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Manufacturing, part 2: A Q&A with Buckley & Phillips Aromatics

From the humble beginnings of a scented candle stall at the markets, Chris Phillips and Maureen Buckley have spent the last 40 years manufacturing their own products, private labelling for other companies and growing their popular aromatics business.

As is the case with many of the best home-grown businesses, Buckley & Phillips Aromatics started as a small family business, which has expanded carefully and lovingly under the watchful eye of its founders. Initially selling home-made scented candles at the St Kilda Esplanade Market from 1972, Chris Phillips, Maureen Buckley and their sons, Jon and Ben, now manufacture and distribute a range of products including body lotions, room sprays and diffusers, as well as their famous candles. Over the years, companies have also sought them out to manufacture and private label products for them. We chat to Jon Phillips about the history and manufacturing achievements of his family.

Your parents Chris and Maureen started by selling candles at the St Kilda Esplanade Market in 1972. What was the business like back then?

Chris Phillips began as a wood turner selling candlestick holders and woodturnings at the St Kilda Market. He then found he was inundated by customers requesting candles for his candlestick holders, so he began experimenting in candle manufacturing. Before long the candles outsold the candle holders and the business then shifted in this direction. At this point no one else was really making much in the way of scented candles so this was a relatively new product to Australian customers.

What was the tipping point for your parents to expand and how did they go about it?

The tipping point was essentially when the company outgrew the original premises – which were old horse stables converted into a little factory – due to a rapid increase in demand. Over the years we have shifted locations from Port Melbourne to Moorabbin, then with a growing family on the way Chris and Maureen decided to make a “green change” to Lilydale. They were able to combine work and home life at a new house with a gigantic shed, which soon became the new manufacturing facility. After around five years the home shed was no longer sufficient for our requirements and we moved into a much larger factory on Beresford Road, Lilydale, which is still our manufacturing location to this day.

The company now manufactures a range of aromatic products including body lotions, room sprays and diffusers. Do you manufacture most of these?

Yes we manufacture almost the entirety of our product catalogue. As candle making is quite a boutique industry, our expertise has developed over the years through experimentation and observation. With 44 years under our belt we do feel that we are now among the veterans of Australian manufacturing in this industry.

Over the years we have brought in many experts including an organic chemist, in-house graphic designer and product development manager. Chris Phillips’ background in electrical and mechanical engineering has made it possible to manufacture in Australia using automated machinery.

You manufacture products for other companies and do some private labelling. How do these partnerships work – do they come to you with a clear brief that you fulfil or leave you to create something for them?

It’s a mixture – some contract manufacture clients have a very clear brief in mind, whilst others just have a concept. Obviously the more clarity that we have, the easier it will be to come up with a finished product. We always suggest that customers do their homework, look into the competition and have a clear direction of who their ideal demographic is going to be. However, we are more than happy to assist customers in areas that may be unfamiliar to them.

While we have a vast range of machinery for manufacturing, all packaging and label printing is outsourced. We have great relationships with some of Australia’s best printing and packaging companies.

From experience, could you list a few elements that are crucial in the manufacturing brief from a company?

Some clients treat business with a manufacturer a lot like a game of poker, which can ultimately be detrimental to the relationship and slow down the whole process. If a customer is honest up front and tells the manufacturer the price point that they are trying to achieve this will immediately narrow down the scope of the project and the manufacturer will be able to clearly define what can be done for said price. This transparency allows both parties to have a happy working relationship and really is the basis of trusting each other.

Your company and manufacturing have stayed completely in Australia. What are the benefits of this? Would going offshore cut costs? And has that been tempting?

In the 1970s Chris Phillips found that Australian manufacturing for our industry was indeed a rarity and the majority of companies were moving offshore. For us, offshore manufacturing was never something that we envisaged. To be honest, we enjoy making our vast range of products. I don’t think we could be truly proud of the products that we supply to our customers had we not made them in the first place. Manufacturing within Australia has a huge range of benefits including much shorter lead times and quality control – including control over ingredients and the ability to easily alter a product to adapt to customer feedback. The benefit of local employment is also an obvious bonus.

You use true-to-botanical and certified 100 per cent pure essential oils. Can you tell us about that decision?

Our company ethos has always been based upon honesty. We feel that customers are only loyal to a brand because of trust in the quality that the brand provides. While our essential oils are sourced from all over the world (not everything can be grown in mass domestically), we do all of our blending in-house, formulating a range of oils for relaxation, sleep and stress, etc.

As the aromatherapy industry is essentially self-regulated, we do find that it is rampant with false and misleading claims, which can be frustrating and ultimately confusing for the end consumer. Although the quality of ingredients that we use does come with a higher raw material cost, the fact that we have such long-standing relationships with our suppliers coupled with our bulk buying power mean that our end prices are very reasonable.

The company has a strong ethical framework. Can you tell me some of the aspects of this?

We have never tested our products on animals and in 2015 we went through the process of being certified by CCF (Choose Cruelty Free), which also backtracks to our suppliers and assures that none of our raw materials have been directly involved in animal testing.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is doing some fantastic work in transforming the palm oil industry and bringing sustainable palm oil into the norm. People sometimes ask us why palm oil is still commonly used, but in terms of plant-based oils palm has by far the highest yield, more than twice that of coconut. If everyone switched to coconut oil twice as much land would need to be cleared to accommodate the demand.

We focus on materials that are recyclable and our Lilydale warehouse utilises solar power. Being surrounded by Victoria’s Yarra Valley and Mount Dandenong Ranges, environmental awareness has always been at the forefront of Buckley & Phillips’ philosophy.

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