What if the power failed and the lights went out at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) or the Sydney Opera House? Tony Todaro, managing director of Clevertronics, has safety covered with Australia’s leading emergency lighting, building and evacuation systems. Melanie Stark reports.
Any public building, whether it be a football stadium, school, hospital or cinema, is required by law to have exit signs and emergency lighting fitted. Manufacturers Monthly sat down with Tony Todaro, managing director of Clevertronics to find out how the business is growing and what makes Australia a world leader in this area of business.
After leaving his legal profession behind in 2001, Todaro decided to make the move into the emergency lighting sector and purchased Clevertronics. Back in 2001, Clevertronics had approximately 20 members of staff and a small portfolio of clients. Now, boasting 70 per cent of the large-scale project market share, Clevertronics is a growing company with plans to move into the UK later this year.
Though the emergency function of emergency lighting systems can go unused for long periods of time, it is subject to strict regulation rules and maintenance requirements. “You have to test emergency lighting every six months. This is a time-consuming and expensive job to do,” Todaro said.
If this process was to be done manually at a location such as the MCG, it would take several weeks. “Larger buildings have thousands of fittings. The MCG, for example, has over 8,000 fittings,” Todaro said.
Clevertronics has developed a system that can test fittings automatically in real-time and send reports back via a computerised system. “Our systems simulate a power out, they test each fitting and tell you whether it has passed or failed. In addition, if it has failed, it will tell you why and email you a full report of all fittings,” Todaro said.
Clevertronics has also pioneered the use of batteries in its products using a new Lithium based technology. The result is fittings that reduce maintenance costs in excess of 80 per cent. These technologies have enabled Clevertronics to grow and develop across Australia and, more recently, New Zealand.
“Australia really leads the world in these products and systems. Australia has traditionally treated compliance seriously which has driven the development of higher- level, more sophisticated systems,” Todaro said.
According to Todaro, in less than two years of operating in New Zealand, Clevertronics now has around 30 per cent market share. The company is also due to launch in the UK in September this year and is hoping for similar success there.
Like many Australian businesses, Todaro found that manufacturing prices were rising and it was necessary to off-shore some processes to China. However, product development is undertaken by the company’s engineering team in Australia as is the manufacture of project-specific products.
“We develop all our new products here in Melbourne, from mechanical design, to hardware layout, process engineering, and software engineers writing code,” Todaro said.
With around 30 per cent of all products manufactured here in Australia, the commoditised, high- volume products are manufactured at a joint venture facility in Shanghai. Quality assurance is key to everything that Clevertronics produce and for this reason, Todaro said, it’s important to treat the plant just like your own.
Todaro said this combined process ensures the quality is high and the costing is well-managed. “The challenge with manufacturing in Australia is that it’s expensive. So, we need to do our high-end products and processes here and then we add value from the Shanghai plant. Much of our product arrives with the easier labour-intensive work having been undertaken, and then we undertake the more complex tasks, or manufacture and add the high value circuitry here.”
Room to grow
In the past 12 years, Clevertronics has been growing in excess of 20 per cent per year. “We now have offices in every State and have just over half of the market share here in Australia,” Todaro said.
In terms of people, there are around 150 employees in Australia and a further 130 in the joint venture plant in Shanghai. This is compared with around 20 people when Todaro took on the business in 2001.
For Todaro, this consistent growth has been made easier by having a supportive, helpful and understanding bank. “I initially chose Bank of Melbourne because of the personal relationships they build with their clients. I had already been working with them in a legal capacity for a few years and knew that Bank of Melbourne was the bank I wanted on board with Clevertronics,” he said.
The real stand-out product that helps Clevertronics to consistently grow is the invoice financing facility, which extends as the business and debtors grow, Todaro said. “When you are a growing business, you need a good financing facility. That way as you grow, your facility grows. With Bank of Melbourne, they automatically extend the facility according to the growth of the business,” he said.
A key element of this facility is that Todaro is not required to keep making applications for funding as the business grows. “What I really like about the bank, is that they are there if I need them. I have all the finance I need to develop. When I wanted to go to the UK, I didn’t need to go running to the bank to ask for help. They already have the processes in place to grow when I grow. It gives me the working capital I need,” Todaro said.
In an industry as competitive and fast-paced as manufacturing, it’s important that anyone engaged with the business understands the sector and for Todaro, Bank of Melbourne provides this support. “The bank really focuses on its groups. They understand the sector and, because of this, they look after us really well,” Todaro said.
The industry insight that the bank provides also helps Todaro in his planning for the future of his business. “We periodically attend talks by the Chief Economist, Besa Deda. She regularly gives us insight into the market and recently I engaged her to talk to one of our industry groups. She tailored her content and economic outlook specifically for our industry. It was really helpful information,” Todaro said.
As Clevertronics continues to grow, Todaro has his eyes set on bigger premises and will be engaging Bank of Melbourne in this exercise. “I know they are there when I need them and I will be sure to work with them when moving into new premises,” he said.
For Todaro, the key differentiator with Bank of Melbourne is how they value personal relationships, how they tailor their solutions and how they keep in contact on
a regular basis. This has enabled the company to keep developing in Australia and New Zealand and sets Clevertronics up to further expand overseas, starting with the UK in September.
Bank of Melbourne
Andrew Eastwood, Executive Manager – Manufacturing and Wholesale
Phone: 0402 970 792