses – one in New Zealand called Spida Machinery and one in Australia called Mango Tech.
“We have absorbed Mango into Multinail machinery and Spida is running independently and doing exceptionally well,” Taylor says. “They have now developed a market into North America, so we are hopeful of expanding our machinery division in both Australia and New Zealand to sell into North America under the Spida name, so that’s very exciting.”
Another recent and exciting development for Multinail is the construction of their new head office in Stapylton, Queensland. Taylor saw this as the perfect opportunity to showcase his company’s market-leading innovation and expertise.
“Everyone in the market place was talking about cassettes, but the only thing that I saw was little residential cassettes between three to five metres in span,” he says. “We have a product – a Carol Sanford product again – which is called SteelWood Joist, which is capable of taking commercial loads of 3,4,5 kPa live loads plus associated point loads over long spans up to 10 metres. We thought, why don’t we put cassettes in and show the market that cassettes can be done beyond residential three to five metres?
“So we made a cassette which consisted of 15 Steelwood Joists and the area of flooring that was on top of that was six metres by nine metres, and we were able to lift those from the factory here and position them within 15 minutes.”
The event was attended by a lot of fellow industry members, all of whom were incredibly impressed by the demonstration.
“The builder who is building the construction here wouldn’t believe that we could do what I was suggesting, but we convinced him and he is a convert now,” Taylor says. “He said that the way he looked at it, it was just the next evolution – when he first started building they used to pitch all their roofs and then someone came in with these roof trusses. He said they wouldn’t work because there wasn’t enough timber in them, and of course they worked. The next thing he was doing was hefting up these onsite-made wall frames, and someone came in with wall frames made out of radiata pine, and he said that they’d never work, but of course they do. Then when they were doing two storeys these people came in with these open web floor trusses and I-beams and he said they would never work and of course we all know they do. And now he’d said that we’d never do a nine metre span with 3 kPa loading and now we can – that’s just the next step.
“Whether it moves on from here or whether it finishes here depends on what happens in the marketplace, but we are currently talking to some people in Adelaide who are putting up three eight-storey buildings and they’re interested in using the SteelWood Joists cassettes in their flooring.”
Running a private business can be a long, hard and sometimes lonely road, but it only makes success all that much sweeter when it’s tasted.
“When you’re a private company, sometimes you don’t get paid,” Taylor says. “I can remember a time in Wauchope with my boys – we used to have a nursery where we grew hanging plants, and to be able to put bread on the table we went out on the highway on Saturdays and Sundays and sold hanging pots to passing cars. That gave us a bit of extra income.
“It just becomes part of life. When you’re a private company – a family company – that’s just what you have to do. We just had to fight and fight and fight to get where we are. But when you look back, you realise it’s probably made us stronger, and as a company, we probably relate more to most truss fabrication plants in Australia because they are also family companies.”
“We are reinvesting back into our own production, we are reinvesting in research and development and we are investing in the development of our software quite extensively. The future is looking very promising, but we have to stay tight and we have to stay focused. We’ve got to keep our feet on the ground and keep all the right people in the right positions and we’ve got to make sure that we look after our customers and our staff. But we’re still here. And we’re growing.”
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