Ronstan is born when Ron Allatt and Stan Lenepveu decide to set up a manufacturing facility, producing wooden-hulled boats and the stainless steel deck fittings they required.
With the help of a few friends they start to construct the boat-building factory in Advantage Road, Highett, laying out and digging the foundations themselves. The factory is completed in 1953 and the name Ronstan Marine Equipment Pty Ltd is registered on 21 December that year.
By 1955 another factory is needed, so a further building 60x50 feet is built at the rear of the first one, in Advantage Road, Highett. Ron moves out of the small factory and starts accepting orders for larger boats. Another boat builder is needed, and Bernie Phelan is employed.
In 1958 Ronstan buys the next-door block at 19 Advantage Rd for £3000, and builds another factory with offices in the front and a drawing loft upstairs. The new factory is used for a production line of plywood cabin cruisers.
It wasn't just the boatbuilding side of the business that was flourishing in those early years. Down at the nearby Black Rock Yacht Club, Ron and Stan are frequently called upon to supply custom built yacht hardware and in the early days everything is handmade.
But just as the fittings business seems to be taking off, the partners discover a problem. Local distributors won’t stock Ronstan fittings because the newcomer is a competitor to the hugely successful Fico brand (Field Instrument Company, which had been established in Brighton by locals Reg Freame and Gordon Chatfield). So Ron and Stan open their own retail showroom instead – the Ronstan Marine Centre at 81 Beach Rd Sandringham, opposite the football ground.
The 1960 credit squeeze hits the marine industry hard and production boat sales die. Cash flow needs are urgent. The advent of fibreglass promises to radically and permanently change the boat building scene, making it a more capital intensive industry. Ron and Stan eventually decide to concentrate on making boat fittings alone. The pair realise their future is in the mass production of marine hardware, and thus begins the “Ronstan Fitting” tradition – the RF part number prefix which continues today. They sell the retail store to the Warner family, Jack Eggleton and Brian Barnes (it becomes Anchor Marine), and dispose of the wood-working equipment to concentrate on their new direction.
In 1963 the first Ronstan catalogue is produced, listing 50 products. The catalogue is the only thing Ron and Stan have printed – the owners believe the quality of their fittings speak for themselves, and advertising brochures are unnecessary.
In October 1966 the Australian Trade Commission holds a trade display in Los Angeles which Doug Sharpin attends. A substantial initial order is received for blocks, shackles and turnbuckles. Eventually the trade grows to the extent that it keeps the Ronstan factory staff of 12 busy all year round, with export sales growing from $612 in 1964 to $36,956 in 1966 and $156,150 in 1969.
The first export sales ae made in the late 1960s when a Canadian airline pilot, Don Findlay, takes a trial consignment home with him in the cockpit. A DC-8 pilot, Findlay had turned up at the factory on his layover to investigate fittings for his part-time wholesale yacht hardware business. The stock sells well, and Ronstan’s first international distribution deal is set up with Findlay Imports in Vancouver.
At that time only cast brass and bronze shackles were available in the US, and word spread via Findlay’s contacts about this innovative Australian company making shackles from stainless steel.
With export sales growing substantially, Ronstan is recognised and awarded its first export award in 1970, presented to Ron and Doug Sharpin by the Governor General, Sir Paul Hasluck, in Canberra.
Ronstan purchases more land in 1970, this time at 220-222 Bay Rd Sandringham. The three acres cost $320,000 – a huge amount in those days – and become the new headquarters for Ronstan Marine Equipment. The new factory and offices amount to 33,000 square feet. Ronstan moves into the new premises in 1973.
Thanks to its commitment to research and development, Ronstan’s product range continues to grow during the 1970s. Dick Sadlier Agencies was appointed New South Wales distributor and Bob Littler Agencies distributor for Queensland.
Export opportunities are actively pursued, and the 1970 award is followed by further awards in 1975 and 1980.
By the mid 1970s Ronstan had increased its catalogue range to more than a thousand items. It supplies 3000 swivelling deadeye cam cleats a month to Hobie catamarans in the US, and delivers a special mainsheet traveller car for the Swedish America’s Cup challenger Sverige. A giant 120 ton capacity press is installed in a new press shop which doubles the production area. By that time Ron is specialising in product control while Stan develops and designs the new machines and tools.
Alistair Murray is hired in 1976 as Victorian sales representative and in 1980 heads to the USA to set up a warehouse in Newport Beach, California with his wife Jenni as an employee. Alistair will never forget his job interview with Ron Allatt. Being a teenager in the 1970s he had very long hair, so in preparation for the interview he’d been to the barber’s that morning – ‘to help me land a respectable job’, as he puts it. Ron obviously liked the ‘cut of his jib’ at the interview and advised him he could start on Monday on one condition – that was, that he had to get his hair cut first. Back to the barber for the second cut of the day!
After 26 years in business together, in 1977 Ron and Stan sell the business to ARC (Australian Reinforced Concrete) Industries, as part of that company’s endeavour to diversify into the leisure industry. Stan retires six months later, but Ron stays on as General Manager for another five years before retiring. In 1980 or thereabout Humes Industries purchases ARC.
By 1977 Ronstan is exporting to 29 countries and establishes warehouses in Tampa, Florida (1978) and Orange County, California (1980).
An American operation is incorporated in 1978 under the management of Max Hazelwood. Until then distribution to the US market had been the responsibility of a US agent, Nick Alexander of Alexander Roberts Co. Max Hazelwood and his wife Dottie are instrumental in getting Ronstan re-established in the US, with an involvement spanning the years from 1978 to 1995. Max has a small but loyal team in Clearwater, Florida, and always demonstrates unbridled enthusiasm for Ronstan and commitment to the cause.
In 1979 the ARC group acquires HiLite Marine, manufacturer of navigation lights, and HS Mason, manufacturers of rigging products. This NSW company enhances Ronstan’s access to mast manufacturers and riggers in that state. Also acquired in the late 1970s are Re-Lax Anchor Devices from Adelaide and Naunton Plastics in Melbourne.
In 1981 Ronstan’s rapidly growing success enables it to acquire Fico Marine, its principal rival, in a deal that cements Ronstan’s position as Australia’s number one marine fittings producer.
In 1983 the company’s international profile is boosted when it fits out the America’s Cup winner Australia II. Every Australian remembers what they were doing when John Bertrand and his crew lifted the ‘Auld Mug’ from the grasp of the Americans, and Australia II had the very latest custom-made Ronstan gear aboard. The American boat, Liberty, also used Ronstan – dated gear, of course! By 1987, seven of the twelve America’s Cup yachts in Fremantle are using Ronstan fittings. Unfortunately, on that occasion Dennis Conner took the Cup back to America.
The current Finance Director, Laine McCooke, starts with the company in 1984 and around this time the first computer-aided drafting (CAD) system is introduced.
In 1985, with the company growing strongly in Europe and the US, Ronstan wins the Governor of Victoria’s Award for Significant Export Achievement.
Also in 1985 Ronstan is purchased by a New Zealand company, Fortuna Corporation, which owns RC Marine, a manufacturer of marine plumbing systems. Mike Evans takes over as Managing Director of both Ronstan and RC Marine.
By 1982 Alistair Murray has become Export Manager, having returned from California. One of his priorities following the merger of Ronstan and Fico is to consolidate distributors, so in 1987 he flies to Europe intending to sack the Fico distributor in Italy, in favour of putting all of the company’s support behind the Ronstan distributor. At the Genoa boat show he introduces himself to Louis Sander who is manning the stand for Tomasoni Topsail, the Fico distributor. Alistair informs him that Ronstan intends to terminate the relationship but, having started only a week or two before, Louis suggests that’s a bit harsh and requests a stay of execution for twelve months during which he will show Ronstan what he can do. Alistair relented, gave him a chance, and a year later sacked the old Ronstan distributor. Tomasoni continued to be a great Ronstan distributor for many years, and Louis joined Ronstan in 1993 as the European representative. Today he is Ronstan’s European Director, a shareholder in the business, and an absolutely vital cog in the senior management team.
In 1987 Ronstan is selected for participation in the Federal Government’s Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) program, leading to a big leap forward in manufacturing technology. Manufacturing Manager Graeme Bond oversees the introduction of expensive but efficient CNC technology to the factory.
In the late 1980s Ronstan commences the distribution side of the business, with early agencies being Wichard from France and Nicro Marine from the USA. Ronstan’s biggest agency line was Marlow ropes from the UK.
In 1990 Ronstan branches out into markets outside the marine industry, marketing stainless steel rigging components to the architectural and construction industries. The non-marine charter is to find new markets, applications and opportunities for marine products that marine distributors are not prepared to chase. A dedicated Non-Marine Sales Manager is appointed and in 1992 Rowan Murray is employed as Non-Marine Sales Representative.
Less happily, in 1990 Fortuna goes into receivership, taking Ronstan with it. For a year, the company is managed by the receiver and bank. In 1991 it is purchased by a local syndicate headed up by James Taylor and Peter Gillon, with Taylor assuming the position of Managing Director. Other parties include local sailing identities John Savage and Andrew Plympton, and Ronstan managers Graeme Bond, Alistair Murray, Vic Ferguson and Neil Williams.
The need for recovery in the midst of the recession makes international expansion even more imperative than it had always been. In 1992 Alistair Murray moves to California for four years, and Ronstan is re-incorporated as a US company. The following year, in a coveted distribution deal, Ronstan products are taken on by the Californian company West Marine, the world’s largest marine retailer. By 2006 West Marine is Ronstan’s largest account, with close to 400 stores throughout the US and Canada.
The first architect-specific literature is produced in 1995. Tim Melville joins as Non-Marine Rep for Vic/SA/Tas in 1994 becomes renowned as the champion of the architectural lecture – enhanced by the beautiful red velvet placemat made by Anna Melville on which a code 32 rigging screw sat magnificently on many an architect’s boardroom table. Major successes in the non-marine area in the mid 1990s include Monash University carpark, Optus retail stores, the Homebush Olympic stadium, Star City Casino, Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Couran Cove in Queensland.
Having joined Ronstan as a young sales rep in 1976, Alistair Murray is appointed as the new Managing Director in 1997. In that year turnover reaches a record $20 million. With a workforce of about 160, efficiency in manufacturing is fundamental to the firm’s success; products are airfreighted all over the world and competitively priced in their destination markets.
1999 is an eventful year in other ways too. On the marine side of things Ronstan is a major sponsor of Sail Melbourne’s 1999 World Sailing Championships, the largest small boat regatta ever held in the southern hemisphere. On the non-marine side, Ronstan secures a contract to supply large volumes of architectural products to the Sydney Olympics sites.
Ronstan enjoyed outstanding success on the water, with Ronstan-equipped boats medalling in most classes.
In 2001 the company acquires the Danish brand Frederiksen, founded by Gert Frederiksen who had established a worldwide reputation on the racing scene for making the world’s best big boat blocks, traveller systems and batten car systems. Michael Hanlon, Louis Sander, Alistair Murray and Laine McCooke spend many long and late hours in Vejle, Denmark finalising the deal. Louis relocates from Australia to Denmark to look after this new addition to the Ronstan business.
In 2003, with offices in six countries and exporting to 45, the company wins the Australian Marine Industry Exporter of the Year award. The company manufactures some 1400 products in Australia and 700 in Denmark, and distributes a further 1200 products manufactured all over the world including brands such as Marlow, Clamcleat and Windex.
At the 50th anniversary in 2003, the five directors of Ronstan are Michael Hanlon (chairman), Graham Cunningham, Alistair Murray, Laine McCooke and Louis Sander. The senior management team comprises Alistair Murray, Louis Sander, Laine McCooke, Tim Maishman, Rowan Murray, Tim Melville, Bryn Wellington and Peter Dowdney (living in the US with his family, running the US company). Other managers and partners in the company include Tony Tanner, Mick Wade, Vince Jayaratne, John Davis, KC Fullmer, Alan Prussia and Neil Taylor.
Moving Ronstan US headquarters from St Petersburg, FL to Portsmouth, RI is a tactical shift to better position the company closer to more of their sailing industry clients. The new Ronstan office in Portsmouth features a Customer Service centre, showroom and warehouse. Scot West joined the company as the new President of US operations.
A key component of Ronstan’s success has been its wonderful long term relationships with international distributors. Those that had represented Ronstan for in excess of 20 years in 2003 were Aquasports (Mauritius), W. Bannister (Chile), Bucher & Walt (Switzerland), Central Boating (South Africa), Cosmos Marine (Japan), Far East Yacht Specialists (Hong Kong), Intermarine Supply Co. (Singapore), Lankhorst-Taselaar (The Netherlands), Marine Corail (New Caledonia), Nakamura Sengu (Japan), Piercey Marine (Hong Kong), Sportmanship/Robship (Sweden), Yacht Riggers (Germany, then Mallorca), Tomasoni Topsail (Italy), Tradewinds (Fiji), and in New Zealand Barton Marine (Wellington), CaterMarine (Whangarei), A. Foster & Co. (Auckland), Oborns (Christchurch) and Sailor’s Corner (Auckland).
Also in 2006, Ronstan began a new partnership with Austrian rope manufacturer Teufelberger for the distribution of FSE Robline rope in Australasia and North America.
After 40 years at the same address on Bay Road, Sandringham, Ronstan made the move to new premises in Braeside, a neighbouring suburb.
Known around the world for the enduring quality and beautiful finish of their signature Andersen Winches, this company was founded in 1953 by Frederik Andersen.
Located in Vejle, just the other side of the fjord in the same town as Ronstan’s existing Danish operation, the two businesses are an ideal complement to each other and the acquisition is concluded in September, 2010.
Ronstan is awarded the 'Red Dot Award' for their Core Block™ range. The concept of the basic sailing block was extended beyond the simple ball bearing design from decades ago. With class-leading performance and contemporary race-inspired styling Ronstan's Core Blocks™ now offer sailors an attractive and affordable option appropriate for today’s refined sailboat designs.
Ronstan Denmark’s Managing Director Thomas Meyer has his hands full merging the two manufacturing operations into one. By the end of the year everything is running smoothly, with winch and hardware all produced under the same roof.
Tony Tanner and Carl Evans re-locate from Australia to Batam, Indonesia. They choose a vacant site for the new factory and begin hiring and training local staff as the first tools and machines arrive. Within months the new operation is carrying out CNC machining and precision injection moulding to the highest standards.
Forty years after joining Ronstan as a sales rep, Alistair Murray retires and hands over to new Managing Director, Scot West. Alistair takes over from Graham Cunningham as Chairman of the Ronstan board of directors, while Brendon Anderson re-locates to the Portsmouth, RI office replacing Scot as President of US operations.