North Gong manufacturer bucking downward trend

It seems a simple idea - old-fashioned, even.

Make a product that people want, make it well, sell it for a price that is fair and you will do all right.

It is a model seen less often today, with an approach to business based on low costs and heavy advertising remaining popular. That trend means more cheap goods for consumers, but fewer jobs in manufacturing for Australians - and this region has felt the shift as hard as any.

Now a Wollongong business is bucking the trend, basing a large part of its products' appeal on quality and local provenance.

'We were always willing to stick to the price and make quality products.'

The 26 workers at Buckaroo Leatherworks, a family business based at North Wollongong, produce more than 40,000 specialty toolbelts a year.

It might not have gone this way for Buckaroo, started by the late Kenneth Van Der Water 30 years ago. They were doing well making a range of belts, handbags and accessories, but when cheaper imports hit the market in the late 1990s, Buckaroo hit trouble.

They decided to specialise in high-end trade belts, and enter the market at a higher price.

The result, with Kenneth's daughter Tanya, 30, now running the company, is a successful operation that is still growing, with plans to invest heavily to double the output in three years.

"We were always willing to stick to the price and make quality products," Ms Van Der Water said.

The only problem was that their large, shiny toolbelts were not regarded as "cool" for tradies who wanted an old belt that made them look as though they had been in the job for years. Fortunately, that trend has changed to the extent that a top-line belt is now desirable, particularly when it has been made in Australia.

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