Milestone year starts with a rush

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A recent consignment of Poly Flex couplings ready for shipping to South America.
A recent consignment of Poly Flex couplings ready for shipping to South America.

This year marks 35 years since Poly Flex first started making couplings and engine mounts for the marine industry – and it looks like being one of the busiest ever.

The new year got off to a flying start for local manufacturer Poly Flex based in Queensland – a sign perhaps that the boat building and repair sector is beginning to become more active. The company is well-known internationally and locally for its wide range of engine mounting and coupling systems for the marine industry as well as for other sectors such as mining and defence.

Tracey Gagen at Poly Flex said the holiday period is usually the slowest time for business but this year customers were lining up to place orders right after the Christmas break.

“The boys started working overtime from the first week back,” she said. “There is usually a quiet start to the year but this year we worked overtime on the first Saturday back and have continued on from there.”

One major customer in Asia wanted engine mounts for a series of survey boats it was building and Poly Flex ended up supplying the entire order – over 100 mounts.

While the local market has been comparatively slow to pick up, Poly Flex has a strong international reputation and, after several years of high exchange rates, the dollar is finally working more kindly in its favour.

“The exchange rate does make a difference,” said Tracey Gagen. “A lower dollar makes people know they're getting a better deal.”

The list of countries that the company supplies to reads like a roll call at the United Nations – South Africa, India, Chile, Paraguay, Belize, The Caribbean, Spain, Panama, the Middle East and throughout Asia. Remarkably, the company has three distributors in Iceland, each one of which sells a different brands of engines but which are nevertheless united in their preference for specifying Poly Flex engine mounts.

Home-grown success

Today Poly Flex supplies about 2,000 models of engine mounts and over 200 types of flexible disc couplings, all which are manufactured at the company’s factory at Clontarf in Queensland. Polymer moulding, metal work and machining are all done in-house to guarantee quality control – and that’s the way it has always been done.

This year marks the company’s 35th anniversary of manufacturing, dating back to the time in 1981 when Tracey’s father, Brian Gagen, made his first coupling for a boat he was building (Tracey jokes that her father is better at remembering that date than family birthdays).

Since then word-of-mouth has been the most important factor in the company’s growth; people in the industry who know and use the products recommend them. While engine suppliers are able bring in products that have been manufactured much more cheaply in countries where labour costs are lower and manufacturing is subsidised, many boat builders and repairers nevertheless favour Poly Flex because of the superior performance.

Customer service is another critical factor. In this age of just-in-time production and reduced inventories, everybody wants their components delivered yesterday. Negotiating the logistics of supplying to dozens of countries around the world is part of the daily routine for Poly Flex and one which it has learnt to manage skilfully over the years.

Participation in trade shows is also a key activity in helping to spread the word globally. The METSTRADE show in Amsterdam is a vital showcase while the Singapore boat show provides a gateway to the Asian market. Locally, the company will be exhibiting this year at SCIBS and Sydney while supporting distributors at Melbourne and Adelaide.

The busy start to the year doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon.

This article first appeared in the April-May 2016 issue of Marine Business magazine.

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