Naenae manufacturing business BJC Elements might fly under the radar but its specialist products fly all around the world, including exporting to the United States, Italy, Thailand and Mexico.
BJC Elements makes elements for heaters, stoves, dryers and refrigerators. It recently branched out into lightbulbs and producing wire loom components for other manufacturers to use.
Started in a Newtown garage at the end of World War II, BJC Elements now makes up to 5000 units a day.
Kean O’Neill bought the company from the family of its founder in 2008 after working there for almost 20 years.
“I was originally approached by the family to come in and have a look at the business to see what I could do with it, it wasn’t doing much good. I was given a three month contract. I managed to get a couple of new lines, [commercial kitchen appliance company] Moffat and Rinai,” O’Neill said.
In the late 1990s, it scored its biggest contract – making all of Fisher & Paykel’s elements for appliances from clothes dryers to ovens and the defrosting function in refrigerators.
“When Fisher & Paykel began moving manufacturing offshore we managed to retain the work, we export to their factories in Thailand, Mexico and Italy. Problem being when you get a huge customer, you put all your eggs into one basket.
“We went out actively a few years ago and decided to grow the business in other directions with elements, exporting our own product directly all through Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.”
It branched out into making lighting equipment components several years ago, supplying all the electrical work for Queensland Lighting Services.
Late last year it bought a majority stake in an Auckland competitor, bringing 60 tonnes of its equipment down to Wellington. It also makes spare parts for older ovens and recently set up a wire making division.
BJC has five engineers on staff who design machines specific to the tasks it needs equipment for. One component-creating contraption makes units four times faster than one bought off the shelf, O’Neill said.
“We have a particular need, a customer who wants 17 bends in an element, we looked at it to see how to automate all that bending. We designed and built a machine that virtually doesn’t need an operator. We used to need four people to make that unit, now it only takes one.”
At its peak the company had 76 staff. It now has 44, having hired two more in the last week and seeking further expansion, but its output is higher now with fewer staff because of improvements in technology.
Auckland businessman Paul Appleford took a 40 per cent stake recently. Bringing in a new business partner after so long was a breath of fresh air, said O’Neill, who had a heart attack last year.
“Our new partner had been doing business with us for 22 years and came along at the right time. It’s worked out very well and he’s bought the loom-making division to the table and a fresh perspective, a whole fresh set of eyes and someone to help take a bit of the load.”
It is the largest elements manufacturer in Australasia, with most competition coming from Eastern Europe.
“The exchange rate works hugely in their favour. You certainly can’t sit back and rest on your laurels. We’re still proud to be manufacturing in New Zealand and to be a private company. We’re proud that even in the global recession we’ve still managed to battle on.”
Output on average 5000 units a day
3000sq m factory in Naenae
Family owned and operated
Founded in 1946
Turnover around $6.8m
Originally published in the Dominion Post