By Melissa Keogh
Naracoorte wool-product business MiniJumbuk’s managing director Darren Turner can’t seem to ever shake off his love for the Limestone Coast.
Growing up in the state’s south east, by his early 20s Darren landed a job as a sales representative for the fledgling MiniJumbuk business. Almost four decades later and he’s still there.
Darren is one of the faces that has helped lead the proudly South Australian company to becoming the country’s biggest manufacturer of woollen products, and one of Naracoorte’s biggest private employers.
“I’m very proud to have created a brand that has built on its reputation of quality,” he says.
“Being part of the MiniJumbuk story is something to be really proud of.”
Darren is Brand South Australia’s latest I Choose SA for Industry ambassador for the Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) sector.
With a workforce of about 70 people across both its Naracoorte factory and a facility in Adelaide, MiniJumbuk is one of SA’s strongest examples of a long-standing and successful SME.
Turning over $30m a year, its woollen blankets, quilts, pillows and other bedding have been keeping Australians warm for years.
The high-quality, pure Australian wool is sourced from farms locally and interstate, while entire manufacturing processes are undertaken in SA.
It’s a unique success story considering the decline of Australia’s textile manufacturing industry over the years … so how did MiniJumbuk do it?
“In SA you do have an opportunity to stand out a bit more,” Darren says.
“I find that when you’re a bit smaller or you have the odds against you a little bit you have to work harder, think harder, be smarter and you have to work out ways of overcoming challenge.
“I think that makes a better business because it challenges you more and you get better outcomes. If it’s all too easy and you’re not being challenged, then you don’t improve.”
While MiniJumbuk hasn’t been without its challenges – such as the competition from cheaper Asian imports – its key to success has been upholding its levels of quality and authenticity.
“You either build something on price or you build it on quality and in order to stand out you need to stand for something,” Darren says.
“So we put a peg in the ground and we stood for high quality and best in class in terms of our product.”
Shearer Don Wray bought MiniJumbuk in 1975, making the company’s first woollen quilt.
Four years later and the business had secured a four-year contract with the Onkaparinga Woollen Mills making woollen quilts while continuing to handcraft woolly sheep souvenirs for tourists.
By the mid ’80s the company was making its own brand of woollen mattress underlays, and before long was “doubling and quadrupling its turnover on an annual basis”.
In the late ’80s/early ’90s it wasn’t unusual to spot live rams being paraded through department stores, as MiniJumbuk spread the wool story, its authenticity message and firmly cemented itself in Australia’s $3 billion wool industry.
Not long after joining MiniJumbuk, Darren bought a 20% share in the business before working his way up to general manager in 1996.
He has driven the company’s investment in high-tech manufacturing equipment and processes, including MiniJumbuk’s Airlight Technology.
“It’s a way of making the quilt lighter, but warmer,” Darren says.
“Cheaper quilts will feel quite heavy and will pack down and feel like a blanket after years of use, whereas ours will be light and fluffy.
“It’s unique to MiniJumbuk, no one else is doing it.”
In 2015/16 Darren travelled overseas with the support of the Industry Leaders Fund to attend the Global CEO course which he says led to a “significant improvement in the business”.
More than 80% of MiniJumbuk’s products are sold domestically, while a little under 20% is exported, mostly to China.
Darren says he is expecting exports to grow in the next three to five years to make up as much as 50% of the business.
But despite its worldly endeavours, MiniJumbuk’s commitment remains to the people in the South East community, with more than 60% of its annual turnover coming out of the Naracoorte plant.
“Naracoorte is a positive town, it’s quite entrepreneurial and offers a lot to business people,” Darren says.
“It’s right in the heart of the Limestone Coast and so it’s a good spot to raise a family. Naracoorte is the place I cherish and call home.”
I Choose SA for Small to Medium Enterprise stories are made possible by Bendigo Bank:
Visit I Choose SA for Industry to learn more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.