Benjamin Young describes his $20 million business as a “super proud, Aussie company”. But despite his pride, the sustainable entrepreneur is being restricted on the amount of work he can provide to other proud, Aussie companies.
Young founded reusable coffee cup business Frank Green back in 2014 with the goal of ending the manufacturing of single-use coffee cups. The business quickly went on to become a local success story, with Frank Green cups a regular feature in coffee shops across the country.
Similar to other home-grown reusable-cup businesses such as KeepCup, Frank Green has been seeing upwards of 400% year-on-year growth, in part thanks to Australians’ renewed obsession with keeping things green and clean.
“When we started, about 1% of people were using reusable coffee cups. Now it’s around 6-7%,” he tells SmartCompany.
“We’re seeing crazy growth, and sustainability is playing a big part of that.”
However, Young’s business is at risk of seeing that growth taper off. The business owner attributes much of his success to the company’s use of local manufacturers but warns the government is lagging when it comes to helping those same manufacturers innovate and change.
Frank Green is a born and bred Melbourne company and operates just down the road from the manufacturer of the plastic parts of its reusable cups. Operating in such close proximity to a major part supplier has played a big part in the company’s growth and speed to market, Young says.
Additionally, the manufacturer is an ex-automotive manufacturer, forced to switch up its business after Toyota ceased its local manufacturing operations in October 2017.
“So after Toyota left in droves, this company got to reinvent themselves as a clever, green manufacturing business, and they’ve applied a lot of their learnings from car manufacturing to our products,” Young says.
Stainless steel deserted
Manufacturing the cups’ plastic parts is the easy bit, however, with the cups’ vacuum sealed stainless steel body still needing to be assembled internationally in countries such as China. Young wants to see this change and is calling on the federal government to make it happen.
“Australia is seeing a manufacturing decline, with the automotive companies leaving and other companies going offshore to provinces in China. We know manufacturers can reinvent themselves if given the chance, but a lack of government support is making it really hard,” he says.
The government has a number of programs and grants available for companies affected by the automotive industry shutdown, including a $47.5 million fund to help affected companies move into other industries.
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However, Young claims there’s little evidence of this having a material benefit to a lot of manufacturers, and says he’s been “stonewalled” by the government when enquiring about providing further support.
Young believes the support should come in specifically for stainless steel manufacturers, saying the industry is fragmented outside of the major steel producers, leading to companies looking overseas for supply.
“We want to have our entire supply chain here, but we can’t get the stainless steel vessels manufactured anywhere in Australia. It’s prehistoric,” he says.
Frank Green is currently expanding into the US, and says he wants to keep as many jobs in Australia while the company expands.
“We’re set to have operations all over the world, and I think we do enough volume now to warrant helping the stainless steel manufacturing industry get back on track,” he says.
While the move would directly benefit Frank Green’s business, Young says it’s more about helping the manufacturing industry as a whole, noting it’s a “bigger cause”. He says the support from the government would need to be about $1-2 million per manufacturing plant, with Frank Green happy to pitch in and support with funding as well.
“If it doesn’t happen, we can keep doing what we’re doing, but I know it’s not right. I want to keep clean and clever jobs in Australia,” he says.
“People told me it was a crazy idea to start Frank Green, so I may as well try this too.”