The very first Supplier magazine came out in August 1984, around the time CNC machinery started making a big impact on the furniture industry. 34 years later Supplier’s 200th edition comes at a time of robotics and digitalisation, another evolution. Phil Ashley, Technology editor, has been with the magazine for 25 years and reports.

Since April 1989 I have written over 350 articles for Supplier magazine so I’m probably the best placed person to write about the history of this significant contributor to the furniture, cabinet and wood working industries. You are familiar with Supplier magazine and in 1984 it was the one and only industry magazine for this specialised manufacturing sector. I spoke to the publisher, Vicky Cammiade about Supplier magazine and its history.

Back in the early days trade magazines were few and far between, and very few pages were colour and these were mostly ads placed by the major suppliers of the day. Today Supplier is a quality; all-colour magazine. The original advertisers included FreeDecor edge tapes by Linnemann; Leuco; SCM; Streibig (Wickman at the time); Stefani (Allwood); ACME; Dunlop foams; Foamlite; Carborundum abrasives and Hafele who also took the cover. Several of these Companies have dominated the industry over the years. Wickman had only recently bought Australian Trade Equipment and Barry Gabbett had only been trading as Gabbett Machinery for about five years, mostly selling second hand equipment.

In the beginning, Vicky remembers “I went to Queensland for a show I think, and met up with John Cover; Bruce Evans; Renzo Bastoni from SCM, to mention just a few of the leaders at the time, and I asked them if they would back the new magazine, and they were very enthusiastic about it, as they believed they needed a dedicated publication to reach their customers.” Yes, everyone was just getting started and the time was ripe for a specialist supplier publication.

These same industry key people were to create an industry association, which became AWISA, and asked Vicky to help promote it which was effectively done through the magazine. These people included John Cover; John Tiddy; Richard Small; Robert Schloeffel; Peter Rowley; Ian Adair and Bruce Evans. They represented all of the diverse sectors of the furniture supply chain and in 1986 the Association put out a tender for an Australian trade show that was affordable. Other shows at the time such as Profurn were far too expensive considering the type of venue and exhibit the suppliers needed to commit to.

Vicky won the tender on the strength of the magazine and organised the first event held at the Sydney Wool Stores at Yennora, NSW in July 1988. They designed the original AWISA logo and assisted the fledgling organisation at every opportunity. The show was a resounding success despite the strong smell of lanolin from the wool bales still stored there. The rest is history with the AWISA committee running the subsequent shows to this day. John Tiddy was Chairman of AWISA and wrote to Supplier “AWISA Inc. conveys to you our delight and appreciation for the positive and professional presentation of AWISA ’88; we feel that our joint efforts can only produce the start of bi-annual exhibitions for the whole industry…bringing the industry together.”

For now though, it was all about building and I was asked to contribute an article in April 1989 on acronyms for CNC manufacturing. I had done a few pieces for Australian Wood Review (magazine) and as a trade teacher I was pleased to be asked to contribute to the manufacturing sector. I wasn’t to come on board regularly until mid-2003.

This was a time of significant change for the industry. Some of the biggest manufacturers were located in Sydney and Melbourne but suppliers were selling equipment in every State and Territory in the Country. All of the European brands were sold by agents, unlike today where all the major players own the Australian branches. Wickman had Morbidelli, now part of the SCM Group. They also had IMA, now with Wood Tech Group, and Leitz tooling, now owned by Leitz them-selves. Wickman, Allwood and Gabbett all carried some product from the current SCM Group and at some time Allwood and ACME carried Weinig. Forrest Woodworking Equipment sold Biesse and Martin Panel saws; and Homag Group machines, as did Allwood and ACME who also sold CMS and DMC, now both part of the SCM Group. The SCM confusion ended in 1987 when Allwood were appointed sole agents for the entire SCM range of machines. Austral Engineering sold Alberti, Bacci and Rye, all brands no longer prominent here. Altendorf and the now-defunct Wadkin operated in their own right. J.C Walsh sold IDM at the time and of course, is still in business.

Hardware suppliers prominent at the time included Hafele who was one of the many companies that supported Supplier magazine from the first issue. The Salice cabinet hinge was sold through dealers including Nover who still operate in NSW. Hettich was sold through Furnco in all States and Tekform sold Grass product. Richard Small sold Blum cabinet hinges and Cornall (merchandise) a whole range of hardware.

Some of the larger furniture manufacturers closed down due to Paul Keating’s recession of the early 90’s. Chiswell and Parker in Sydney were two of the bigger ones but many industries were forced to look at the way they made furniture, to reduce labour costs and work to the ‘just in time’ methodology of the day. CNC machines were in big demand; the colleges were installing them right across Australia and Industry was learning to use the new technologies. Supplier magazine kept people informed of the latest equipment and articles started to appear, talking about the new manufacturing systems, and later, the new software programs essential for modern furniture making. Back then the big talking points of the time were system-32 and CNC.

Manufacturers were just starting to think globally so in 1987 Vicky and Maureen went to Interzum in Cologne and Ligna in Hannover to meet the Australians who were traveling there. They met Alex Findlay from the Furniture Trades Union and Lance Hadaway from the National Furnishing Industry training Board. They bumped into Lyle Arthur and Bruce Evans from ACME Saws and Machinery; Ian Patterson from I&J in West Australia and Mark Noblett from Noblett Furniture in Adelaide. The girls started an annual source manual where every product available was related to the relevant suppliers.

Supplier magazine is a business-to-business publication and Vicky says this type of magazine is “Going from strength to strength, and distribution is going up.” The magazine is the most-read publication for the furniture and wood related industries with a hefty circulation Australia wide. The magazines are available to view online at the Elite Publishing website and are supported by e-newsletters. Vicky’s primary concern is that the industry has a reliable source of information from suppliers, for all sectors of the diverse furniture, cabinet and panel processing industries. Vicky says “Content, content, content; stories that answer the questions manufacturers want to ask.” This was very important for the development of industry associations, unions and training organisations at State and National levels.

In the 1980’s furniture and cabinet making were transitioning from a craft-based industry to a smart manufacturing industry. There was a lot of new machines and equipment being sourced from America; England; Japan; Taiwan; China and a lot from Europe. Things were moving quickly and Supplier kept up with trends through a close relationship with importers. There were some local producers of static machines like Woodfast but these have long gone, replaced by manufacturers of Australian-made CNC machines like Multicam.

Another initiative of Supplier was the setting up of the Gold Star awards in 2012. Now with four sets of awards presented, certificates have made their way all around the World and adorn reception areas at the machinery and hardware manufacturers head offices. They take their place alongside other prestigious industry awards such as the IWF Challengers Award and XIA Xylexpo Innovation Awards. Supplier ‘talks the talk and walks the walk’ supporting what they say, not just with words, but also through action. Supplier is a member of the International Woodworking and Furniture Supplier Magazine Association (FSM) and is recognised around the World; in fact so much that you will often find Supplier articles reproduced on supplier’s websites and sometimes, even in other overseas magazines.

A lot has changed over the last 34 years. Looking back at when Supplier started, your mobile phone would have been the brick; the Motorola DynaTac, released in 1983 but only if you could afford one. Your car could have been either an XE Falcon or VH Commodore who together had 25% of the Australian market. Bob Hawke was our Prime Minister and Medicare had just started. Elton John married Renate Blauel in Sydney and a jar of vegemite was the first product to be electronically scanned at a checkout. Advance Australia Fair is proclaimed the new National Anthem and the one dollar coin was introduced. That was the year Bandidos and Comancheros bikies had a shootout in Milperra, NSW; Essendon beat Hawthorn in the VFL and Canterbury beat Parramatta in rugby league. It’s been a great ride!

Vicky still loves the industry “Its diversity, the products, the people are fantastic” she says. Supplier has been a part of the development of modern furniture manufacturing in Australia and has grown with the industry with a mixture of experience and youthful enthusiasm. As we move through industry 4.0 manufacturing to industry X and beyond, Supplier magazine is in a strong position to move with the industry in whatever the World has to offer.

Pictured: Vicky Cammiade with Phil Ashley (2018)