Sonnex Engineering evolved from contract work to the major automotive companies in South Australia – GMH and Mitsubishi and their suppliers - by providing installation services back in the 1990s. As time went on, the industry demanded more custom-made parts and modifications to production lines that could not be readily made locally.
Seeing where the future lay for the business, Jano Tuchnya (picture) invested time in learning about manufacture and design of parts. The business grew rapidly to employ more than 65 people with very little machinery, relying on suppliers to produce the parts they needed. It soon became apparent that if the business was to maintain a reputation of on time delivery and quality, then investment in machinery would be necessary.
“I looked to find ways to keep as much activity as possible in- house instead of outsourcing and to keep the costs down, and began by investing in equipment like NC saws, a guillotine, a press brake and profile cutting machines. It worked and we were able to stay busy and grow further,” says Mr Tuchyna.
“We made a reputation for ourselves in providing short turnaround times. We were honest with our customers about what we could do. I always try to be honest – which has meant we have built a lot of trust with our customers. One senior engineer from Holden said at one of his last meetings before retiring that ‘if they used Sonnex Engineering they could sleep easily knowing that the job would be done well’. I was so proud to hear about it.”
A key to the ongoing success for Sonnex Engineering has been their ability to be flexible to meet their customers’ needs. When Tuchyna saw that the automotive industry was in decline, he looked to other industries for opportunities. As a result, the company now manufactures components for locomotives and wagon sub-assemblies; semi-trailer parts; food industry conveyors and construction.
“I believe that every customer needs to be treated as the most important one and their job is the most important to me,” he says. “If it is ten minutes to closing time, I don’t turn them away. Business is too tight to be choosey about who you will work with. I also make sure that if a job needs to be done, then we work the extra hours to do it. I always make sure that my staff is compensated for overtime and that they have the skills to do it properly. In the end, we have been able to supply where others cannot.”
People and machinery are integral to the success of the Sonnex Engineering story. Investment in quality machinery has enabled the company to create niche markets that would otherwise have been out of reach. Investment in staff is equally important and they are regarded as the primary asset of the company. The company has invested heavily in Haco equipment over the last seven years, including NC saws, a 3-metre guillotine, a 150-tonne press brake, a 7-kW laser cutter and most recently a combination Punch Plasma machine.
“I bought a top of the range laser cutting machine from Haco Australia about seven years ago and that was when the automotive industry was starting to decline, but my question was not ‘can I afford to buy this’ but ‘can I afford not to buy it?’. The answer was a definite no; I can’t afford not to have it. Yes it was a struggle, but it has paid off. It is one of the biggest laser cutters in the Southern Hemisphere and resulted in receiving a lot more business because we had the capabilities to do more than anybody else could. So on the one hand we said ‘good grief, what are we going to do with this?’ but on the other hand we have developed a niche market with it,” reflects Mr Tuchyna.
The messages from Sonnex are clear – a downturn in business is not the end of the world for the company, but an opportunity to re-invent yourself and to invest in the business to make it stronger for when the market picks up again.
Tuchyna maintains that staying positive in the down times is imperative to staying in business. “There are always opportunities when things are quiet to find new business and to improve how you operate,” he says. “Business goes on, it may be quiet, but it doesn’t last forever. As one door closes, another opens and a lot of it depends on your attitude.”
“Take the time to look at how your business is performing and measure every single aspect of your operation. By making your business more efficient, through minimising waste, improving your procedures, investing in machinery or even moving to smaller premises... all this will contribute to making your business more streamlined. As a business owner now is the time to tighten your own belt and reinvest in your business – not with flashy cars and high salaries.”
“Work with your regular customers to find opportunities to make their business more efficient. For example, we redesigned some parts for our regular customer without charging them and also without telling them until we presented the parts which were better and cheaper. By making a product better and cheaper, both companies stand to gain increased productivity. There might be other areas in your customer’s business that provide opportunities for you to diversify that will continue to strengthen your relationship now and in the future.”