John Cover and Jake Martin are arguably two of the most influential men of the modern furniture industry in Australia. Most of the movers and shakers of today have at one time or another been influenced by John and Jake and always in a positive way. It’s not well-known but John and Jake had a hand in assisting several of today’s equipment suppliers, such was their commitment to their customers and the industry, a commitment that transcended mere sales and profit. John and Jake are true gentlemen of the industry and with Allwood Machinery, set the stage for the vibrant machinery and equipment supply industry we enjoy today.
John Cover was born in Sydney, attending the Fort Street High School in Petersham before studying pharmacy at university. John recalls, “I decided it wasn’t for me and to be honest I wasn’t diligent enough so after two years I left to study accounting. I worked for a few years for a chartered accounting firm, but I got bored there and applied for a job at Australian Trade Equipment.” It was the mid 1960’s and this was John’s entry into the wood working supply industry, first as an accountant and later in sales. “We were selling radial arm saws to builders for use on-site as well as portable tools. I spent a lot of time travelling around the State to places like Wagga Wagga and Griffith; selling from our van. It was good fun,” John said.
By this time John was Sales Manager. His boss at Australian Trade Equipment was Bob Maley and he and John decided it would be a good idea to go overseas and see what else they could import, so in the early 1970’s they started to bring SCM planers and combination machines here. Back then Australia was well-insulated from the rest of the World in terms of wood working machines, so John and Bob started taking industry groups overseas. This was the first time ‘study tours’ were organised from Australia. Another first was bringing the very first edge-banding machine into the country; an IDM machine that was revolutionary for its time. It was about this time that John was to meet Bruce Evans. Bruce had gone to see Brian Lynch in Sydney and Brian introduced Bruce to Les Field. Les played rugby with John so he took Bruce to meet him. Jake Martin joined A.T.E. under the Maley family a few years later.
Jake Martin was born in Kisumu in Kenya, their third largest city situated on Lake Victoria. The family emigrated to Australia when Jake was seventeen. He completed a trade course in cabinet making but the day he finished the course he left to work for Gilkon, an engineering company that still operates today. It wasn’t long after he started that the production manager was let go and Jake found himself potentially out of a job. The General Manager at the time said to Jake, “We’re looking for a production manager” to which Jake replied, “I know nothing about engineering.” His boss said “I’ll teach you” so Jake ran an engineering factory for ten years! He got his first taste for sales when things were quiet. He’d go out and get work for the company using his own car. One day he asked for a company car; they refused so he left and went to Australian Trade Equipment and worked for John Cover in sales. It was the first time the two men had met, and they’ve become lifelong friends.
In 1979 Australian Trade Equipment was sold to Wickman and for John and Jake things weren’t the same. John decided he should do something else and left without much of a plan. He said, “What do I do now?” and started Allwood Machinery selling second hand machines in competition with Barry Gabbett who started his second hand machinery business almost the same week. Jake joined John a short time later as his business partner. Recently Barry Gabbett said, “It’s not well-known, but the week we started Gabbett machinery, John Cover and Jake Martin started Allwood machinery. I didn’t know them then and only met them several months later, but we’ve become great friends and still get together from time to time.”
John said, “We started out in a rented factory in Regency Park here in Sydney, next to Parker Furniture. We bought second-hand machines at auctions and stored them until we could sell them. There was a decent market for second-hand equipment back then. We battled on for a few years selling second-hand machinery until we moved into new equipment with Michael Weinig. That kicked off our new machinery sales. We also had Stefani and Celaschi; in fact, our first major sale was a Celaschi double-end (tenoning) line worth $200,000 we put into Corinthian Doors. In those days this was a very big deal. Our competitors then were Austral; Forrest; ACME; McPhersons and Wickman who was our major competitor. We started importing Biesse machines in the mid 1980’s.”
In 1985 all the European brands were sold by agents. 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 themselves. 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. In 1987 Allwood were appointed sole agents for the entire SCM range of machines and sold them for twenty-five years. Austral Engineering sold Alberti, Bacci and Rye, all brands no longer prominent here. Altendorf and the now-defunct Wadkin operated themselves. J.C Walsh sold IDM at the time and is still in business.
In the mid to late 1980’s John and Jake separated Weinig Australia and Allwood and operated them as two separate companies; Weinig for solid timber and Allwood for flat panel. This was the start of the CNC revolution and Allwood was in on the ground floor. The only way was up, and John and Jake ran a very successful machinery company for over 25 years. Jake said, “We’ve had our ups and downs and that’s business but through it all we’ve kept growing. We’ve put on more staff, eventually reaching 75 people across Australia and New Zealand; and we’ve moved to bigger premises, always covering more of the country and more of our customers.” John adds, “It just happened, it developed from one week to the other. We never expected it to get as big as it did. Our major influencers were Dieter Kura of Weinig and Renzo Bastoni of SCM and later Biesse, who had a fantastic rapport with Australian customers.”
All the People
In 1988 the first AWISA show was held at the wool stores in Yennora in Sydney’s West. AWISA, the association, was up and running with help from John and Jake. John Tiddy was chairman at the time and with Richard Small; Robert Schloeffel; Peter Rowley; John Bainbridge; Bruce Evans, the show was virtually ‘on the road.’ In those early days many of today’s industry personalities learnt their ‘trade’ with Allwood. Some of the names you may remember are Les Field; Gary Spillane; Geoff Sellman; John Burns; Michael Stevens; Ron Smyth; Jeff Hill; John Hanrahan; Steve Horeau; Sam Rowe; Mark Bevan and Neil Forbes.
In 1992 Bruce Evans had started Leda Machinery with some help from John and Jake. The fledgling company was struggling to find its feet in Adelaide, so John and Jake bought Leda and after five years sold it to Barry Gabbett. Barry sold Leda back to Bruce only a few years ago and Bruce has since sold it to his staff and retired. Bruce said, “I rate John and Jake as two of the biggest driving forces in the industry in the last 45 years; they were game-changers.”
Around 1998 Weinig approached John and Jake to buy Weinig Australia and this company is now managed by Neil Forbes, a former employee of John and Jake. The first manager though was a Brit named Barry Hughes. John said, “It was the right time, they wanted to expand and put in more stock so we thought OK, you boys can do it now.” Then in 2001 Biesse approached Allwood and became Biesse Australia with John and Jake staying on for a further two years before retiring from the industry. Jake did have a small company he called Auswood Machinery but after a year he sold all his stock to Barry Gabbett. John and Jake are still partnering and dabble in real estate in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Over the years John and Jake had accumulated some industrial real estate including the buildings in Wetherill Park currently occupied by Wood Tech Group and Weinig.
Out and about
Jake is now an avid motorcycle enthusiast and spends some time riding on and off-road with a group of friends. He can often be found in scuba gear in such places as Mexico and the Bahamas, where he swims with tiger; bull; hammerhead and lemon sharks. He’s even dived in Greenland! He likes to go on African photographic safari’s in places like Botswana, camping at night and going out early morning and afternoons to see the wild animals. This year he and his wife Margaret plan to visit Mongolia.
On the other hand, John plays some golf and while he says he’s no professional, he is planning a trip to the British Open in Northern Ireland this year so he can’t be all that bad. He also owns a modest boat and is involved in horse racing. In his youth he played sub-district rugby with friends such as Les Field and Bruce Evans so this year he also plans to go to the rugby World Cup in Japan. He and Jenny, his wife of fifty years is planning trips to Maui and Tuscany.
They’ve all earned a holiday or two. For nineteen years Jake was never home for Margaret’s birthday. It falls in May and that’s either a show in Milan or Hannover. Of course, the two girls have been intimately involved in the business, either as organisers or hospitality events but quite often, late into the evening they could be found at the telex machine communicating with the principals in Europe in different time zones, making sure orders were placed or that customers got an answer to a question by the next day.
In the woodworking machinery supply industry, there has never been a story quite like that of Allwood’s and maybe there never will be again. John Cover and Jake martin are as highly regarded as any individual who has ever sold a woodworking machine. Over the years they have concerned themselves not only with the health of their own business but with the well-being of the industry they’ve served. Most if not everyone who has ever sold a machine will have been touched by both John and Jake. Theirs is a story of honesty and openness that was once visibly demonstrated at the Power House Museum in Sydney’s Darling Harbour where John stood up in front of his customers and said, “We can do better.” And yes, they did.
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