Valley Furniture is located in Kelmscott Perth and has been operating since 1977. The AFA spoke with the owner Jim about the business.
AFA – Tell us about how the business started and evolved
Jim – I came to Australia when l was 20, l tried to come when l was 18 but they said l was too young. I was a 10 pound Pom. I landed in Perth and here l have stayed. When l first arrived l only had $240 in my pocket and my tools. I was lucky as l had a job lined up before l came here at a timber and trading company and that is where it all started.
With Valley Furniture I started working in the business part time with a partner and l still had another job working fulltime. The partner decided he didn’t want to be in it any more so l took over. I put on an apprentice and ended up with about 20 people working here making furniture primarily out of Jarrah.
Then during the 80’s things were a bit tough and we cut down staff to about 8, and slowly we built back up to 20 again. Now we have about 8 again and it seems to be the right number.
We use all local timbers for our products, with Jarrah and Marri, we use Tasmanian Oak too. Jarrah used to be the most popular wood to work with as it is a dark colour. Now everyone is preferring the Marri, which used to be only good enough for the wood pile. It is a lighter coloured wood and can be stained in different colours. It is a bit more versatile. I still prefer the Jarrah, it is a quality timber and is classic. We only use local timbers.
AFA – What are the main products you make?
Jim –We make individual bits of furniture, more bespoke these days - high end, wall units, display units, beds, desks, that sort of thing. We are 100% Australian made and designed – as we make it for the customer. We do have a few standard pieces in the showroom and the factory if people want to buy them. We have 4 stores that we supply to here in Perth as well and we do work for them. Most of our work comes to us by word of mouth as we try to meet people’s requirements. We don’t compete with any of the mainstream businesses as there is no need.
AFA – Did the mining boom have any effect on people’s furniture choices?
Jim – The mining industry did bring a lot of cash to Perth and it brought a desire for quality, so that has sustained us quite well. Now it has slowed due to the construction phase winding up a bit but the previous fly in fly out people are now buying homes in Perth so there is a lot of growth in that sector. The housing is quite expensive here, the mines still employ a lot of people but a lot of them now fly in and fly out from QLD or Melbourne.
AFA – What is your favourite piece of furniture to make?
Jim – Well l don’t make much these days, but l did love making the wall units, the display cabinets. I used to love making products and looking back and seeing a pile of wood shavings and the finished product there. Then being able to take it to the clients and seeing the delight on their faces. I also enjoy the knowledge that product we have made will still be around in a 100 years. We are leaving a legacy of quality Australian made furniture. I am very proud of the quality we produce.
AFA – What do you think about some of the lesser quality furniture around?
Jim – I try not to look at it, you get a whiff of the lacquer they use and you know it doesn’t meet Australian standards, but the people who buy it don’t know. It shouldn’t be allowed really.
AFA – Where do you see the future of furniture manufacturing?
Jim – There is a future but some people can’t see it. The TAFE courses are finishing up, we can’t afford to put on apprentices like we used to and the ripple effect of that onto other industries that work with us is not good for Australia. The Government needs a holistic view on the industry. Once these skills go they are gone for good. There are lots of smaller manufacturers around now the big ones have all gone, so there will always be an industry but not as we have known it in the past.
AFA – What does the future have in store for Jim Hobbs-Turner?
Jim – Well l am semi-retired now l am only working two days a week. One of the former Apprentices is taking over. I am going to stay on for another couple of years and then travel around Australia with the wife and go overseas as well.
AFA – Thank you Jim and enjoy your semi -retirement.