One wonders how many public servants have dreamt of throwing in the towel and starting their own business. It might sound exciting but it is also risky and involves a lot of hard work, determination and luck.
This is the tale behind what is now one of Canberra’s business success stories – Monaro Screens in Fyshwick.
And as with any good story, there was no easy road to success – the plot is filled with a lot of fears, twists and hardship before personal drive and a commitment to ‘serve as you want to be served’ win the day.
Dave Byatt is the face behind this success story and remembers all too well the early days after starting the business in 1994 with his good friend Henry Posch when he thought he would have to pack it all in.
Taking 12 months leave from a solid public service job to start his own business, Dave recalls starting from scratch with a van they leased at auction, rented premises at Queanbeyan and the bare basics.
“I literally took the tools out of our garden shed and that is what I started with,” Dave said.
Dave had been working a second job for about four years for his friend’s window company before taking the plunge and had a strong desire to start his own business in a similar but slightly less complex field.
Using the skills he had learned in that job and some training he received in Melbourne, as well as support and advice from Henry, Dave set about manufacturing and installing shower screens, robes, mirrors, flyscreens and security doors. And in the first 12 months, he didn’t earn a cent for himself.
“The first 12 months were very scary. We wondered whether we’d made the right decision,” said Dave who, at that stage, was doing all the work by himself, including manufacturing everything.
“At the start, I took the calls, measured and installed,” said Dave.
For most of that time Dave was sure he would be going back to his public service job but after the first year, he was finally able to draw a wage from the business.
His wife and business partner, Deirdre, was helping out while raising their young family and working in two part-time jobs and so life was hectic for them both.
However, after about two years they were able to start employing people and things became easier, although in those early years Dave still installed everything himself.
Moving to Canberra’s industrial centre
Monaro Screens gradually prospered and grew until it was too big for the rented premises in Queanbeyan.
The business’s accountant, Andrew Sykes from RSM, suggested they move to Fyshwick and they found the right premises to buy in that suburb but were initially turned down by a lender.
“Andrew set up a meeting with the ANZ Bank and they signed off on the spot,” Dave recalls. “We give a lot of the credit for our success to him.”
The move to Wollongong Street, Fyshwick proved to be a turning point for Monaro Screens which then went on from strength to strength.
“Fyshwick was a different world. It is really the hub of Canberra’s industrial centre,” said Dave.
“It opened up doors for us and was a nicer environment to work in, with cafes nearby and a much busier environment which meant a larger customer base.
“It was a bigger building and we were able to build a fit-for-purpose showroom and manufacturing factory.”
That was 12 years ago and Monaro Screens hasn’t looked back, taking on more staff, expanding its services and growing into a larger professional company.
In the last financial year alone, Monaro Screens has grown by 36 per cent compared to the previous financial year and has increased from 13 staff to 17.
It regularly receives five star reviews from customers and has an established after-sales service program.
Serving people the way you would like to be served
Dave attributes a lot of the business’s success to their commitment to really helping their customers.
“Deirdre and I are from the country and we have always run our business and served people like we would want to be served,” said Dave.
“You turn up when you say you will and we only sell quality products.”
Monaro Screens has always been very much a family business with the Byatt’s’ two older sons working at the business in the past, and their youngest son Ben currently working as the office manager after joining the business four years ago and working his way up.
Most popular products
The business’s most popular products in recent years have tended to be its Crimsafe security products and semi-frameless shower screens, although there are a host of other popular products.
Monaro Screens became a licensed Crimsafe supplier about 14 years ago and Dave said the products are the best in the market. The Crimsafe products have grown in popularity in Canberra as people look to make their homes safer, with Monaro Screens sales of these products increasing significantly in the last two years.
Dave said that semi-frameless shower screens have been particularly popular in the last seven years, providing an attractive compromise between the framed shower screens of the past and the completely frameless screens which are much more expensive.
Dave said that Canberrans are often discerning consumers who are well-informed about the best products to buy and this has meant that the business’s commitment to quality products has served it well.
Making a difference
Dave also strongly believes that it’s important for businesses to be active in supporting the community and this has influenced their relationship with Canberra’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service.
He said the service is a ‘priority customer’ for Monaro Screens in terms of providing Crimsafe screens and the like when needed, with a fast turnaround helping to ensure better security for people in often vulnerable situations.
“It’s making a difference to people’s lives and it means a lot to us,” said Dave.
Now in its 25th year, Monaro Screens looks set to continue its business success story and Dave has no regrets about his original decision to leave the public service and start his own business.
“It was a great decision – I wouldn’t change it,” he said. Definitely a story with a happy ending!