Doing Business Differently
An Interview with Coastline Kitchens
[The following is an edited version of a longer interview that Clinton Bergsma conducted with the owners and managers of Coastline Kitchens, a cabinetry business in Perth, WA. Being interviewed are Daniel Bosveld (co-owner), Willem Vanderven (manager), and Danny Brown (manager). Many thanks to Beth Heron for transcribing this interview. – JC]
So, could you give us a brief history of Coastline Kitchens, how did it start, and how did you get to where you are?
(Daniel) Many years ago my brother Richard had a car accident, and Brian (my other brother) and myself needed to run this cabinet shop for a while. We quite enjoyed it, so we moved from Armadale to Rockingham and started our own cabinet shop in 1988.
Many years later, we had a lot more machinery and needed to put in place some better systems, so then we engaged a person from the engineering sector, which is Willem, as our general manager and also did all the processes and procedures. Then Danny joined us at a very similar time to look after all the staffing in the factory and production.
So what’s the annual turnover?
(Daniel) Currently our annual turnover is around $21 million per year.
You predominantly build kitchen cabinets and laundry cabinets, and how many kitchens or houses would you do each day roughly?
(Willem) So during 2014/15, which is the busiest Coastline has ever been, we were doing almost close to a 100 per week. Probably around 10-12 kitchens a day right now.
And how many employees are there?
(Willem) Roughly we’ve got about 70 staff that are on our books. There are a mix of some casuals, and a couple of part-timers. Most of them are full-timers.
Coastline has a lot of long-term employees like yourself Danny. Why is that?
(Danny) Obviously it’s a really good place to work in, the management are really good to work for. It’s a comfortable place to work in, as far as the actual environment we work in. It also comes down to the people whom you work with out there, there’s a really good bunch of people who work out there, everybody really enjoys coming to work, so I think that helps a lot as well. Everyone gets along.
I’m aware Coastline tends to go above and beyond in terms of its requirements by the law for the employees; can you share some of the ways that Coastline does that?
(Danny) Well, the wages are definitely above and beyond, as far as the industry goes, so that’s attractive to people. We’re very flexible as well, to the workforce, particularly if they’re mums.
A number of times people have left, tried different things, and then come back to Coastline because it is a great place to work.
Why does Coastline do that? Is there any benefit?
(Daniel) We need to love each other, and I think the basis for health and safety can be two things: you either do it to tick all the boxes, or you do it because you care for people around you. I think that people at Coastline Kitchens care for each other, that is definitely encouraged by management, but it’s the people themselves that act it out. I know a lady in the office has had a relationship breakdown and I people just drop into the office and say “How are you going?” I believe that means a lot to people.
So I joke about it in our lunch room presentations: love God and love your neighbour, and if you don’t love God, at least love your neighbour. I think if you use that as a basis of health and safety, it creates a work place where it is safe and it is where people want to work. So, yes, we do pay above award wages, yes, we do provide an excellent work place, and in return, I believe, that people respond by doing their best. And that creates a better bottom line.
Business premises from above showing the large solar array. These panels generate approximately 30% of site electricity, saving money and coal.
I’m also aware that Coastline employs people with disabilities, on a number of occasions, and that sometimes that has worked really well, and that sometimes that hasn’t worked out.
(Danny) About 5-6 years ago we had a young guy; I’m not exactly sure what his disability was, but he was capable of doing some fairly basic tasks. He had a little bit of a temper, so although we tried to get him into assembly and those sorts of things, which he wanted to do, it didn’t work. Where it has worked, we’ve got Jonathan, who works in the stores area. Jonathan has autism, so obviously a different character. But he works very well down there, because he’s very thorough: he has to do things a certain way, and that works very well in the stores area. Jonathan’s probably been here for about 10 years. And then there’s Clinton. He works really well. His mental capacity is of a very young age, but because everyone is very accepting here, and Clinton loves everybody, it works really well, and he’s actually very capable. So he does all the assembly work for the kick rails, does all the driving round with the floor sweep, so keeps it pretty clean there. Puts his radio earmuffs on and away he goes: mows the lawns, and he fills his day up with jobs you’d have to find someone else to do. That works really well.
(Willem) Daniel and Brian have taught us as well, that all staff come with weaknesses and abilities. God has made us in all different manners, different talents, and I think that as management teams, we’ve been able to encourage each other to find the best in each employee and try to focus the jobs so that their natural skills come to the fore.
I’m aware this is a male-dominated industry generally. How has Coastline tried to create a space for women in the work place here?
(Danny) We’ve always had women within the factory environment. We’ve had that balance there; I think it works really well. Women tend to have a better attention to detail, and those sorts of things. They get stuck in and work hard down there and they set an example for some of the guys. We’ve recently just taken on eight apprentices, three of which are ladies. And they’re doing exactly the same work as the other guys, and doing a great job.
I know that Daniel, Willem and Brian are very open about their faith. How have you found sharing that with your employees in a way that doesn’t abuse the power that comes with your position?
(Daniel) I think that we try and share our faith by our actions rather than by words. We don’t have to tell people that we love them, we can love them by the way in which we act towards them. So much the same way as your Christian faith – you don’t need to tell them, you just need to act out your Christian faith.
I might switch to Coastline’s environmental standards. What are some of the things that Coastline Kitchens has done to reduce waste?
(Daniel) First of all, buying material that doesn’t affect the environment too much; minimal impact on the environment. So when we source our materials we will look for Emissions Zero board, which means it has minimal or zero formaldehydes, minimal chemicals, and comes from sustainable timber. Once you get that in, you need to optimise it the best you can, so minimise your waste, because any bit of waste you produce will end up either recycled—which is not as good as using it for its purpose—or as landfill. So our top priority is to optimise: we make sure that our software does that really, really well. Now there is a little bit of effort in saving an offcut and bringing it back for another job, but also it means you don’t just throw that away. I don’t mind when the cost of landfill tonnage goes up because the driver for reducing landfill for most people is dollars per tonne. The more people have to pay to get rid of it, the more they’ll try not to.
Are there other ways that you try to reduce waste?
(Willem) Stone is another one. We do stone benchtops, as an example. So you do try to minimise there as well, and we’ve created some special software to be able to catalogue and re-use offcuts at various levels and various areas.
(Daniel) In Perth, there are lots of small businesses having the same problems where you might have a particular coloured stone left over, and each stone slab is worth, say, about $650. We’ve created a database of 40-50 suppliers—they’re on a group email system. So when we need a particular colour for a job, before we buy the whole slab, we put that up on our little database of suppliers and say do you have this colour? And then we’ll buy an off-cut of that colour from that person. So where you might require a $650 slab for a job, and of that, ¾ would be put into landfill, now you’re buying a piece from another supplier for the same thing and now we’re paying $250 for the piece that we require, he’s got $250 for the piece that’s he’s got left over. Only one slab is required for both small suppliers, and one slab didn’t go to landfill. We win, they win, and the environment wins.
How does Coastline Kitchens go about reducing its energy consumption in the manufacturing process?
(Willem) We’re a large manufacturer and we do use a lot of power. So we put a large rooftop solar, as big as you can go until you consider the power generated. That does about 30% of our capacity, and that definitely does make a big difference. It does save us money, but at the same time we’re not burning coal, which is the biggest use here in WA. We’ve also adapted our machinery and made our own designs to reduce electricity consumption.
Stone tops use a lot of water as well. Can you share how Coastline tries to reduce its water usage?
(Willem) We would go through a 25m swimming pool of water every day. So we put in a fairly large recycle system which then allows us to recycle the water, it pulls out the sediments pretty well, and then recycles and re-uses that water. We actually got a Water Corp Award for the recycling of water.
Coastline has also become a collection point for some waste streams that have nothing to do with Coastline. Can you share about those issues?
(Daniel) That initiative comes from one of our staff. We all use batteries in our households, but if each one of us has got to take a battery to a recycling place, it’s hardly worth the effort. So our IT guy said, ‘Why don’t we put two collection points at Coastline Kitchens, so the 60-70 staff that come to the one place, bring their batteries here?’ I collect them in the office, Henry collects them in the factory, and then once a week or once a month we take them to a battery recycling place. That’s a wonderful example of where a very small thing, you can use your workplace, as kind of almost like a place of community where you bring your things from home to here.
Do you know roughly as a percentage how much of Coastline’s waste is currently recycled?
(Willem) We are trying to get to 90%. I’m quite confident—if I can say that—that next year we’ll be there.
Coastline Kitchens maintains many racks of offcuts like this one: a bit more effort means saving money and material.
'We would go through a 25m swimming pool of water every day. So we put in a fairly large recycle system which then allows us to recycle the water.'
How does Coastline remain competitive, but at the same time you’re sort of leading the charge on environmental stuff in this industry? Does that make sense?
(Daniel) Money isn’t the main driver. It’s fun working, and it’s fun looking after what you’ve been given to look after. Coastline Kitchens is very competitive with what we do, even in its environmental care. When we share this story, people want to deal with us, and I think, it’s not the reason we do it, but the spinoff has been that price is not the only thing that drives the consumer or the business that wants to deal with us. When we share our story, and we do have factory tours, we hope that will also inspire others to do similar, or better than what we are doing. If you don’t make the profit your only driver—obviously you need to make a profit to make it work—but if work is more than simply just devising a profit, it’s also a place where a community lives, then it stays successful.
Have you had an influence in the industry, or on supply in terms of environmental standards?
One example: the directors of a company we buy board from came here a few years ago, and they saw the efforts that we’re making caring for creation, and they said, well, if cabinetmakers can do it, we certainly can, because they were a much larger company than us. They would spend $100 million (per year) in producing board. They now have a 32,000 panel solar system, they’ve also got water filtration systems and they’ve gone closed loop manufacturing, which means they try to keep all waste within their own manufacturing circle, so they don’t ship their waste out.
I know Coastline has also supported a lot of local community organisations, and a lot of local people as well, and also internationally as well.
(Daniel) Yes, Coastline is involved with a lot of other organisations, both locally and overseas, but I want to first point out that’s because all the people here are part of that, and make it possible. Our local initiatives work with an organisation that deals with people who have lost their way in life and become homeless, or got into drugs and need rehab. The work that we do overseas is largely through financial donations because it’s distant.
Well thanks a lot guys, that’s really helpful.