Australian businessman John Fargher knows a thing or two about exporting. He is an industry leader in innovation, problem-solver and an expert in adapting to global demand. Growing and diversifying is second nature.
Fargher spent over 3 decades building South Australian agribusiness company Steriline. Today it is one of Australia’s most sought-after and successful engineering export companies.
Fargher’s export acumen was recognised in October 2022, when Steriline won the 2022 South Australia Premier’s Export Award for Regional Exporter. The Mt Barker–based company is a finalist in its category at the Australian Export Awards in November.
The key to Steriline’s success, Fargher says, is looking to new horizons. So is being willing to change up old ways of doing business. Ensuring top quality and knowing your audience are crucial too.
Steriline has operated since the 1950s. It specialises across 2 areas of agribusiness: horseracing barriers and meat-processing equipment. The company exports to 53 countries and has a proud history of working with Austrade. The agency has helped Steriline develop and diversify into new markets, while growing sales in existing ones.
If you have watched “The race that stops a nation”, you would have seen Fargher’s first labour of love. It is also the product for which the company is most famed.
Look closely as the horses are led into the barriers for the Melbourne Cup. Steriline Racing makes the complex and carefully crafted starting gates. They are the largest starting gates under a single truss in the world.
Steriline Racing supplies these gates, rails and other equipment to the Victoria Racing Club (Flemington Racecourse) and the Australian Turf Club (Royal Randwick Racecourse).
The company also supplies most of the world’s most prestigious horse racetracks and racing clubs. They include:
Steriline drew on its years of expertise in exporting to increase sales during COVID-19. It also traversed some tricky waters with a deft hand. This included delivering a starting gate to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
The deal was done just before the pandemic hit. The delivery, however, was scheduled when most international borders were closed. The Steriline Racing technician who assembles the unique designs could not leave Australia.
The answer? Three intensive weeks of complex instructions using WhatsApp video, racing to meet the May deadline. It showed the company’s ongoing commitment to employing innovative solutions to keep its promises.
‘When we sold this gate to Churchill Downs, we thought “how the hell are we going to put this together?”’ says Fargher. ‘It was a special gate to accommodate the horses. The Kentucky Derby field is 20-strong. It requires almost double the size of the standard gate. But we got it done, working through the night to accommodate the US time zone. It was a great success.’
Fargher has a unique problem – one which most would envy. It means the need to find new customers, and new markets, is always front of mind. It is a challenge he enjoys.
‘We are a niche business with niche products,’ he says. ‘We are constantly criticised for manufacturing a product that lasts too long and rarely needs to be replaced. But I am proud of that. If your only criticism is your product is too good, I won’t argue with that.’
Steriline’s value proposition is underpinned by a willingness to invest time and money to offer a superior product.
‘We work hand-in-glove with our customer to ensure we sell them what they need, rather than what they want,’ says Fargher.
‘We almost never build the same thing year to year. We are always willing to change. What makes us good at the job is having that close link to our customers. We focus on what they need, using all the lessons learned over a long time.
‘Our focus is on customisation and innovations rather than aggressive growth,’ he adds. ‘We believe that comes naturally if you build a good product and deliver on your promises. In everything we do, we have a laser focus on our products’ quality. We are continuously improving the engineering behind our advanced manufacturing processes.
‘For example, it is not enough to build a solid starting gate that will last. It has to work. The efficiency of the start is absolutely crucial. You don’t get a second chance with a landmark horse race. We have to ensure an even break every time. This means we cannot cut corners or go faster than what the project requires. But the end result is so much the better for this.’
Safety and compliance underpin the other business in Fargher’s stable – Steriline Engineering. The business manufactures a range of equipment. They include solar panel frames, structural signage, boom gates and other custom metal-based agribusiness products.
Steriline Engineering is best known for its beef abattoir hide pullers. These have been adopted as the gold standard in meat processing for ensuring a cleaner hide and minimising waste. The latest generation is known worldwide as the most robust, hygienic and safe machines available.
‘We apply the most intelligent solutions using the latest technologies to everything we do,’ Fargher says. ‘We recognised early the need and appetite for massive change and improvement around safety and compliance in the industry. This has not always been the case. Our hide pullers deliver a real solution to an ever-evolving problem.’
Steriline Engineering has built a reputation as a leader in its field. It exports the hide pullers to:
Steriline Engineering’s commitment to quality has earned the company a solid reputation. Some of the world’s largest food producers and meat processors are admirers. They include JBS and Teys Australia (a joint venture between Teys Bros and Cargill Australia).
Fargher’s work with Austrade has traversed the decades since 1994, when exporting was dramatically different.
He credits Austrade for its focus on diversification. Its international network of trade experts has been invaluable. These experts leverage opportunities for exporters by:
‘I have enormous respect for the work Austrade does,’ says Fargher. ‘We decided early on to not have agents around the world. While we are active in many countries, the nature of our products means a big sale can come in one region, and then not again for some time.
‘We have relied on Austrade to look out for opportunities and make introductions. We look to them to help us work through the many different market requirements. Austrade also helps us interpret, literally, what our customers are saying.
‘We are always looking to expand, and to find new ways of developing and manufacturing products. Similarly, we always look to Austrade to find new areas to export. It has been a great working relationship.’