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Growing up in the industry
By Cliff Stanley, CEO
I grew up already entrenched in a generational window furnishing company. My father and grandfather started a small wood venetian blind company in the garage of our Sydney home in the late 1970’s. Through an unwavering passion for the industry and a commitment to innovation, our family business grew to become one of the largest holistic manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and turnkey providers of blinds and shutters in the Australian market.
My father’s commitment to innovation wasn’t just about creating our own unique products and approach to market (though we did a lot of that)… it was also about global sourcing, travel and learning market trends from other parts of the world. He was always ahead of what everyone else was doing. This philosophy that the world was one big playing field really took a hold with me. It has shaped my decision making every step of the way, and is the biggest single reason that my vision for TWO to be a global company exists today.
I came from a single family home and lived with my father. The reality of trying to raise me while running a large and geographically spread out company meant that I went to so many meetings and met so many customers, vendors and industry people at an early age. It still surprises me how many people come up and say “I remember when you were 12, or how is your father going”. It seems like once you’re in the industry – you never leave! I was even dragged along on some of the international trips and although sometimes boring, I loved the opportunity and quality time with my father. It’s how I met my wife…
My father was importing lumber from O’Hair shutters in the late 90’s and through a combination of friendship and having children at similar ages, our families became very close. When my wife was deciding which university to attend for her Masters degree, she picked Australia and we became her surrogate family. The rest is history.
Not that I appreciated it at the time, but looking back I really value the school holidays earning ‘pocket money’ at our various manufacturing locations. Understanding what it really meant to build custom goods, the daily logistical issues of supplying product and realization that even when someone else lets you down – you still have to find a way to deliver your promises to your client! It was a great lesson to learn early and helped develop my entrepreneurial spirit.
As I was leaving high school, my father was fortunate to be in the position to sell the business. He asked me whether I wanted to take it over and like most young kids; I had dreams of doing something far more interesting than what I thought was my dad’s stuffy blind and shutter business. I said no. However, as the sale of the business progressed we had a sudden exit of our financial controller and so with no real world qualifications and a few complementary university credits I was given charge of running HR, accounting, compliance and general administration of over 100 employees. It was sink or swim and I loved it! I was 20 at the time.
What I thought was a boring company was actually a dynamic and engaging platform to test my business acumen and improve upon the knowledge and skillset of the previous two generations. So, when the sale finally went through, I had already made up my mind to start all over again. With two former employees as partners and a youthful naivety about the stark realities of what it meant to be a startup company… we began.
In reality, we had a dream start in Australia. We narrowed our focus back to shutters and embarked on a partnership with a previous supplier who was Australian Chinese and to this day remains one of the best people I know. We built everything from scratch to mimic our Australian operations, but with the efficiency and logistic advantages of China. It has been our secret to success. We had good product, competitive pricing and leveraged the reputation of what my family had already built. Only 3 years in and we had already replaced the national footprint that my family’s old business had taken 30 years to develop. It was time to start setting my sights on the next challenge. America.
7 months pregnant with our first child, we packed our things and moved to Dallas. I was 25 and it was the middle of the GFC. Again naively, I thought that because we were successful in Australia and had already encountered all the main competitors… it would be a shoo-in. Man was I wrong. We were the last player to market in the most competitive part of the world and in reality we had very little that was different/exciting enough to entice people to switch to us. The added level of competition provided by domestic product (which didn’t exist in Australia) also posed so many hurdles for us in the early years.
We battled on... and over the next 5 years changed our business model 3 or 4 times in order to find the secret sauce again. We got back to innovating and not just our products. TWO and the way we do business is an entirely new way of partnering with our customers to what is otherwise represented by the other large manufacturers. The journey to find our secret sauce was very humbling and I value the personal growth that challenges like this bring. I feel like if you can make it work at the worst time, in the hardest market with a mature product category and still manage to make yourself stand out… then you have really achieved something to be proud of.
Now, more than 10 years in, TWO is active in Australia, Asia, the UK and America. We are recognized as the second largest manufacturer of wood shutters in the world and also the world leader in aluminum patio shutters. We continue to innovate, use our global sourcing and networks to impact change in each of our local markets and are true to our humble family roots.
I am excited to see what the next 10 years bring.