Facetime interview – Tony Venema

Tony Venema was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia as the oldest of three children. Growing up, Tony knew he didn’t want to ‘work for the man’ and instead dreamed of being in charge of his own destiny and business career.  He went to school at Guildford Grammar and Perth Modern where sports and business were his key focus points.

“I left high school early to pursue a career in hospitality in Victoria where I trained as a chef and worked in several hotels over the years, including a stint as Food and Beverage manager for the Sheraton Hotel in Darwin and cellar master at the Australia Club in Victoria,” Mr Venema said.

“Post school I have owned several businesses across a range of industries, including a bricklaying and concreting business, several restaurants, pizza and takeaway food stores.

“I always wanted to work for myself, or possibly I found that I thought I could do better than what I saw in my employment years, so with the skills I had developed prior to 1994 I ventured to Newman, Western Australia (1880km North East of Perth, in WA) with my partner and proceeded to build a successful group of shops in a town that was experiencing a massive boom.

“After the birth of our children, Sophia and then Rocco, the businesses in Newman were sold, along with accrued property interests and we moved back to Perth for the benefit of our children and their prospects and future.

“I had always wanted to get involved with wholesale, as retail (hospitality) was non- conducive, in my opinion to the time needed to be spent to raise a family. I wanted to be working Monday to Friday, and owning a strong business that had potential for growth was the dream.

Mr Venema took over the business on May 6th 2006.

“At that time, Majors was a good, profitable small business that had a great legacy in the market under the stewardship of past owner Mr Andrew Hooper, who had been at the helm for many years and was ready for retirement,” he said.

“Interestingly, after a short break, Mr Hooper returned to work shoulder to shoulder as a much-loved sales rep until he really was ready to retire.”

“We noticed that many companies in the AU landscape had ice-cream and related products as a small percentage of their portfolio, but no business had a focus on the industry as an entire offer.

“The vision that for the business was to be the #1 ‘Go-To’ operation in AU/NZ and then into Asia for anything and everything “Ice-cream/Gelato” related, and, to only represent the global leading manufacturers in this market sector. To be as totally vertically integrated as possible.

“In 2016 we decided that the business really needed to become far more organised and structured than the “typical” entrepreneurial business.

“Fiduciary and corporate governance would be needed to be well managed, in order to embrace the future opportunities and to be able to move in the corporate circles that the business was headed towards.

“The creation of the MGA (Majors Group Australasia) board and the introduction of our non-executive Director, Mr David Wheeler allowed for the structure and governance that we needed. David also brought to the table a wealth of direction and assistance, not to mention a close working relationship with our bankers.

“Today, Majors embodies that vision, and is the exclusive distributor in Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines for the world’s best gelato manufacturing equipment and ingredients. We represent Italian brands such as Carpigiani and ISA, which are globally recognised as the market leader. The vision for the ‘one stop shop’ has evolved into our ‘360 degree’ program, which not only provides customers with the equipment they need, but also training provided by our partners at the William Angliss Institute, ingredients sourced from the experts at Rubicone and in-house finance and most importantly, our service capabilities where we are the only business in this space that has a team of dedicated technicians to manage the needs of our customers, we refrain from out sourcing trades at all costs.

“It has given me great pleasure to see my children start to take an interest in the business and start to slowly understand and get involved.

“Our goal as a business over the coming years is to continue refine and master our specialised field and to be the undisputed expert in all of South East Asia.  To constantly improve the service and performance levels of the team, their knowledge and expertise from the sales right through to the back end and furnace of the business, AR/AP etc. To grow and expand on our service capabilities is important, as the business is so refined that only well-trained people can operate. The key growth that we are focussed on is to bring other ranges of equipment that are manufactured by our exclusive partners into new in interesting market spaces, specifically petrol and convenience (P&C), fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) and quick service restaurants (QSR) where the quality of our equipment married with our service and full TCO (Total cost of ownership) offer is appreciated and well received.

“Following our successful launch into the Philippines in 2016, we saw at least five years of important growth, as we grow quickly taking on important brands like Scotsman ice machines. The Philippines is hot all year round, and with a burgeoning middle class, our products are growing in demand and volume daily. We are also looking forward to partnering with some great brands and initiatives including the Gelato World Tour and Gelato down under. Our customers can also expect the launch of some revolutionary new equipment, products and innovations over the coming months and years.

Advice for retailers

The food game is hard, requires long hours and so often when business owners calculate the return on their time working in the business, it comes up very short of a satisfactory return.

Innovation and ideas to keep the interest of a fickle audience is the key.

I think the reality of understanding the three key growth factors is often missed.

“Bundle offers”, increased customer count or “bums on seats” married with incremental increases of “spend per head” must be the focus.

Advice for suppliers

Keep your debtor’s ledger well in hand and within the terms that you expect. Turnover is ego, cash flow is reality.  Your difficulties can usually only be two-fold; People not paying within acceptable timeframes, and too much $ tied up in stock. Managing both is a daily challenge, and the added angst of importing from Europe throws an extra spanner in the works.

Try to have your stock rotation ratio as fast as possible and try to ALWAYS have in the shed what your customers need and want: keenly balanced without overstocking.

Invest heavily in soothsayers and fortune tellers who can assist you with their crystal balls to forecast and estimate what the public and, by default, your customers want to buy/consume over the next 12 months, whilst at the same time using the information to keep the banks happy!

Have a very good and close relationship with your bankers. The more they understand you, your business and the potential ups and downs, seasonality and day to day activities, the keener they are to work with you. After all, they are partners in your quest.

Always seek advice from people that you KNOW are smarter than you, and learn.


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