2018 marks the 32nd anniversary of Mitten Vinyl Australia. The company was established in 1986 and has grown from a small 2-man operation to currently employing 15 staff plus teams of installers. Each year over one million dollars worth of Mitten Vinyl cladding product makes the long journey from the plant in Ontario, Canada, by road and rail to New York, Philadelphia or Vancouver, then across the Pacific by container ship to Sydney, Australia, from where it is distributed around the continent as well as to New Zealand.
The story started when Geoff Sell looked for a business to buy in 1985. A chemical engineer by training, Geoff had left that profession in 1976 to run a musical instruments sales and teaching operation with his wife Lynne. After 8 years this business was sold and the search began for a new field of endeavour. After investigating several options, the choice was narrowed down to two possible purchases – a wholesaler of dried fruits and nuts or an importer of Flexlox vinyl cladding materials. For reasons which have long been forgotten in the mists of time, vinyl cladding won the contest and so began a steep learning curve for Geoff and his business partner, neither of whom had experience in the building industry. During the following years, however, they did find plenty of customers who were a bit nutty and several who could be described as fruit cakes, so perhaps the two choices were more similar than they realised!
Vytec’s takeover of Flexlox necessitated a change of brand, as there was already an established Vytec importer in Australia. Geoff searched the Canadian and US telephone directories for possible contacts, sending many letters and making calls. One of the few people to respond was Doug Mitten, and after some brief negotiations the deal was done. A short time later Doug visited Australia, where the only contract between the two parties was a handshake, and so it continued for more than 20 years. Geoff bought out his partner’s share in 1996 and Lynne joined the company as a director. Mitten Vinyl in Canada is now owned by Plygem, a large North American distributor of exterior building products including vinyl cladding, windows and stone.
Mitten Vinyl Australia has major distributors in Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand. Operations in Queensland are currently run from Sydney, and after having a distributor in Perth, Western Australia for 6 years, the company set up its own warehouse and distribution there, more than 3000 kilometres from Sydney. Stock is transported by road and rail across the great desert interior of the continent, (except when the rail line is damaged due to flooding or landslides, or buckled from extreme heat – the only problem we don’t have is snow!), and by the time it arrives in Perth, the most remote capital city in the world, the cladding materials have travelled nearly 18,000 kilometres from their origin in Canada. Somehow, by fair weather or fortune, it usually arrives in good condition.
Geoff and Lynne and their team aim to provide prompt and personal service and their 30 plus years in the vinyl cladding business give their customers the assurance which comes from stability in the marketplace. Geoff says “Our long association with the Mitten Vinyl brand has been an important part of Mitten Vinyl Australia’s ability to grow and gain market share from our competitors. We look forward to many more years of growth and success.”