✦ There's a lot to be said for a business that has proven its resilience and endurance by standing the test of time.
Harold Vickery & Son was established in 1862 and pride themselves in carrying on the company tradition of producing Australian made, custom designed, heavy duty leather products that are built to last.
When the business was created, there was no internet, no computer and many deadly viruses like polio and H1N1 influenza (the root of the Spanish Flu pandemic) with no vaccine. This business weathered the Great Depression, World War II and more.
Specialising in heavy duty products made to last for the mining, industrial, engineering and construction industries including protective belts, bags and pouches, Harold Vickery & Son operate out of a factory in Wauchope, regional NSW, Australia. They supply some of the biggest mining and construction companies in the world and distribute both Australia wide and internationally.
New owner carrying on the tradition and craftsmanship
Taking an opportunity to purchase a business of such stature and presence in not only Australia, but also renowned internationally, Matthew Hyde stands proudly at the helm for the past 12 months.
Together, Matthew and his wife made a sea change, relocating their young family to the Hastings Valley and set to work to nurture and grow the 160-year-old business.
Prior to taking over, Matthew was employed in local government in Sydney, and before that he was working as contaminated land consulting in the private sector. But, but in his spare time he loved to tinker in his garage making things. Along came their first child and he wasn’t allowed to use power tools in his garage anymore - too noisy!
A new hobby needed to be found that was a little quieter. One day whilst carrying out his day job doing a site inspection, he came upon a roll of leather in a vacated building. He admits to being a bit of a collector, and the owner of the building said he could take it home if he could find a use for it. It sat in a corner for a while, waiting for the perfect design to use it on.
In the meantime, one of his best friends had done a hand making leather course, and the way she talked about it made Matthew think of the roll of leather gathering dust on the shelf in garage. Ideas were floated about what to make out of it, and his lovely wife overheard the conversation and set about enrolling him in a leather making course.
She had found the gift to give the person who buys all his own things. It was something she knew he wanted, but probably would never do for himself. On his first fathers day he received a gift card, and his fate was sealed.
So Matthew completed the course in Sydney learning traditional leather crafting skills. How to saddle stitch, how to do stamping, how to join two flat objects together into a 3d shape.
It soon became his new hobby, after work in the evenings once his son had settled, to sit in the garage cutting leather and honing his skills. When it was time to sew, he’d set up out in the backyard under a portable light, hammering into the leather to start the stitching process.
It became an outlet for him, away from the hustle and bustle of the city grind. He even joined various Facebook groups that furthered his interest in leather goods.
Port Macquarie was calling the couple - they regularly visited family and friends in the area. They sought a more relaxed place to raise their family, close to the beach and bush, they sought a sense of freedom.
Four years ago they purchased a home in Port Macquarie and started looking for jobs so they could make the move. Finding a job was the trick.
Whilst researching job prospects, Matthew came across Harold Vickery & Son in Wauchope, just a short drive from Port Macquarie, and the business was for sale. Matthew and his wife, who was expecting their second child at the time, called Grandma to look after baby number one, and jumped in the car and set out to check out the business.
They both thought the business had untapped potential. It was being run from a 1950’s perspective, they could see room for expansion and modernisation. Machinery was still being used from the 70’s: it was great, still running and doing the job, but they thought it didn’t allow them to think in a different kind of fashion. To think about the way things can be done in 2020, 2021, 2022 even 10 years from now.
Matthew's mind went into action instantly. This place needs a laser cutter as a first thought. He told us, “I didn’t want to stand here and cut leather by hand all day, I'll look into a laser cutter for sure.”
But reality soon set in, the pandemic hit and Matthew continued with his hobby in the garage. Locked down in Sydney, he worked from home giving him an extra three hours or so of time saved from the normal commuting to his day job. He used the time wisely, researching leather materials and products, who’s making what already. Matthew immersed himself crafting belts, bags, and card wallets. He was learning.
Friends and family started asking for him to make them things; a toiletry bag, a notebook cover, bags, custom size leather belts for a mates wedding. He was finding that they appreciated the effort that goes into making something by hand. Eventually he even figured out what to do with the extra roll of leather, he turned it into a beach bag for their weekly trips with the kids down to lighthouse beach.
Eventually, life started to come back to some sense of normal, restrictions eased, and the decision was made to purchase Harold Vickery & Son
Yes, the name has remained. Matthew said, “I think the name is an important part of the story of the business, yes the machines’ from 1972, but the name is from 1862.”
Customers have also stood the test of time. People have been buying products from Harold Vickery & Son since World War I, before the Boer War, he told us. “Harold Vickery is reliable. A reliable product, reliable order system, you get what you asked for and on time.”
The strength of the brand is the name, the quality product it references and of course reliability in supply. The knowledge that product lines remain, they are manufactured in the same way, using the same machines has guaranteed the brand has stood the test of time. Modernisation will take place, it has to for the name to continue for another 160 years, but the brand and ethic will remain true.
The majority of the machines used are old, there are even some museum pieces sitting under dust covers out the back. They aren’t in use because parts are no longer available, the manufacturer has gone out of business or their supplier has. This will eventually be something the business won’t be able to support into the long term. New machines will need to be introduced.
For example Matthew showed us the 50th anniversary edition of the Singer Compound Sewing machine. “It still runs, it still does work. It’s a beast, but it's not a machine that we rely on a daily basis,” he said. “New machines have been purchased along the way. There’s a couple of Japanese sewing machines that were bought about 15 years ago. Big industrial machines that don't really wear out and they're really hard to break, thankfully.”
How do you bring modernity and innovation into an old business?
By using a perspective of how would the problem be solved today? How would you go about it if you were to walk in with fresh eyes and set to work? How would you do it if you had all the tools available that are out there today?
“The setup of the manufacturing business was all done pre-computers, all done with a slide rule, so to speak. I've got designs here that are from an external technical drawing expert, that's how it was done back then; we can do that in-house now.”
Nowadays, with computer aided design, 3D modelling can be implemented with reference to the original designs. The product that the customer needs to be made can change, and that change can flow through to our designers. Faster throughput is achieved by using a computer number controlled machine, and the technical work of making a 3d object out of flat materials is left to expert humans.
“That also brings the ability for product adaptation on a larger scale," commented Matthew. "We can make products to customers' unique specifications. Computerised methods are something we are implementing as we speak.”
Future vision for the business
Twelve months in and Matthew wants to take the business to the next level. Work on the e-commerce side of Harold Vickery & Son. Sell directly to the public.
“In the past, the business has been predominantly wholesale, orders would be 30, 100 belts at a time. Bulk orders. But if you don't work for a mining company for example, or you don't have an ABN, the barriers to being able to purchase our products were fairly significant.”
Matthew wants to take down those barriers, enabling individuals to purchase products straight from the new website. “These are time tested pieces of kit. People have been wearing them for 12 hours a day for years. If they weren't comfortable, they wouldn't buy them by the 100, and we will be offering them in the retail market via our site.”
The site will be live by the end of the month.
Matthew sums up his 12 month ownership of the historical business
Nobody can ever prepare you for being a parent, or owning a business. There are things and challenges that you just have to go through, he told us.
“I have consolidated what the business has been doing. Decided what we don't want to do anymore, what isn’t reasonable or cost effective to make, and then we have got in and got done what we want to keep doing.”
Matthew wants to be more involved with the community and is putting his foot forward by taking a trade stall at the Wauchope Show, something the business has not done in living memory. He realises that there are a lot of people doing it a bit tough at the moment and wants to help if he can. He wants to support those that are learning new trades, apprentices.
“If you're an apprentice going to the show, come say hello. Let us know what you’re doing, be it a plumber, welder or the like, say I'm an apprentice and we'll give you an apprentice discount.”
History & Pride of Yesteryear
Harold Vickery & Son was established by James Vickery Snr, an English migrant with a vision to manufacture and supply the highest quality leather goods for Australian businesses and individuals. Within the coming years, James Vickery Snr had found his place in Australia and history recorded that some of the finest leather goods could be viewed at his business in Saywell Street, Chatswood.
Harold Vickery followed in his father’s footsteps and developed a passion for the Australian leather industry. By 1917, Harold succeeded as the head of the company, retitled the company as Harold Vickery & Son and relocated to larger premises in Dunning Avenue, Rosebery.
By 1948, Harold’s son Jim Vickery had become the head of the company. Jim broadened and extended Harold Vickery & Son’s distribution, becoming specialists in quantity production as contractors to government departments and without overlooking day-to-day items, Harold Vickery & Son became famous with their Vixtan baby harness.
For over 160 years Harold Vickery & Son have supported a wide variety of clients from a range of industries including mining, construction and engineering and boast a catalogue of over 480 items all individually hand finished in Australia by Australians and all still made with the highest quality materials and the pride of yesteryear.
For all your commercial bulk or individual custom leather product requirements don’t hesitate to contact the friendly staff at Harold Vickery & Son and see what they can do for you, or call into the local retail stockist, Hilberts Hardware in Hastings Street, Wauchope.
Harold Vickery & Son
Ph: 02 6585 3966
2/9 Commerce Street
Wauchope NSW 2446
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