Ronstan was founded in 1953 by Ron Allatt and Stan Lenepveu as a manufacturing facility for wooden-hulled boats and the deck fittings they required. They built their first factory in Victoria and on December 21 the name Ronstan Marine Equipment Pty Ltd was registered. Throughout the early years the business flourished and in 1960 Ron and Stan decided to focus solely on fittings.
The company continued to grow and they had distributors in both QLD and NSW in 1975. In 1976 Alistair Murray joined the company as a sales representative.
Despite setting up a factory in the United States prior to the 1983 America's Cup, it was Australia II's victory that gave the brand the international boost. The Australian boat had all the latest Ronstan hardware on board. Since then the company has grown into what it is today and Alistair Murray has been at the forefront of the growth. He has worked his way from sales representative to export manager, managing director to CEO. After 40 years with the company he is now the Chairman. We spoke to Murray about his time with the company and how they have kept up with the market over the years.
Ronstan is one of the leading brands for boat fittings, what is it that sets the company apart from the rest?
Ronstan has a truly international outlook, in effect being a “mini multi-national”. Our Managing Director is based in the USA, one of our other key members of the Board lives in Italy and the shareholders are from Australia, the USA, Italy and Denmark.
Many years ago we realised we were in a very small pond in Australia and had to reach out to the world to be successful. We have forged strong relationships over the years with industry leaders around the world.
What product is the most popular in the range and why do you think that is?
Our most popular product range is pulley blocks. They come in an incredible array of sizes and configurations and cover racing, cruising and industrial applications.
Ronstan caters to such a range of boats from optimists to maxis, how does the company determine where to focus your efforts when it comes to R&D?
Through a process of communication and assessment of all markets and segments, Ronstan aims to be focusing R & D in growth areas. With the shrinkage in some segments this has been a challenge at times and it is so critical that we do our best to understand worldwide trends. Of course we also focus on the competition and attempt to identify weaknesses and gaps in the market. Every project considered is evaluated on a return on investment basis; sometimes the “world’s best idea” might just not have the broad commercial appeal it needs to become a successful product.
What do you think has been the biggest development by the company over the years?
Certainly our biggest development over recent years has been our diversification into winches. For many years we were painfully aware that our two major competitors offered the complete package of deck hardware and winches, whilst Ronstan could only offer the hardware. This put us at a significant disadvantage with the boat builders of the world. We solved this with an acquisition strategy, rather than internal product development, acquiring the number three brand of yacht winches in the world, Anderson Winches of Denmark.
What would you say is the staple item every sailor needs on them?
Sailors need products that make their sailing safer, more comfortable, more convenient and enjoyable. Ronstan offers a superb range of clothing and accessories, including wetsuits, rashies, spray tops, boots, gloves, trapeze belts, gear bags, watches and timers.
what do you believe has been the biggest trend in sailing during your time with Ronstan?
Without question it has been the long term decline of the Australian market for our products. In my early years our biggest customers were Australian boat builders, but due to the influx of imported boats all of these customers have folded. In addition to that the chandlery market has shrunk enormously because the imported boats come in fully equipped to a high level, and Australians are simply not spending any money on outfitting, refitting or improving their boats.
Over the same period virtually all of the boats on the market, both off the beach and keelboats, have become lighter, stronger, faster, simpler and use way less fittings than the boats of old. Chinese manufactured components, particularly stainless steel hardware such as shackles and turnbuckles have flooded in to replace local manufacture.
Add all of these factors together and the Australian market has been a disaster for many in our industry. Ronstan has only survived and been successful by developing export markets, growth through acquisition and diversifying into architectural and industrial markets.
What are you looking forward to doing most now that you are Chairman of Ronstan and not CEO?
No matter how much you enjoy your work, and believe me nobody enjoyed his/her job more than I did, you reach a point in life as an active and fit person with a lot of interests, when you realise your job is preventing you from doing lots of things you want to do. After 40 years at Ronstan I reached that point. I am looking forward to being vitally interested in Ronstan as Chairman, helping steer the ship, continuing to being involved with customers and colleagues, but not having to front up to work at 8.30 in the morning every day and work a ten hour day! I am now sailing a Farr 40 every Wednesday afternoon, a Beneteau 25 every Thursday evening and my Tasar with my wife on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons!
Now that you are on the board of Australian Sailing, how will that influence the way you work with Ronstan?
This has come at the perfect time for me, as I have the time, passion, contacts and ideas that I am sure will benefit sailing in Australia, and I am very enthusiastic about continuing to be able to put back into the sport in a meaningful way. I admire what Australian Sailing is doing and I am looking forward to being a part of it. It won’t change the way I work with Ronstan, but I am confident that Ronstan will continue as a company to support sailing in all ways possible. ✵