Top Knot Carpentry’s new venture is worth its weight in gold for team morale.
With new jobs stalling and productivity down by 30 per cent during the COVID-19 crisis, Sydney company Top Knot Carpentry & Joinery was in a crunch. Forced to reduce their headcount from 750 to 600 staff, they needed a plan to radically reshape. So they paired a love of working out with an expertise in timber manufacturing and a new business was born: Dumbbells By Design.
“We’ve always had a bit of gym culture in our business,” says managing director Eoin Daniels. “We have a gym onsite and an IT manager who’s a trainer. He trains all our team compulsorily for half an hour two days a week during work hours. They’re using our dumbbells now.”
With gyms closed, Dumbbells By Design was created to meet the growing need for home workout equipment. “But as well as being practical, gym equipment needs to have character and be something you like to look at if it’s going to be out and on display in your home,” says Daniels. “We did a bit of research and found there’s nothing like this in the market. We started working on the initial idea on a Friday, had a prototype ready the following Friday and then launched the first range the Friday after that. From idea to product, website and launch was two weeks.”
That kind of speed costs money – a $40,000 to $50,000 capital investment, which was more than anticipated. “But if we slowed the process down it would probably cost us more in the long run,” says Daniels. “We’re taking a long-term vision. We’re going into the market with a high-end product that’s handmade in Australia with sustainable, recycled Australian materials. It cannot be manufactured too cheaply. It’s not going to appeal to the mass market who are just looking for dumbbells for use at home.”
Dumbbells By Design started with a Classic range and subsequently launched Elite, featuring heavier weights cut from reclaimed Australian hardwood, and Designer, for the very top end of the market.
As well as the product, the pandemic shutdown has radicalised the way Top Knot operates day-to-day, with 95 per cent of its office-based staff now working from home. “It’s changed our approach to digital,” says Daniels. “Microsoft Teams has been just such a brilliant introduction into the business. I find the meetings are actually more productive than they are in a boardroom. We are probably getting a 30 per cent productivity increase out of our teams with them working from home.”
Staying optimistic has also helped keep the team buoyed. “We’re kind of apprehensive but hopeful we’ll run into a good market after this,” says Daniels. “But who really knows? There were moments when I thought it was just a stupid idea. There were 10 senior managers in the factory on a Saturday designing and machining dumbbells. We were laughing at ourselves. Are we going to make any money doing this? Will it be a success? I don’t know but we don’t back out of things – we go all in.”