Ep 15 Marc Levin for furniture maker Jason L talks about the WHS challenges of a growing furniture business

Brendan: Welcome to Episode 15 of the Australian Health and Safety Business Podcast. I’m Brendan Torazzi, the director of OHS.com.au, Australia’s first online health and safety training marketplace. Today I’m here with Marc Levin from JasonL. How are you going Marc?

Marc: Hey Brendan.

Brendan: Tell me a little bit about what Jason JasonL does.

Marc: JasonL is your office furniture mate. We design, import and distribute all things office furniture related. We supply these small to medium sized enterprise with one, two or a full put out of office furniture ultimately looking to make their purchase easy and affordable for the decision maker.

Brendan: We’re out here in Botany now in a warehouse style environment. Tell me how many staff do you have here and what are some the, I noticed you have a bit of plant downstairs. Tell me a little bit about the set up.

Marc: JasonL has 40 staff around three locations mostly at our Botany Warehouse and Distribution Center. The business over the years has grown from a pure play online business to what they call an omnichannel business with warehouse and distribution. Our warehouse in Botany is probably about 3000 squares. We probably I think the last check we’ve got about 3000 pallets spaces. It’s a particularly high warehouse. It’s about 11 meters high at the center point which is about six levels high. It makes for a very interesting forklift journey.

Brendan: How many guys or girls would be operating forklifts in the business?

Marc: There’s probably four certified forklift drivers. Two solely for the pallets, four total but we actually do our own forklift induction because of the heart of the warehouse. It’s not all that often that you get an 11 meter high span. We actually got two grades of forklift drivers. It’s an entry level and then a senior. The senior needs to have done a certain number of hours with us before they can get on to the levels five and six.

Brendan: What sorts of things could go wrong?

Marc: So much. Initially to tell you a funny story when we had moved into this particular site which was a little over three years ago we had one of the new guys learning on the forklift and getting his induction. He took the mast too high, hit a sprinkler and literally the sprinkler exploded open, drenched a column of stock. It was not only that he got drenched himself but we lost a fair bit of stock and fire engine came out and the whole lot. It’s not understanding the height of the mast of the forklift and really just not being aware of the surroundings. That is one of a host of things that can go wrong.

Another experience at a previous site again with forklifts and not knowing your heights. We had a glass office that was on top of a parking lot. We had one of the forklift guys move or had his mast too high. It went straight into the glass panelling which was thank God, no one was hurt but brought down a pane of glass with the forklift. I mean there’s hundreds of things that can go wrong.

Brendan: Moving parts, I guess it could be quite a steep learning curve at times.

Marc: Fortunately or unfortunately it’s the nature of our product. It’s heavy and bulky and everything is palletized. All the picking is done with pallets, either a pallet jack or a manual forklift or the full electric forklift. It’s quite an important aspect in our business.

Brendan: When things do go wrong as they do in every single business. We’re all learning. What do you do with that? Did that change your operations in any way, those events or you had to tighten things up?

Marc: We’re no different to any other business. We’re ultimately a small business growing. There is a fine line between having the resources to do everything perfectly and trying to cover business as usual. We have just recently signed up to a WHS online platform that is quite integrated both from a legal point of view and a process point of view. We’re starting to document and video and have barcoding around the warehouse that allows us to help and prevent these kinds of things. Also from an induction and training point of view we’re trying to get on the front foot with a lot of the training rather than it being very manual and tedious. We’ve now tried to take it a little bit more tech based with barcodes and videos for a lot of the processes. In specific response to the forklifts that is why we introduced a two tier system where your entry level forki will only do the bottom three pallets. The only ones who pass the second induction with our business over a certain number of hours will you go to the higher ones because we’ve seen pallets and products drop from high levels. That is really dangerous. Off the back of those two incidences we implemented a change in our system.

Brendan: Are you 24/7 here or not at the moment?

Marc: No, not at the moment. We’ve been talking about a second shift but at the moment it’s a single shift starting at 7AM finishing at 4.

Brendan: That is I guess a way as the business grows you’ve got some capacity there potentially there to put on another shift.

Marc: Yes, I think we’ve got a long, we’re still learning and still growing. I think definitely if the growth in the business continues a second shift is absolutely something that we have thought about and spoken about but we’re not quite there yet.

Brendan: The health and safety systems apart from a safety point of view is there any kind of monetary returns as well? If you’re having less accidents or less incidents, less mistakes I’m curious to hear because from the people who is selling the WHS systems there’s compliance but I’m wondering in real life whether that actually means that you can make some cost savings.

Marc: I think from a premium point of view you probably are right. That will come down. It might take a couple of years for those premiums, workers comp and such to come down once you’re showing improvements but for us it’s on the other side to be honest in our industry, in order to be a government supplier or a tender to government side you’ve got to be pretty proactive and have what they call an ISO certification. In order to pass an ISO certification you need to have the business running in a certain way. One of the pieces that we’ve got to pass is the WHS side. If we dont we actually can’t move forward to become a government certified supplier. That is a strategic goal of ours for about 12 months’ time. It’s less about the cost saving. It’s more about the investment in order to get to that tender level because once we are on that level from a revenue point of view I think it will be majorly beneficial and see some substantial sales increase.

Brendan: I guess if the competitors aren’t there that gives you another reason why you would win a tender I guess.

Marc: I think we’ve got a vertically integrated business. It’s a little more complicated for us to get those certifications and to become WHS completely compliant because of the nature of our warehouse and some of the manufacturing we do. It’s quite a task to get to that level of compliance as opposed to some of the other competitors that might be a dealer or a shop front or something like that.

Brendan: You’ve got multiple sites as you said so. You’ve got four locations was it?

Marc: Yes, four locations. Fourth one coming online next month. There are also delivery vehicles, install teams and that all has to then also be covered with emergency procedures and safety procedures from a WHS point of view. Being on site and understanding what to look out for, the delivery guys, the equipment that they need, the installers, how do they install safely, all wraps up in a really big piece of work but as I said, we’re really working hard to become ISO certified.

Brendan: You’ll get there. Every journey starts with a step.

Marc: I think we’ll definitely get there. It’s a strategic goal of the company and everyone is on board.

Brendan: Do you know about how Melbourne or Victoria has different OHS, they’re still OHS and pretty much the rest of the country is now WHS except for WA. I know you’re not in WA but the systems their basic foundations whilst some legislation may have some different words you’ll be able to adapt and grow.

Marc: Good, I’m glad we have the conversation.

Brendan: Keep an eye out for that one.

Marc: As I said, we’re on a learning curve around this. We’ve just literally signed up to our online platform that will give us a lot of different…

Brendan: Is that WHS Systems?

Marc: Yes.

Brendan: I just had Phil on the show.

Marc: We love what he is doing and love the platform he has put together.

Brendan: The simplicity of it but the complexity of it at the same time.

Marc: I think that is a right combination of both. I love the tech enablement that he is starting to introduce which is really one of the reasons that I was drawn to really just get off the paper based systems that are out there and starting to incorporate a little bit of technology which really enticed me into it but yes, using that platform specifically around the other states is going to help us understand what is required.

JasonL is your office furniture mate. We design, import and distribute all of our own office furniture countrywide. Myself and my brother Jason are the co-founders of the business. We ultimately look to make the purchasing and fit out journey of small to medium sized businesses easier.

Brendan: Did you flip a coin over the name?

Marc: He is the prettier one. He got the naming rights.

Brendan: He is the poster boy.

Marc: It actually started because of the logo and some of the branding in the early days. We wanted it to be personable. In the industry there is a lot of last names or there is a lot of really atypical kind of names for office furniture around and we wanted to turn it on its head a bit and have a first name to be personable. Then with that the logo came with a desk that needed a J and an L in it. Long story short. It just worked out that the JasonL and the desk logo worked.

Brendan: Right amount of letters.

Marc: Right amount of feel and what it looked like and the first name basis. We just ran with it.

Brendan: I was playing around in your website last week. It’s a pretty impressive website. How long has that taken to? It’s quite sophisticated.

Marc: Like most journeys we have come a long way. We are nine years into our start-up or our business. It’s probably our fourth website iteration to be honest. You’re talking about probably every two years we’ve changed our website for a whole lot of different reasons mainly because the technology has changed so fast. We’ve never wanted to be left with an old platform and an old language. Over the years as we’ve changed the platforms and changes and seen what works and what doesn’t we’ve tried to incorporate obviously the pieces that do work and those that dont we leave behind. We’re now working on Shopify. We’ve been on Shopify probably about two years. It’s been a massive change for us from the last platform which is Magento. We couldn’t be happier. We’re getting much more accurate data. The user experience is much easier and the back end from a reporting and understanding is far, it’s simpler but far more insightful.

Brendan: How do you compare to some of the other competitors in the market? I imagine the design of your website attracts people. I mean it looks so professional. How does it compare to what some of the other dinosaurs are doing without leading the question too much.

Marc: It’s interesting. The office furniture industry as a whole is very segmented. It’s a massively competitive industry and it depends on where you segment it to kind of identify who our real true competitors are. On one level you could say Office Works competes and they’ve got a really massive website. I think it’s Magento based also, a huge amount of content but from a user experience point of view I don’t think it’s anywhere close to ours. We spend a lot of time on photos, videos, a huge amount of time, effort and money in renders. Renders has really changed the game for us from the website point of view.

Brendan: When you say renders is that the section where you’re able to plan out your own office, what it might look like?

Marc: Renders I’m talking about is the photography of the product. Maybe there is a small percentage of our products that are now real photographs. The rest are professional renders. It’s ultimately a 3D animation or a 3D produced picture of all of our product. What is does is it allows us to show the different variations and the different colors. If you do it right it’s actually much cheaper than photography. It has given us a massive flexibility on the new website.

Brendan: The customer gets a bit more of a flavor of what it’s going to look like and the different colors and 3D and it’s cheaper for you to produce.

Marc: Correct and it’s the speed of turnaround. If we’re bringing in a new product we can get the products rendered and ready to go before the products hit the warehouse where in prior years you either have to bring in a sample, use that sample to take pictures. Then if there’s other variations wait for the other colors to come through in a container, unload the container, send those variations to the photographer, get the photographer to edit it and all the rest. It was a much longer, tedious, expensive process. Now you do the render, you can change it overnight in a dozen different colors and before the products hit our warehouse we’ve got it on our website kind of ready to purchase. It’s been a massive help.

Brendan: Moving to the future what are your goals as far as with JasonL? Where do you want to take it?

Marc: JasonL, we want to own the space to be honest in the middle market. We’re at the moment rolling out showrooms across the country. We’ve just actually finalized a list for our fourth showroom in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. That showroom will open up next month. We ultimately want to have a showroom in each major city. We want to be the go to office furniture suppliers for small to medium sized business.

Brendan: We’re going to wrap up now. I’ve just got a few questions to ask you. How old are you?

Marc: I am 36 next week.

Brendan: What do you like to do to keep fit?

Marc: That is a great question. I recently re-found my fitness. I was lacking the motivation and I guess the enjoyment in my fitness and about four months ago I found a gym around the corner from our offices in Botany that specialize in bodyweight work. I’ve been working with a trainer all around bodyweight work and kind of gymnastics based. I’m loving that training three to four times a week now and got set goals and just really enjoying that type of training. It’s been a little while since I’ve found a rhythm in my training.

Brendan: How many hours sleep do you get per night?

Marc: I probably get about seven on average.

Brendan: Do you have any personal goals that you’re looking to achieve in the next 12 months?

Marc: Personal goals I think teeing up the chapter presidency and getting and doing that right from day one is a big personal goal for me. I’m also trying to make sure that when I’m with my family and my two little kids I’m more present. I tend to be on the phone a fair bit, thinking about business or other stuff and just trying to be a little more present is definitely a personal goal. To maintain my training and diet that has come from that is another one.

Brendan: What business achievement would you like to be remembered for? Potentially something around in the office market, you made a change.

Marc: I think that we want to be the brand in the middle market for office furniture. If we’ve got market penetration and we are the top brand when we ask small to medium sized business owners, CEOs where do they buy their furniture. My vision and my ultimate that it would be JasonL first off their lips. That is really about owning that space. There is a long way to go. I think there is an opportunity to consolidate the market and if we can be that business and that brand to do that I think that would be a great achievement.

Brendan: If the listeners want to find a little bit more about you where can they visit?

Marc: JasonL.com.au first and foremost. Have a look at the website otherwise hit me up on LinkedIn. I’m an avid fan and very much on and around LinkedIn.

Brendan: Thanks very much for coming on the show Marc.

Marc: Awesome Brendan, thanks so much.

Brendan: Remember if you’re enjoying the show dont forget to subscribe and leave us a review and share it with a friend. See you next time.

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