PUSHING THROUGH: General manager of J Notaras and Sons, Donna Layton, has been guiding the timber mill through some challenging times.
PUSHING THROUGH: General manager of J Notaras and Sons, Donna Layton, has been guiding the timber mill through some challenging times.

COVID-19 recovery Q&A with J Notaras & Sons

EACH week, The Daily Examiner will present a Q&A with previous Clarence Valley Business Awards winners, and in our third instalment, CVBEA marketing manager Renee Murphy was joined by Donna Layton, General Manager of Notaras & Sons Pty Ltd, founded by Spiro Notaras OAM in 1952.

The CVBEA have named an award after the founder of this successful long running business due to Mr Notaras' consistent dedication and impressive list of achievements within the community.

Renee Murphy: Prior to the start of COVID- 19 crisis, had you any plans in place to deal with a situation such as this global pandemic?

Donna Layton: In our industry we are well versed in "events" such as wet weather which stops harvesting, high and lows with the building industry which we have been prepared with good stock and could adjust our production to suit. However with devastating fires we had just experienced earlier before COVID- 19 followed by this, which has been unprecedented, we have been quite impacted from the back to back events. How can you plan for a global health crisis, especially the first in our time. We have always kept our debt to a minimum like any good business, and over the many years we have rarely reduced our labour hours however have had to following these two events.

RM: So it seems that the plan was survival?

DL: Our plan is always survival. You reduce log purchases, keep all other expenses to a minimum, only do only essential maintenance and cut out all over time.

RM: Once the crisis has completely been overcome, what are the key factors in resuming business as per normal with a focus on client retention and new business development?

DL: We are listed as an essential service; therefore, we did not close down. We continued to service our customers. We had been keeping our customers up to date, as the fires were actually the greatest impact to our resources to date, meaning that we were unable to produce some of our well-known products. Some of our species are simply unavailable following the fires. We are however producing some new lines to combat that and experimenting with some other species to fill the sales gaps.

RM: What do you think will be your biggest challenge in re-establishing your business?

DL: Our biggest challenge is to market the species mix we do have now, which is of course different to the normal species we usually carry which are well known and very popular. As a manufacturer we have to influence our customers who then have to influence the consumer.

RM: In hindsight is there anything that you would have done that would have made your business more resilient to the COVID crisis?

DL: Our log stock problem is more from the Bushfires then COVID-19 as simply our stock burnt to the ground as you could understand. I don't know how you can account for these sorts of unprecedented disasters other than try to manage the bottom line through not carrying a lot of debt and keeping costs down. This cannot always be anticipated as timing and mother nature aren't always on your side.

RM: What have you been pleased with the most, in seeing your business positively manage its way onwards and upwards from both the Bushfires and COVID-19?

DL: We have had a real focus on Best Business Practice. To keep staff well informed as well as our customers. We did this by sending out weekly stock lists which also created demand in getting orders in quickly understanding that we were managing our stock week to week. We also notified our customers of upcoming stock and timing on all of them to give them the full picture. Keeping our employers updated meant that they were assured that they still had jobs and could focus on serving the business instead of worrying about whether they could place food on the table, as we were well equipped and positioned to maintain our salary line. I am pleased that over both disasters, our business only made one redundancy and no major complaints from our staff over this time.

RM: That sounds wonderful, was there anything else you would like to add Donna?

DL: Just that we are in this for the long haul, we have been through tough times before and no doubt will be go through tough times again, yet with the right team in place and stock on hand, anything is achievable.