Client Story - Turnleys Australia

Image-Turnley-scan-(3).jpgTurnleys Australia was originally established in 1909 as R.G Turnley and Son, a wholesaler of hairdressing and beauty products to the trade. Now in its fifth generation, the business is run by joint owners and brothers Peter and Brian Turnley.

Now in their seventies, the brothers have been involved in the family business ever since they were school kids. They started off filling bottles of hair oil in what was then known as ‘the laboratory’ and each took similar yet different trajectories with Brian completing a hair dressing course and Peter working in the family business focusing on product sales. Their eldest brother, the late Graeme Turnley trained as an accountant.  In terms of looking after the family business, as Peter says, they had it all covered.

In their early twenties, like most other Australians their age, Peter and Brian packed their bags and headed off to Europe on working holidays. Peter recalls a job in Europe working as a car park valet for around 15 pounds a week. It was an encounter with a customer, who’s parking fee for one car was more than his entire salary that ultimately acted as the catalyst in convincing him to return home and join the family business.
They returned to Melbourne and started roles at Turnleys where they have worked ever since.

Turnley’s has been around for more than 100 years which is longer than many family businesses. What’s the reason behind its success?
Peter: We are pretty much part of the furniture here. We learnt about the family business at a very early age as we often would have conversations around the dinner table. One thing about working in a family business is that you always bring your work home with you as they say. But we believe being exposed to these business decisions definitely had an influence on us. I was a sales rep for many, many years and for me good sales reps are very important for a profitable retail business.
Brian: Definitely and having quality products is also crucial. You have to believe in what you sell. We continue to search the world for suitable new products for the Australian market, in line with my father’s theory of always offering good quality imported products and staying one step ahead.

What are some of the key business lessons you have learnt over the years?
Brian: I think we have maintained market leadership by ensuring we form strong alliances with agencies that agree to supply us exclusively with products. We place huge value on these relationships and often find that we work best with companies that are family run businesses themselves and many actually prefer dealing with us over larger corporates as we are both of the same ilk.
Peter: One other thing we’ve learnt is that we don’t put all our eggs in one basket from a product offering perspective. We don’t like to only stock one successful product because if you lose that agency you’re in trouble. We have seen this a lot over our time with competitors going under because they lose key agencies. We are more of a general wholesaler so that if we ever lose one line we can adapt and adjust. This can be good and bad but we have never specialised in a single product.

What was one of the biggest setbacks you overcame and what did you learn from it?
Peter: When a portion of the family decided they wanted to sell. It was an awkward position to be in. We had to navigate a tricky situation where half wanted to sell and half wanted to continue the business. It was a tough and stressful time and it took a good few years and lots of accounting, tax and legal advice to get through it all. After it all ended and we finally got the business, it made us even more focused and determined to develop it to be better than it was before.

What are some the challenges of running a family business?
Brian: It’s a bit of a ball and chain – You have to be prepared to come in on the weekends if necessary and make lots of other sacrifices.
Peter: Yes, the business requires a lot of time. It is usually not just a typical 9 to 5 job. Even if you aren’t at work, you are constantly thinking about it. The holidays are limited; you can’t just take 6 weeks and run off somewhere!

What do you do to relax when you do get time off?
Brian: We take the opportunity to play golf and we are proud supporters of the Melbourne Football Club. We are eagerly awaiting an overdue premiership!
Peter: Being former students of Scotch College, we also follow the Old Scotch Football Club.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Peter: Do not disregard your gut feeling whether it is in a business or personal sense.
Brian: Honesty with customers is the best business policy. Don’t stitch them up, it will come back to bite you… and keeping my left arm straight- that’s useful advice for anyone that plays golf!

There are many definitions of success - What does success mean to you?
Brian: Having a good name, a name that people believe they can trust.
Peter: Obviously, you have to look at the bottom line as well and you have to make a buck at the end of the day; and that’s important because you need to look after your staff. They rely on you and this being a family business, we treat our staff like family and we need to look after them.

Do you have any role models or mentors?
Brian: Growing up it was our father, Neil Turnley, and Aunt Gwen Eves. Dad was 30 years old when he took over the family business. He was a great mentor to us. One of the most important things he taught us was that we should sell only products that customers actually want and not what we believe they want.
Peter: Aunt Gwen was a whiz with numbers. One of the most important skills she imparted onto me was the importance of costing products well.

What did you buy with your first paycheque?
Brian: My memory’s not that good! If we go way back to when I was working filling bottles then probably some lollies or something.
Peter: I bought special hub caps for my Volkswagen to make it look a lot flasher!

Finally, what’s the strangest hair trend you’ve seen?
Peter: Probably the Beatles hairstyle, then the mullet, dreadlocks and now we're back to the short back and sides. Similar to many of the AFL players of today but with a slight difference. Every fashion trend seems to comeback eventually. You’ve just got to wonder sometimes!

Written by:
Christine Bereveskos – Graduate
Kim Glajchen – Intermediate Accountant
Suneet Randhawa – Senior Accountant
As part of MSVs ongoing staff development program