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Mr Stainless Shop

As featured in The Sydney Morning Herald Domain September 28, 2006.

Steve Dow September 28, 2006

A social worker's skills made a success of this stainless steel business.

Stainless steel in 1965? Robin Stuart may have been a visionary when he saved £100 and started his family's wholesale business, Mr Stainless, in Abbotsford that year, importing the steel from Japan and supplying it to merchants.

"He thought he could make a living out of stainless steel," his wife, Pam, says. "Everybody said, 'You're crazy.' But it was a wide-open market. Nobody else was specialising. We were the first exclusively stainless steel company in Sydney and, I think, in Australia."

Pam was a social worker, pregnant with their son, Byron, and had no knowledge of steel bolts, nuts, screws and piping. But her husband brought her people skills into the business from the beginning and she learnt the trade on the run.

In the early '90s, when Pam took over after Robin died, she noted the growing number of people walking into the shop who wanted to buy direct.

Steel balustrades had entered the architectural vernacular and their popularity was rising. So she transformed the business to retail, with 40 to 50 customers walking in daily.

Byron Stuart has switched from his IT career to work with his mother as director of Mr Stainless, with Kevin Christie as shop manager. Mr Stainless now imports from Taiwan and Korea.

The demand for the balustrades keeps growing, despite rising raw material costs forcing the price of the retail product up by 20 per cent this year. Expect to pay about $26 a metre of wire, including fittings and labour, plus $40 a metre for post tubing and railings.

"People prefer slimline fittings, particularly for inside," Byron says. "They tend to go for clean lines."

Half of the retail customers are DIY renovators - modular systems are available "just like Meccano"; the rest of the business is with tradesmen. "You might need to do a bit of riveting but it saves on installation costs," Byron says.

The most common mistake renovators make with stainless steel balustrades is incorrect measuring, Byron says. He advises people to measure from the inside to the inside of where each post will be placed when ordering wire, and to work in millimetres, not centimetres. If in doubt, Byron can provide an onsite consultation.

Also, check with your council to see how building codes apply in your area. For safety reasons, particularly to protect children, the balustrade wires usually need to be strung about 80 millimetres apart.

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