Diversification in practice: Toronto Boathouse

September 2019

Brett Birse was in his 20s when he joined his father Garth’s business.

Elron Engineering was established in 1965 when Ronald Coomber set up a construction company to carry out the manufacture and installation of heavy plant and machinery for the power station and sugar refining industries in Australia.

In order to create a base and fabrication workshop, he purchased a block of land with a small shed that backed onto Stony Creek in the Lake Macquarie region.

When Coomber passed away in 1966, his son-in-law Garth Birse took over the company. Over the following years the company thrived fabricating and installing dust collection equipment for power stations nationwide.

A significant amount of work was also carried out for the coal mining industry in the Hunter Valley.

However, the 2015 economic downturn saw some coal-fired power stations close. This, coupled with the growing trend of sourcing manufactured items from overseas, meant the Birses were forced to reconsider their business direction for the future.

Fortunately, Stony Creek, at the rear of their property, provided them the answer. New laws meant that installation of swing moorings would be discouraged on Lake Macquarie, so the Birses saw the opportunity that a dry stack boat storage could offer the boating community.

After considerable consultation with Lake Macquarie City Council, they decided to utilise their workshop buildings for boat storage, and to develop and manufacture a hydraulic boat lifting device to set-up a boat storage business, using Stony Creek as access to and from Lake Macquarie. 

In 2016, DA approval was granted to repurpose two existing sheds for dry dock boat storage with 24-hour surveillance, and to build a new wharf. The Birses also designed and built a five-tonne capacity hydraulic boat lifter that can “drop” boats measuring up to 30 feet long from wharf height into Stony Creek without disturbing the creek bed.

The relaunched business Toronto Boathouse (www.torontoboathouse.com) offers both internal and external storage solutions. To request a movement of your vessel to the water, a trailer and/or a service stand, customers log onto the Cloud Marina Portal, pick the time and Toronto Boathouse have the boat fuelled and provisioned as required.

When the boat is returned the boat is lifted back into the stack after flushing the motor and rinsing the boat.

For this 3rd generation family business, diversification will allow them to continue to operate within the Lake Macquarie region for many years to come.

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Topics: Business, business strategy, Small to Medium Business, Diversification

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