But for a woman as passionate and energetic as Jo Fallshaw-Bishop, both her roles as Managing Director of Fallshaw Wheels & Castors and young mother of two appear to have unearthed more hidden talents.

Curve Editor, Belinda Stening, was delighted to catch up with Fallshaw-Bishop, during a brief break from executive meetings, toddler and new baby.

While Jo Fallshaw-Bishop’s impressive resumé includes extensive work experience in the family business, the breadth and variety of her roles within the company which now exports across the globe has prepared her for her greatest challenge so far, that of managing director.

After completing a Bachelor of Engineering at Melbourne’s RMIT in 1995, Fallshaw-Bishop took up a position in product development with Austrim Textiles. From there she moved into project management within her father’s company.

“My first challenge was to redesign the factory layout and after that I looked at restructuring our inhouse tooling function with some outsourcing,” she told Curve.

Over the next eight years Fallshaw-Bishop moved around the divisions including periods within product development, planning and procurement, and more recently, sales and marketing.

As a strategic thinker with a particular flair for marketing and a solid foundation in engineering and operations, Fallshaw-Bishop is now making her mark as the team’s leader.

“Being the third generation of a family business involves a sense of responsibility to take the business to the next level, particularly given that my siblings and fellow shareholders have put their trust in me to guide the ship,” Fallshaw admits.

“I’m conscious that my grandfather was an entrepreneur who started a business; and my father also had great entrepreneurial flair – redirecting the business into castors, building a new factory, expanding the sales network and becoming the Australian market leader in wheels and castors.

“Now I hope to capture the same entrepreneurial zeal to passionately grow the business; but at the same time to continuously develop and nurture the systems-thinking and decentralised approach that enables all managers within the business (whether or not they are family members) to have real involvement in the direction of the company and real decision making influence.”

The Fallshaw ‘wheel’ business began in 1920 when Percy Fallshaw (Jo’s grandfather) began making wheels for perambulators or baby carriages. Castor making began after Robert (Jo’s father) joined Fallshaw in 1960, and soon became the biggest part of the business.

In 1972, the factory moved from its inner city location to a much larger site in Sunshine, fourteen kilometres west of Melbourne city, allowing for continued expansion.

Jo Fallshaw-Bishop took over in October, 2004 and her father died in January the following year. According to Fallshaw-Bishop, the 1990s saw significant progress with increases in metal pressing and injection moulding capabilities as well as the addition of a new training centre.

“Fallshaw has about forty-five per cent of the market share of wheels and castors in Australia,” she explains.

“Our success in Australia has been due to our very large product range with hundreds of products ranging from very heavy duty working industrial castors, to light duty decorative furniture castors. The other key factor in our success is our service philosophy; most orders are delivered within twenty-four hours and our products are backed with a three year warranty.

“Our distributor network is large with about 250 distributors Australia-wide – about half our sales go through distributors and the other half to large OEMs.”

Fallshaw now exports about twenty percent of sales into international markets – mostly into New Zealand, the US and SE Asia.

“In New Zealand we have a distributor, Sheppard Industries (a castor specialist) who we have worked closely with for about twenty years. It is such a close working relationship that they participate in our six-monthly managers meetings and are always consulted, just like a Fallshaw branch, in our internal decision making processes.

“In the US we have a branch office that is a stocking location and a base for our staff to service distributors and court OEMs.”

This inclusive approach to staff and networks as well as recognition of tailoring the business to specific world markets is part of Fallshaw’s vision for the future.

“We also have an export development manager, based in Melbourne, who is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English and who services our SE Asian customers and seeks new business in the SE Asian region,” she explains.

“In the US and SE Asia we went through a formal process of reviewing our strengths and weaknesses to develop our sales strategy. We decided that the strategy that has made us so successful in Australia and New Zealand (a wide product range of mostly industrial castors sold through distributors) could not be successful in overseas markets due to the long shipment times and the high cost of running a large warehousing operation and sales support office.”

It was a significant process for Fallshaw and the company as they developed a dedicated strategy from scratch.

“We started by asking ourselves the question: ‘Which of our products has a clear competitive advantage in the US and SE Asian markets?’ This can be a difficult question to answer – it’s a bit like asking parents to be objective about their children – it can be hard to admit – ‘look it really is a mediocre, ugly child’...

“But we managed to distance ourselves enough to be able to set aside much of our range as being not much different from the competition purely in terms of direct, product-to-product comparison (excluding the benefits of our service, warranty etc).

"What we were left with were three product groups where we really did have a unique product that clearly stood above our competitor’s products in terms of design features, appearance and functionality as well as being competitively priced.

“Following this process we identified our light duty and institutional castors – with powder coated finish, metallic pigments, domed axles and other customised finishes.

"We then took the next step of indentifying the industries that utilise these three product groups – hospital and healthcare, commercial furniture and shop fitting. We then identified target customers and relevant trade shows from these industries.”

In keeping with Fallshaw’s natural flair for marketing, trade show exhibitions were supported with the development of the company’s ‘WOW boxes’.

Explains Fallshaw-Bishop: “Our WOW boxes are a response to the problem of not being able to get past the receptionist. We found that large American OEMs just don’t want to meet potential new suppliers: their receptionists are trained to knock back all new callers and to refuse to offer the contact name or contact details of various managers; legislation protects against unsolicited email or SPAM; catalogues and brochures sent through the mail are routinely thrown out unopened.

"It is almost impossible to get a response from an unsolicited approach.

“That’s why we developed our WOW boxes. We figured that our products would speak for themselves just so long as we could get the products to the right person.

"So we worked with Visy Packaging to develop a presentation box that would present our castors in the right way – along with colour samples, brochures and our catalogue.

"It has worked – the ‘WOW box’ looks too expensive for the receptionist to throw out – so they do pass it along to the titled person even though the contact name is unspecified. And once the responsible person sees ours castors – they call us.”

The WOW box may be a far cry from the early years of her father’s time at the helm but it is also reflective of a family trait that suggests tenacity and innovation are in the genes.

Robert Fallshaw took over the company at the tender age of twenty-one and soon after had to look at new opportunities for the business.

In the 50s and 60s much of the business the Fallshaw brother’s had inherited – wheels for prams and wheel-chairs – disappeared as Robert introduced industrial and institutional wheels and castors, using plastic and pressed steel.

Fallshaw has maintained its local manufacturing base. The company manufacturers the vast bulk of its products in Australia, around ninety percent.

“We import materials and components not economically produced in Australia – such as natural rubber tyres and bearings, but we manufacture almost all press metal formed and injection moulded components as well as assembling castors.

"We are able to compete because we buy materials and machines at world-prices and our supply chain manager regularly travels to Asia to visit suppliers and check current world prices.”

Fallshaw-Bishop admits that while labour costs are about twenty-five times higher than Chinese labour costs, productivity is substantially higher which allows costs to be comparable.

“We are seeing intense price competition from Asia, but I believe we are thriving despite this due to our two-pronged approach: we are now offering economical product alternatives that offer a ‘basic, no-frills’ product to better compete with imported products; and, we are value-adding with the rest of our range to offer customised options and deluxe products at reasonable prices.”

It is obvious Fallshaw-Bishop has adopted much of her father and grandfather’s leadership qualities and drive for success. But has having a young family and being female inhibited her in any way?

“I can honestly say that I have not experienced sexism at any time in my career, or during engineering training. I think that people treat you the way you expect to be treated – and that if you set the tone when meeting new people, they will generally follow your lead.

“I generally plunge straight into business, and then get to know people as the relationship develops. People get used to dealing with the business issues first (which are the same regardless of gender), and then the details of family life and personality emerge later – once the pattern of interaction is already established.

"This can get a little ridiculous at times – when, for example, I have a sleeping baby strapped to my chest in a sling who I do not refer to in any way, launching instead straight into my presentation... or actively asking questions of the new person I am meeting.

“I find people very soon adapt and get used to the mood – and when morning tea crops up or the baby wakes, I’m more than happy to introduce her and chat about babies – by then the point is made and the business is well under way.”

We have no doubt the Fallshaw fathers would also approve. 

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