By Alicia Oelkers
My chat this month was with Gary Walker, Managing Director of Belmont Timbers and Co Vice-Chair of TABMA Australia. For those of you who do not know Gary, he is a true gentleman and one of the most optimistic people in the industry.
Belmont Timber started in 1950 on Belmont Avenue in Alexandria by the late John Walker and his then partner. John was an engineer (and European ice-skating champion) who arrived in Australia with his wife, Helen, from Prague in 1948. The business was started, assembling hardwood crates and pallets when John won a contract with a glass company. In the early 1950s, timber crates were in high demand with all bottled beer and soft drink being delivered in wooden crates.
In 1954 a builder came to Belmont Timber asking them to supply the construction timber to construct houses for Housing Commission of NSW. John saw this as an opportunity and supplied ready cut hardwood frames. This was a successful project and Belmont Timber then went onto becoming the major supplier of timber for the Housing Commission across the whole of New South Wales.
In 1956, Belmont Timber moved to Fairfield Street Fairfield. From here, they commenced the supply of timber to the public.
In 1980, Belmont Timber once again outgrew their premises and expanded to Lisbon street, Fairfield where they continue to operate today. In their new premises, their core business became the fabrication of engineered frames and trusses, starting a long and successful relationship with Mitek Australia (Gang-Nail at the time).
Gary who is an accountant by profession is the late John Walker’s son. I asked if he was always destined to work in the family business or did he fall into it? Gary explained that he always intended to work in the business but he wanted to get a background in another profession in case his father decided to sell the business. An accounting degree will be applicable to run a successful business, no matter the industry in fact, Gary started his professional career working part-time for Rheem Australia, while doing his degree. In 1977, Gary joined the business in a full-time capacity. Gary recognises it was a great privilege to work alongside his father for 38 years until his father’s passing. John Walker started the family legacy that Gary carries on today.
Belmont Timber operates as a full service offering to the builder. Their main services include manufacturing frames and trusses to project home builders on a volume basis. More recently, Belmont also supply various building material as a new way to service their customers as an important part of the business.
In 2019 Belmont was impacted by a major storm which tore through their premises. For nine months, their operating space significantly decreased from 2500m2 to 750m2. Gary said he has to thank Simmonds Lumber for very kindly lending them shed space while they were renovating the damaged shed. This year was also obviously navigating how to operate a company through COVID times. Some of the quick changes Belmont Timber made was stopping cash sales, setting up QR codes, implementing new procedures for receiving deliveries, reducing access to those other than employees and adhering to social distance measures where possible. Belmont Timbers has successfully operated through these trying times.
Gary believes the next 10 years in the industry will become dominated by the larger companies and supply of timber will continue to be difficult especially with the Australian forests devastated in the bush fires.
Gary’s words of advice to anyone starting a business in the industry is ‘make sure you know every level of your business. Running a business is a great challenge and being prepared is crucial.’ When asked for some words of wisdom to our new entrants into the timber industry, especially our young trainees, ‘The Timber Industry is a fantastic industry to develop both personally and professionally’ and with the support of TABMA, he has seen many young people work their way up from the floor to foreman and in some cases, running their own businesses in the industry. There are plenty of career pathways.
Gary’s greatest motivation is to support the future growth of TABMA Australia and to continue to sit on the Board in the role of Co Vice-Chair. ‘I believe the timber industry has given my family so much and I see this as a way I am able to give back through volunteering in industry associations such as TABMA’.
Even though Belmont Timbers takes up a significant amount of Gary’s time, in his downtime he enjoys playing golf, skiing and walking with his partner. He also loves escaping to their property in Mittagong and to travel (obviously when borders are open). I finished by asking if he had any plans on retiring. He laughed (and I already knew the answer). Gary will follow in his father’s footsteps and Belmont Timber will be a part of his life forever. He loves the interaction with people and the many challenges running a family business brings each day!