Date posted: September 12, 2016

A family-owned business that produces bespoke Australian-made, quality sheet metal lockers, storage units and benches – Davell Products based at Kirrawee – celebrates 70 years (on 9 September 2016) having achieved great success as well as surviving industry changes, pressures from export markets and the global financial crisis.

Set up in 1946 with a modest investment of $60 by Ross Davies and Thomas Bidewell – whose combined names make ‘Davell‘ – its first successful product in post-war Australia was an electric stovette, sold with the slogan ‘Cook each day the Davell Way!’ These stovettes, which evolved into upright stoves, were of high quality, energy efficient, easy to install, compact, clean and convenient. They also proved very popular, Davell sold thousands.

Current owner, Brenton Gray is married to Thomas Bidewell’s granddaughter, Lisa, and took over the business when Lisa’s father, Brian Bidewell, retired, selling the business to his son-in-law and Gray’s business partner, Scott Brew. Gray later bought Brew’s share but Scott still works as production manager, having been part of Davell now for 35 years, which reflects the company’s strong family culture.

“Davell was created by two smart, entrepreneurial men who saw an opportunity in post war Australia and made it work. It was a true blue attitude,” he said.

“The use of electricity had increased and energy efficient stoves were in demand so they made a great success of the business. The quality of the work was all important and they built a respected reputation, which we keep up today with our locker and storage manufacturing, which are all made on-site at Kirrawee.

“The unique thing about Davell is that it has managed to stay a family oriented business with the sons of Davies and Bidewell taking over the company from their fathers. I am happy to say I was able to keep it in the family by eventually buying the business,” he said.

But over the years the products have changed from stoves to a variety of storage units such as lockers and cabinets plus other industrial-style furniture required by large organisations.

“Like all companies we have diversified and grown with our products as demand and needs change has shifted, which I believe is why we have survived this long,” Gray said.

The enamelled, chrome stove were the rage for some time but ceased production in 1987 and have diversified into the products they produce today.

Davell’s staff numbers have also changed over the years with manufacturing processes from having a factory of around 100, many women, assembling the stovettes which had many components. Now there are 25 staff, many who have migrated for different parts of the world having different religious backgrounds and cultural backgrounds, many of them having worked there for many years.

“We are a little bit like the United Nations being very diverse in culture but united in our goals – which are to work as a team, support each other and manufacture quality bespoke storage products.

But business always has its challenges and Gray is not averse to these. He understands the lay of the land well, having worked as a young man for his own family’s shoe business – the Betta Shoe Factory in Rockdale – started by his grandmother in 1927, which he later took over with his brother. This was a thriving until changes in tariff protection and cheap shoe imports killed business, ceasing manufacturing in 1992.

After the shoe business closed, Gray continued on the entrepreneurial track along with his wife when they moved with the family to Mittagong and set up Grayco Foods, which won the inaugural Southern Highlands Business Awards for Business of the year. They sold the successful business in 1998, which is still called Grayco Foods, when Gray decided to help his father-in-law at Davell later buying the business in 2005.

“Business was tough during the GFC and we have battled with import and export changes, fighting our way through this time. Our success has been to concentrate on custom made products – we do everything in-house with our products made in Australia. Steel is brought in, assembled and powder-coated all onsite. We tried importing from places like China but it was not of good quality so we have stayed Australian of which we are very proud,” said Gray.

Their client list is also impressive, from schools to major corporate companies.

“We have just completed work for Qantas providing around 350 lockers for their change rooms at the terminal international and domestic and Sydney. Each client has different needs and we get involved with the interior design of the area, matching what is required with a variety of colours and formats. It makes for interesting work,” he said.

As an example of innovation, Davell’s latest locker range includes an option where portable electronic devices can be charged. The lockers provide ideal charging stations for schools, universities, libraries, backpacker accommodation, offices and warehouses and features three different units with 11 charging compartments, containing a power pixel that can be either twin USB and GPO (general power outlet) or twin USB.

In these tough times its good to see an Australian family, true blue business surviving the storm and striving for success. Happy birthday!

For further information contact Brenton Gray: