The River Sands Story
(Excerpt from ‘Stars Under the Southern Cross – The Untold Stories of Queensland’s Family Businesses’, Noel J Lindsay PhD and Justin B L Craig, Dec 2000, Australian Centre for Family Businesses, Bond University, Qld.)
During the Christmas of 1973, the brother-in-laws of Peter James made an offer to the James family to help them relocate from Melbourne to the Gold Coast by suggesting that a new company be started. The objective was to start up a sand producing business in South East Queensland that would be owned equally by the five families, namely Robert, John, Peter and Bruce Neumann as well as Peter and Margaret James. Peter James was appointed Managing Director.
The James’ had lived in Melbourne for fourteen years during which time Peter worked for Caterpillar of Australia. His position at the time of resigning was Manager of the Industrial Sales Division.
The James family jumped at the offer. Peter tendered his resignation at Caterpillar, and set up in a house at Southport by the end of January 1974. They just missed the great flood of that month.
Market research at the time revealed there were no extractive industries on the Logan River and there was a need for a supplier in the area. So, Peter James, Peter and Bruce Neumann and Robert James (Peter’s son aged 12 at the time) set out to prospect the Logan River in a 13 foot ‘tinny’ with a 20 horsepower motor.
The outcome of the prospecting was that they found sand in the Logan River but decided it would be easier to find a land based deposit. Aerial photographs of the area were studied to identify sand deposits, which was quite innovative in its day. A substantial sand deposit was apparent at Carbrook (south of Brisbane) adjacent to the confluence of the Albert and Logan Rivers.
Long before the first grain of sand was extracted from River Sands’ deposit at Carbrook, a lot of painstaking work had been done and many challenges still had to be overcome.
An in-house drilling program was undertaken to prove that the sand was there and the sand samples were then dried at home in the kitchen oven by Margaret James who screened and weighed every sample in the garage on the table tennis table. “We needed to know the grading of the sand so Margaret was ‘volunteered’ to do this work. The drilling was done by hand and progress was slowed down due to 1974 being an exceptionally wet year”, recalls Peter James.
After quantifying the amount of sand, we went to Albert Shire Council to lodge our rezoning application in June 1974. We were advised that we had to submit an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with our application.
Margaret James recalls typing the first EIS on a borrowed, electric typewriter. “It was the first time I’d used one. I’d been out of the workforce for about 10 years and I had to type it over the weekend. It was a big learning experience at the time for us all.”
The rezoning approval came through in November 1974.
Peter James was a qualified Fitter and Turner and held a Diploma of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, as well as fourteen years working in the sales department of Caterpillar. His background meant he had the wide experience to put the plant and equipment together, as well as being able to communicate well with people, a much needed skill in any business.
The first sand from the deposit was sold in January 1975. It was sold to K.D. Morris in Beenleigh who were in receivership at the time. After some research on the part of the ‘beginners’, the liquidator advised that our payment was guaranteed, much to the relief of us all.
After an unsuccessful attempt at entering the foundry sand market, in 1976 the company came up with the idea of selling concrete in a bag. Pioneer were the market leaders in this product at the time.
Robert Neumann came up with the ‘Easy Mix’ brand name for this new product and it was sold primarily through hardware stores. A lot of emphasis was put into promoting the product with sales training and point-of-sale material.
This course was taken due to the apparent lack of understanding of this ‘new’ product.
Filter sand was also introduced at the same time – which proved to be an extremely successful product for the company. In fact, River Sands has exported many thousands of tonnes of sand to the most unlikely places such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The reasons for the company’s success are many. We have developed and grown the business over the past 31 years through product diversification and entering new markets. Right from day one, the founders realised the importance of written business plans as part of the planning process. The company’s customer focus has meant that we have always focused on understanding our customer’s needs and modifying our product and service offering to meet those needs.The company has continuity and longevity through the Neumann family and related Neumann businesses.
River Sands really started to move forward in the 1980’s when Robert James and his brother-in-law Paul Moorfoot became involved with sales and marketing.
This saw the company diversify into new markets and products including iron oxides, decorative concrete products and swimming pool renders. A contract packing service was also established to utilise excess production capacity.
The achievements of the company were publicly recognised for the first time in 1998 when Peter James decided to enter some business awards.
To Peter and Margaret’s delight, River Sands won the prestigious Telstra Small Business of The Year Award in the manufacturing category and were a finalist in the Australian Awards. Later that year, the company won the ‘Third Generation or Greater Family Business Award’ for the Gold Coast Business Excellence Awards.
A year later the company won the Family Business Australia (Qld Chapter) Award for the ‘Third Generation Family Business’.
Since the early 2000’s a team of experienced managers and chemists have been recruited to continue the product and geographical growth of River Sands.
Today the company employs over over 125 staff and has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth as well as an extensive distributor network throughout Australia.
It has come a very long way since Peter James sold sand from the boot of his car in 1975.