How a Bendigo family engineering business has the world in a spin

From a revolving restaurant in Qatar, to a Las Vegas casino whisky bar, to a Tehran telecommunication tower, Australian Turntable Company has gone truly global.

Paul Chapman, 69, launched Australian Turntable Company back in 1990.

Best business decision ever, in his view.

Paul ChapmanSince opening, the family operation has morphed into a Victorian juggernaut, employing 37, exporting to 23 countries and launching branches this year in both Mumbai and the United States.

Who would’ve thought a circular rotating system would be in such hot demand?

Even a global pandemic hasn’t stopped the orders flowing in.

“In July, we installed a truck turntable loading dock in New York over Zoom with local sub-contractors,” states Paul. “Sales slowed early in the pandemic but then turned around quickly, particularly in the last six months. The dilemma for most in the construction supply chain is delays and, on our return to being allowed back on sites, the delays will impact installations. But I’m very confident Australia will bounce back quickly and soon. Innovators and entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature and as we say: ‘It'll all work out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out, then it’s not the end’.”

Although their core business is the design, manufacture and installation of car and truck turntables for driveways and loading docks, other assignments have kept Paul and his crew hard at it as well.

Turntable system used for car display. We’re talking projects such as an Adelaide Convention Centre theatre auditorium with two rotating tiered revolving stages each seating 350 people, a 70-tonne capacity tilt table for an Australian Defence Force testing facility at Monegeetta in Victoria, and a 20-metre diameter turntable for 60-tonne semi-trailers on a mining site in Colombia which “has completely changed the game for the client and improved his truck movements by a multiple of five times.”

By far the company’s biggest achievement in the past two years, according to Paul, has been developing a ‘first to market’ product for the world’s construction and infrastructure sector. “Relocatable truck turntables for tunnel builds and construction sites have eliminated accidents on-site and sped up truck movements,” he says. “We also have a train turntable to deliver to San Francisco’s Bay Area Rail Transit Authority in December.”

The business is international in outlook when it comes to staff, too.

Engineers from England, Iran, Lebanon and South Africa have been on the payroll, as have refugees, Paul explains. “Refugees employed of late have been mostly Afghani whilst interns from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been able to grow and take senior roles in our company. Many young men and women from around the world have been through the doors over our 34 years.”

Back where it all began

Turntable system at Qatar revolving restaurantPaul’s globally-recognised rotating floor idea stems from a visit to his dad’s place in the late 1980’s when he noticed his 85-year-old father having a hard time reversing out of his driveway.

After his dad suggested a turntable would solve the problem, Paul realised it could have serious commercial appeal.

So, Paul – who owned and operated the Colbinabbin Hotel north-east of Bendigo with his wife Netty – began collaborating with his engineer brother Mike to design and build the first turntables to take to market.

Mike subsequently retired and in 1990, Paul and Netty opened Australian Turntable Company in Bendigo.

Paul stresses his operation is no different to thousands of other small to medium businesses in Australia with a can-do attitude “except for the fact that we’re very much global thinkers. We know Australia can deliver great quality and value to compete against low-price poor-quality competitors. Leadership and management drive innovative thinking and continual improvement, whilst a real point of difference is our belief in the value of research and development. Our experiences recognise that failure will accompany us along the way, so consequently, we’re not afraid to fail.”

His advice to other Victorian exporters navigating their way through the pandemic is firstly, back yourselves with optimism and confidence. “You can do it!” he urges. “There’s one thing for certain currently: the Australian made brand is stronger than ever and very highly respected, so get on the front foot.”

Global Victoria has partnered with the Australian Turntable Company on their export journey, most recently with support through the Global Gateway grant program. This funding has allowed them to develop and implement a marketing strategy to generate greater awareness of their relocatable construction site turntables within the construction industries in the US and South America.

Paul’s top three export tips during a pandemic

Deliver quality

“Don't sell yourself short: the markets will pay for quality and real value. Also, remember that for some markets, the exchange rate is in our favour.”

Ensure you have proven reliable freight forwarders

“They’re a very important part of the supply chain.”

Adapt quickly

“Aussies are masters of adapting and innovating quickly. Show your customers that you can deliver, no matter what.”