Australian businessman John Fargher knows a lot about exporting. He is an industry leader in innovation, problem solving and an expert in adapting to global demand. Growing and diversifying is second nature.
Fargher has spent over 3 decades building the South Australian food company Steriline. Today it is one of Australia’s most sought after and successful engineering export companies.
Fargher’s export acumen was recognized in October 2022, when Steriline won the 2022 South Australian Premier’s Export Award for Regional Exporter. The Mt Barker-based company is a finalist in its category at the Australian Export Awards in November.
The key to Steriline’s success, according to Fargher, is looking to new horizons. So does the drive to change old ways of doing business. Ensuring top quality and knowing your audience are also crucial.
Steriline has been in business since the 1950s. It specializes in 2 areas of the food industry: horse barriers and meat processing equipment. The company exports to 53 countries and is proud of its collaboration with Austrade. The agency has helped Steriline grow and diversify into new markets, while increasing sales in existing markets.
Supplier of the best racecourses and racing clubs in the world
If you watched “The Race to Stop a Nation,” you would have seen Fargher’s first labor of love. It is also the product the company is best known for.
Watch carefully as the horses are led through the barriers for the Melbourne Cup. Steriline Racing manufactures complex and carefully designed starting grids. These are the largest starting gates under a single beam in the world.
Steriline Racing supplies these gates, rails and other equipment to the Victoria Racing Club (Flemington Racecourse) and the Australian Turf Club (Royal Randwick Racecourse).
The company also supplies most of the world’s most prestigious racetracks and racing clubs. They understand:
- Hong Kong Jockey Club (Happy Valley and Sha Tin racecourses)
- Singapore Turf Club (Kranji Racecourse)
- Meydan in Dubai
- Royal Ascot in the UK
- Qatar Equestrian Club.
Defy global trends to increase sales during the pandemic
Steriline has leveraged its years of exporting expertise to increase sales during COVID-19. He also navigated tricky waters with a deft hand. This included delivering a starting gate to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
The deal was made just before the pandemic hit. The delivery, however, was scheduled while most international borders were closed. The Steriline Racing technician who assembles the unique designs could not leave Australia.
The answer? Three intensive weeks of complex instruction using WhatsApp video, racing to meet the May deadline. It showed the company’s continued commitment to using innovative solutions to deliver on its promises.
“When we sold this door to Churchill Downs, we thought ‘how the hell are we going to put this together? “, Says Fargher. “It was a special door to accommodate the horses. The Kentucky Derby peloton has 20 players. It requires almost double the size of the standard door. But we made it, working all night to adapt to the US time zone. It was a great success.’
Focus on quality products
Fargher has a unique problem – one most would envy. This means that the need to find new customers and new markets is always in mind. It’s a challenge he enjoys.
“We’re a niche company with niche products,” he says. “We are constantly criticized for making a product that lasts too long and rarely needs to be replaced. But I’m proud of it. If your only criticism is that your product is too good, I won’t argue with that.
Steriline’s value proposition is based on a willingness to invest time and money to deliver a superior product.
“We work hand-in-hand with our customers to make sure we’re selling them what they need, rather than what they want,” says Fargher.
“We almost never build the same thing from year to year. We are always ready to change. What makes us good at our job is having this close connection with our customers. We focus on what they need, using all the lessons learned over a long period of time.
“We focus on customization and innovations rather than aggressive growth,” he adds. “We believe it comes naturally if you build a great product and deliver on your promises. In everything we do, we focus on the quality of our products. We continually improve the engineering behind our advanced manufacturing processes.
“For example, it is not enough to build a solid starting grid that will last. It has to work. Starting efficiency is absolutely crucial. You don’t get a second chance with a historic horse race. We must ensure a regular break every time. That means we can’t cut corners or go faster than the project requires. But the end result is only better.
Safety and Compliance Behind Gold Standard Skin Pullers
Safety and compliance underpin the other business in Fargher’s stable – Steriline Engineering. The company manufactures a range of equipment. They include solar panel frames, structural signage, boom barriers, and other custom metal-based agri products.
Steriline Engineering is best known for its beef slaughterhouse skin extractors. These have been adopted as the benchmark in meat processing to ensure cleaner skin and minimize waste. The latest generation is known worldwide as the most robust, hygienic and safest machines available.
“We apply the smartest solutions using the latest technology to everything we do,” says Fargher. “We recognized early on the need and appetite for massive changes and improvements in security and compliance in the industry. It hasn’t always been the case. Our skin pullers offer a real solution to an ever-evolving problem.
Steriline Engineering has earned a reputation as a leader in its field. It exports skin extractors to:
- the republic of ireland
- North Ireland
- New Zealand
- United States
Steriline Engineering’s commitment to quality has earned it a solid reputation. Some of the biggest food producers and meat processors in the world are admirers. They include JBS and Teys Australia (a joint venture between Teys Bros and Cargill Australia).
Austrade a longtime supporter
Fargher’s work with Austrade has spanned the decades since 1994, when exporting was radically different.
He credits Austrade for its focus on diversification. His international network of business experts has been invaluable. These experts exploit opportunities for exporters by:
- identify and arrange meetings with potential clients
- provide advice
- help navigate regulations and market access.
“I have enormous respect for the work of Austrade,” says Fargher. “We decided very early on not to have agents in the world. Although we are active in many countries, the nature of our products means that a big sale can happen in one region and then not for a while.
“We have relied on Austrade to research opportunities and make presentations. We rely on them to help us meet many market demands. Austrade also helps us to literally interpret what our customers are saying.
“We are always looking to grow and find new ways to develop and manufacture products. Likewise, we always look to Austrade to find new areas to export. It’s been a great working relationship.