From Adversity To Advance
Geelong businessman Peter Newland is living proof of US founding father Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote that out of adversity comes opportunity.
In what seems a little like a previous life, before his career took an astounding turn, Peter was a builder/carpenter producing renovations and extensions.
With four employees and a full book of projects, he loved his lifestyle job in the great outdoors. The future was rosy.
But, with little to no warning, the bubble burst.
“It started with Paul Keating’s ‘the recession we had to have’, then followed with the Pyramid crash,” he recalled.
“When the new home sector collapsed, those builders turned to renovations and the job market became flooded. Work just evaporated and, if there was the occasional job, the margins were down dramatically.”
There were other complications; Peter started experiencing serious back problems and, after countless years in the trade, he found he’d lost his hunger for building.
His accountant also set off alarm bells. “He told me it only needed one person not to pay 5 per cent of their bill and I was in trouble. He told me to find other work.”
It was sobering stuff, but Peter took the advice and spent hours pouring over job advertisements in the major newspapers. But it was a carpentry colleague who provided a lead that was to change his life.
“He told me about a small, one-man storage business that was on the market. I made some inquiries, discovered it had a solid client base and a good track record, so I bought it,” he said.
It was the beginning of a local success story.
Peter established Advanced Record Management in rented quarters in Separation Street, North Geelong, in 1994. The transition went remarkably smoothly and within two years the office was bursting at the seams with 3,000 document storage boxes.
Larger premises were found in North Shore, but they too fell victim to the company’s rapid expansion with five separate sheds housing 25,000 boxes of documents from a growing number of customers.
Advance moved to its current 2.2-hectare headquarters in Corio in 2000. At the time Broderick Road was very much a greenfield site, with only one neighbouring business and surrounded by paddocks teeming with rabbits.
The growth of the business has continued unabated since then, with a new storage facility constructed every 18 months over the past 16 years.
Today, Advance has 9,000 square metres under storage, more than one million boxes and 30 employees.
Clients include the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Royal Melbourne, St Vincent’s and St John of God hospitals, the Department of Human Services, Barwon Health, Glen Eira City and Yarra City councils, Surf Coast and Golden Plains shires and Ambulance Victoria.
Throw in the TAC, Barwon Water, a number of private schools and a host of smaller customers and the reasons behind the sustained growth of the business are easy to see. Advance is now the second largest independent document storage, cataloguing, archiving and retrieval company in Australia and the only Victorian Office of Public Records-approved document manager outside Melbourne.
The business was the first to offer a “scan on demand” and the first to provide web-ordering functionality. The drive to keep at the forefront of the industry has seen some new initiatives introduced here before the United States, where the industry is recognised as owning the game.
Like all paper-based industries, document storage has and continues to evolve and Peter said the company is fast-forwarding down the digital path.
“Hard copy will not disappear for decades,” he said. “To use an analogy - and it’s probably a bad one - it’s like re-engineering a vehicle where you take off two wheels and still want to move ahead without falling over. In other words, change in that space is slow; it does not happen overnight.
“This is particularly so in large companies where major dollars are needed and 5,000-plus employees require training, while nimble firms, such as lawyers and accountants, can introduce technology and new systems seamlessly.”
Philip D'souza and Peter Newland
Peter said Advance had a positive view about a digital future and has moved to position his business to one that integrates with client’s systems.
Peter attributes much of Advance’s success to his right hand Philip D’souza, who began at the very bottom of the ladder and has risen to General Manager.
“He is continually adding to our bag of tricks to keep ahead of the opposition. As a result, Advance has invested more than $2 million in Geelong and I see no end to that.”
And what is the next big thing for Advance Record Management?
“We have just introduced two unique scanning machines that revolutionise mail handling and document management and we have established a distribution centre in West Melbourne.
“We will increase the focus on document scanning, mail room scanning and information work flows. Continuous improvement is the key driver for us.”
It’s a long way from using his old tools of trade.