Melbourne furniture maker sitting pretty
Thousands of Victorians and many overseas visitors are familiar with Ramler Furniture’s products.
They’ve sat on Ramler chairs as they’ve attended the footy at Telstra Dome, eaten at McDonald’s, taken a breather in a shopping centre or even watched the Sydney Olympics from a corporate box. They may also have bought some of Ramler’s home furniture at Myers, David Jones or Oz Design.
The quiet achiever behind all this is Harry Ramler, who arrived in Australia as a penniless immigrant in 1949. Ramler, 82, grew up in a village near Lvov, in what was then Poland and is now Ukraine. The young Harry lost his family to the Nazis and joined his sister, the sole remaining member of his family, in Melbourne.
Ramler’s father had been a furniture manufacturer, so Harry, a fitter and turner who was good with his hands, knew what he wanted to do.
He steadily built the business – some of his early work is now considered classic retro – and was later joined by his sons Garry and Paul.
Ramler Furniture’s big break came in the late ’80s. When the Grand Hyatt was being built the architects specified a US banquet chair as part of the fittings. The Industry Capability Network – originally set up by the Cain Labor government to promote local industry through import replacement – found Ramler Furniture, which submitted a design. It won the contract to supply 1500 chairs.
“ICN’s role was pivotal for Ramler,” said Garry Ramler, now the company’s managing director. ICN redirected its factory towards producing commercial furniture, which now makes up about 70 per cent of output.
“Commercial chairs have got to be more sturdy,” Garry said. “It’s a question of design, function and price.”
Retail accounts for the remaining 30 per cent, but it’s a tough market, with cheap imports making savage inroads into the local industry.
The Grand Hyatt success became the catalyst for winning other big jobs, such as a contract at Telstra Dome for premium seating, including 2000 chairs. Again, Ramler was able to outmuscle an imported chair whose Italian design the architects had specified.
Ramler chairs are now also found in the Park Hyatt, Sundowner Motels and Accor Group hotels such as Novotel and Sofitel. It has produced more than 20,000 chairs in the past 14 years. Turnover is now in the tens of millions of dollars.
Garry Ramler retains enthusiasm for winning the big deals, and so will attend a major projects forum tomorrow at the Melbourne Convention Centre. The company already has a contract for the new Northern Stand at the MCG.
“Innovation is the key,” said Garry. This was apparent in the company’s biggest success – a $30 million contract to supply 600,000 pieces of furniture for the Sydney Olympics.
For an event dubbed the “Green Games”, Ramler came up with the idea of creating cardboard furniture – chairs, book cases, desks, tables and rubbish bins. They were all pulped at the end of the Games and turned into phone books.
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