Home-grown innovation from Caps & Closures has achieved acclaim on the global stage, with the Melbourne company walking off with a trophy at the recent WorldStar Awards. Lindy Hughson caught up with MD Brendon Holmes to find out more about what led the business to the spotlight on a stage in Prague.
WINNING might not be everything, but there’s no denying it’s a grand feeling to achieve recognition from your global peers on a world stage, no matter what the award. So when fellow Australian and World Packaging Organisation president Pierre Pienaar raised the arms of MD Brendon Holmes and design engineer Michael Van Dord to celebrate their victory at the WorldStar awards in Prague there was an ebullient sense of pride all round.
But for Caps & Closures managing director Holmes, who has adeptly led his team to this pinnacle, there’s no room for personal hubris. For this self-effacing leader, it’s all about how the award reflects his team’s efforts to interpret and deliver on customers’ requirements.
“The WorldStar recognition was a confirmation of the strategic direction and vision we have developed as a company over the last four years,” Holmes says. “Now we want to continue to build on this vision and expand nationally and internationally, creating new markets for our innovative concepts.”
“We may not be the largest manufacturer in our local market, but we are definitely a contender looking for the next step into international markets.”
The 25-strong company fields a multifaceted team of sales professionals, design and tooling engineers, moulding technicians and plant operators. Holmes has been at the company’s helm since he purchased the business in 2004. By his own admission, the first few years were a struggle, but he soon worked out that the company had to focus on closures rather than other packaging formats, and service a spread of markets. Today the customer base spans the food, beverage, pharma, cosmetics, agri-chem, household, and automotive sectors and the company has an established reputation for developing leading-edge innovation.
Holmes is quick to point out the important role customers have played in Caps & Closures’ success.
“Although we are the ones who pull the ideas together and deliver the innovation, our customers are the inspiration,” he says.
“Our dedicated sales team regularly visits our customers and listens to their needs. When our customer asks ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could…?’, our team is equipped to develop and deliver a solution.”
A case in point is the WorldStar-celebrated Precise Pour closure, developed for customer Seasol – who expressed an interest in a tap that could pour through its centre – and which marks a leap forward in the functionality of the simple tap closure. This 360-degree continuous pour, anti-glug closure is designed to replace any tap that requires the customer to puncture the bottle and any tap that is designed to be sold as an additional component. It’s simple to apply, intuitive to use, and offers tamper-evidence.
The inventiveness embodied by his team clearly energises Holmes, who too has creativity running in his veins – schooled in the design and construction of musical instruments, he’s also an accomplished musician and artist, whose paintings adorn the company’s walls. It’s not surprising then, that he places so much store in the importance of innovation as the driver of growth for the company.
SLIDING DOORS TO SUCCESS
There have been several notable ‘sliding door’ moments for the business that have boosted the company’s market position. The first was the decision to move from its original premises located alongside a creek (HACCP nightmare!) to arguably the best address for any manufacturer: Number One Quality Drive. The Dandenong facility was purchased in 2011, and completely refitted. The new HACCP-accredited facility inspired confidence in major multinational customers like Heinz and Schweppes, among others, and the business took off.
Today the facility houses some 22 injection moulding machines, including two Netstal Synergy 2400 units purchased in the last 18 months, and Holmes hints that more installations are imminent, along with a factory expansion that will see a third warehouse set up in close proximity to the factory.
“We like to ensure we have available capacity at any time, to be able to respond to unplanned requests. We’re looking to expand our capacity so we can continue to improve our throughput on high value products,” he says.
“The key is flexibility. We maintain a fleet of small, medium and high capacity machines which enables us to be agile and innovative, and in so doing we’re able to run the business on sustainable principles [Caps & Closures is an APCO signatory] and deliver production efficiency.”
Another sliding door moment occurred four years ago, and created a step change in the company’s ability to manage its intellectual property. Up until this point, Caps & Closures had outsourced its maintenance and tooling functions. But when the owner of that business passed away suddenly, and his widow called to say she had to shut up shop, Holmes made the split-second decision to buy the company, on-board its staff, and bring tooling in-house.
“Now the ideation and development process is streamlined, and we have complete control over our IP, from concept to shelf,” he says.
To support the in-house innovation process, the company has invested in a number of 3D printers to facilitate proof of concept and prototype development.
“Being able to give the customer something to hold in the hand is vital to simulating the user experience,” he says.
Holmes notes that in Precise Pour’s case, the team printed in excess of 80 3D models before achieving the ultimately successful prototype that went on to be commercialised.
Despite continued growth, and numerous awards under its belt, Caps & Closures is not resting on its laurels. The company is currently undergoing the final stages of a rebranding process, and has engaged consultancy firm Design2Thrive to revisit the company’s values, mission and vision with emphasis on developing a strategy around designing for the future. Key pillars are culture, sustainability and ageing population.
“This is the framework from which we are going to build all our ideas and concepts for the next five years, as we continue to strive to be the supplier of choice in the markets we serve,” Holmes says.
Caps & Closures has built solid partnerships with international principals, and imports innovation for specialty applications. However, its core business remains its own innovation.
Holmes concludes: “Our message to customers is this: ‘If we don’t already make it, and it doesn’t exist in the world, we’ll design it and customise it for you’.”
What’s clear to an outside observer is that this is a company determined to be a category disruptor. Several projects in the pipeline that couldn’t be shared in print yet, and another WorldStar award in the offing for a world-first innovation in the automotive sector, attest to this. It seems there’s no putting a cap on this company’s capabilities.