The Australian Shop & Office Fitting Industry Association (ASOFIA) might not have the size and resources of other industry Associations but it more than makes up for that in the way that it represents and unites the industry.
Currently with just under 500 shopfitting and interior fitout member companies Australia wide, ASOFIA has become a highly regarded specialist industry association.
It all started back in the late 60’s and early 70’s when State based Associations were forming around Australia to represent the interests of the industry at a local level. In 1978 after recognising that common goals existed across the state based Associations; they decided to unite to form the Australian Shopfitters Association. By 1994 it had become obvious that the Association’s area of representation and membership had become much broader so the name was changed to what it is today ASOFIA.
CEO Gerard Ryan says that promoting ASOFIA over the past 20 years has been somewhat of a challenge. The building industry generally has for so long had a reputation for being casual and unprofessional. The perception out there is that builders and tradesman turn up whenever they feel like it and invariably the client is left wondering what they have to do to get the job done right and on time. No such thing with ASOFIA members, who are highly qualified, highly organised professionals. They have to be in an industry where delayed building programs and leasing issues compress the fitout period and place enormous pressure on members to get the job done by predetermined shopping centre opening dates that don’t normally move.
In an effort to differentiate Association members from the stigma that represents the building industry ASOFIA rebranded a couple of years ago to ASOFIA – The Mark of a Professional. The Association has recently introduced an internal system of accreditation and a requirement for continuing professional development. The Association’s Code of Ethics sets the standard for which all new and existing members must achieve. Put simply, if you are not a genuine and professional business operator then ASOFIA is not the Association for you! We represent the best and intend to stay that way Ryan says.
Like most other Associations, ASOFIA represents the interests of members companies across a range of areas like training, licensing, Operational Health and Safety etc. It also uses strategic alliances with other bigger organisations to provide support in those areas where its limited resources prevent it from being involved – in particular areas such as industrial relations.
The unique thing about the shopfitting and interior fitout industry is the relationship that most ASOFIA members have with each other. On any day they will be fierce competitors with each other vying to win a job and the next day they will be supporting each other, lending each other labour, subcontracting work to each other or directing work they can’t cope with to other like businesses. This sort of relationship has taken some time to develop and is the very reason why Association meetings, events and conferences as well supported. The Networking benefit to members is outstanding.
Manufacturers and suppliers to the industry love ASOFIA and regularly report it as being one of the most valuable and professional Associations they are involved with. One of the most satisfying things for the Association is the loyalty members demonstrate towards ASOFIA. It is their industry, their Association and usually once they join they stay for the long term with close to a third of the current membership having been involved for in excess of 10 -15 years. Even today there are plenty of companies that joined those state based Associations back in the late 60’s and early 70’s and remain a member today.
It isn’t easy out there
The current economic climate is presenting plenty of challenges for most businesses around Australia and for ASOFIA members it is no different. Low margins and a big decline in work brought about by the current economic downturn and the desire of shopping centre owners to protect their rent in preference to the maintaining the appearance of their centres is putting a big strain on member companies. Retailers are on their knees as the need for daily specials erodes their margins. As a result they are simply not renovating their retail premises with the same frequency as they would normally do.
Imported joinery is also a concern for those traditional shopfitting companies who manufacture their own joinery. Client expectations and demands for contractors to use cheaper imported joinery are also placing pressure on the industry. The effects of on-line retailing on the industry are yet to be determined however there will always be a market for people who want to touch and feel a product before they purchase. Shopping is an experience and as we know at least half the population love it!
Good times are coming
But there are certainly good times to come and there will be plenty of catch up work for the industry when the pendulum turns. Some of our shopping centres are looking a little tired and there will soon be an expectation for retailers to give their shops a much needed facelift.
Whilst that is the time the industry looks forward to with great anticipation, it also knows that it will bring with it a number of other challenges, not only getting the work done but being able to have the resources to do it. Economic downturns invariably lead to the loss of skilled labour and the challenge will be to rebuild and maintain those stocks for the future will be a challenge.
To that end the Association is developing a program called the ASOFIA Lifecycle. The objective of this program is to provide a support network for every stage in the career or interior fitout employees starting with the encouragement of school leavers to enter the industry, to offering support for apprentices through to tradesman and then supporting the needs of new and established business owners. It is an ambitious and exciting program for the Association to embark upon but there are so many things that an Association like ASOFIA can do to foster every stage of a career within our industry.
The end result is sure to deliver long term benefits for our industry and have a positive impact on the sustained growth of the Association.