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Gill Australia – Getting wet for a living

by John Curnow on 7 Nov 2013
Asko 18ft Skiffs on Sydney Harbour Frank Quealey © /Australian 18 Footers League
When you’ve sailed the challenging 49ers and spectacular 18-Footers, you would certainly know a little about water over the deck. You know, it probably was not much of an issue to a person who grew up racing dinghies like Moths and Sharpies on Perth’s Swan River. When you then expand your repertoire to include the ‘Skiff on Steroids’ (Xena/Grundig/AAPT), you would have to be considered somewhat of an expert on the subject. Yes. The Price is Right for Gill Australia’s leader, so ‘Come on down, Paul Schulz’.

‘I moved to Sydney some 12 years ago and had the opportunity to start sailing 49ers, which was totally new to me with their Asymmetric kites and all. It was a very steep and exceptionally wet learning curve, that’s for sure.’

‘From there I went to the 18s and had a great nine years with the Skiffs. I grew up and seeing them on TV during the lunch in the cricket coverage and it was one of those things you aspire to.

'So then here I was, living the dream, sailing on Sydney Harbour actually on board an 18-Footer. It really was an amazing experience and I’m very fortunate that we had a good, strong team with Hugh Stodart and Niall Kinch on Asko Appliances. We had some wonderful years and I look back with a lot of fond memories. It was good fun. I miss them in a way, but the poor body is not what it used to be’, said Paul.

Not too long after the move to Sydney and whilst he was literally in the cut and thrust of it, Paul set about creating what we now know as Gill Australia. ‘Looking back at this too, it has been a fantastic journey. We’ve grown the business in every one of those 11 years, which is great. It’s our fantastic network of dealers, which has continued to grow too, that has given us such a good spread across the country.’

Paul then added, ‘Brand recognition has increased with all of this too. Whilst the marine industry has experienced quite difficult times, particularly over the last two or three years, we’ve continued on, we are still growing. If we can do that in difficult times, then we are more than happy.’

‘Gill UK has been really critical in our overall success. They have run a very tight ship and stuck to their core business, which has been fantastic for when times are tough and now it is paying dividends for us all.’

Things have well and truly moved on from greasy wool sweaters and PVC wet weather gear and even in this last decade, the technology behind the gear has continued to advance at a more than steady pace. ‘Nick Gill’s passion is fabrics. He eats, sleeps and breathes fabrics. He has always been quite out there as far as getting the best fabric he can to do the right job at the end of the day. It’s what is important to him and a cornerstone of the company ethos’, added Paul.

Gill used a lot of Gortex in the early days and equally, they were one of the first to move away from it and source fabrics that would enable them to expand their range. It was a strategy that worked very well and over the last five or six years some new design teams came into the mix, so Gill have and are now seeing a lot of fabrics and garments given a new fresh look, which in turn has shown really good results. As a result, Gill the brand, really has come on quite strongly.

Indeed Gill uses a lot of its own special fabrics, which they source from all over the world and not just the one supplier. Fit for purpose is the main mantra. ‘It is getting back to finding the right fabrics to do the right job and that means Gill source raw materials from Japan, America, China or wherever. It is quite good from a cost perspective too, as you don’t tie yourself to one supplier, where quite often you can be paying a premium for the name and the end result also has to be good for the consumer’, Paul added.

In Australia, Gill is quite probably the leading technical clothing brand these days. ‘I guess we are one of the few brands here that is doing everything from dinghy, right through to ocean. We have a really good spread across the board and again Gill is a technical company, so the fundamentals are sound. Gill sticks to their one sport and one technical range and in the long run, this has been good. Also, our large dealer network not only ensures we are represented just about everywhere, from single outlets to chains. Ultimately, this means consumers can go to most places and purchase our gear, so the critical mass is a good thing for building an understanding of our advantages.

Now there is one thing that wasn’t wet until it was all too late. Ordinarily, you don’t want your warehouse and office to be taking greenies over the bow. However, when it all went up in smoke a while back, Paul and the team were happy to be seeing cubic metres of the stuff pouring over the Sydney HQ of Gill Australia. Despite the complete devastation, it did mean surrounding buildings were spared and no one was hurt.

So how have things gone since then, you may wonder? ‘It was a bad case of vandalism. A couple of kids had stolen a car from Manly that night and broke into a few premises around the area and also set fire to a few different things. Unfortunately our warehouse was one of those things, taking all of our office and stock with it. We didn’t have anything else. Not the best thing to have happen to you’, is how Paul covers that subject off.

Not one to have water poured over his own spirits, Paul and the Gill Australia team got back on deck as best they could. A long-term supporter of many an athlete and countless events, it would soon been their turn to receive some assistance, as they began again, in a way.

‘It was only a few weeks out from Sail Port Stephens when it all occurred. We weren’t able to get our replacement stock in time to be there, which was obviously very disappointing. It’s a fantastic regatta and the guys that are running that are doing a great job. We also missed Sanctuary Cove, where we’ve been a regular feature and am really sorry to have missed that, particularly in their 25th year. It has been a quite tough six months for us.’

Naturally, retail supply has been a little down on what Gill Australia normally work with. Gill UK was there to lead the support for Paul and his team. ‘Yes, they have been fantastic and couldn’t do enough for us. We were getting flights out every week from their warehouse and that helped keep the supply chain running, particularly through May and June, before our normal shipments starting arriving directly from the factories.’

‘They were pretty trying times, but what I got out of it was all the support we had. It was just amazing. Our retailers were also 100% behind us. Everyone wanted to see us get through it and get back on track, just as quickly as we could. Soon we’ll even be moving back into our new facility at Brookvale. In itself, that has been a great turnaround. We really can’t speak highly enough of all of our customers and Gill. They have just been a fantastic support network for us through quite a difficult time.’

Having had a tough year, you could think that there is no way you’d be off to do a Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. And you’d be correct. Paul’s last one was on board Loyal when it first headed South. Instead, this year, Paul is going to get wet another way and take part in the Murray River Marathon.

Maybe there, Paul will contemplate how Gill’s ever-expanding dinghy range is going. Perhaps an early evaluation of the new race collection that gets launched this November. It is aimed at sports boats and Etchells and will be on display at the Etchells Australian Championships in Southport. Part of the main thrust of the gear is to offer higher breathability and UV protection, so it could be the place to test those attributes out. Just a little further down the track there will also be some new products on display at Geelong’s Festival of Sails, so Paul should perhaps relax on the Murray, for it looks like it is one busy Summer is coming up for Gill Australia.

So whether you’re seriously into getting wet with an OTB programme, all about enduring man’s oldest challenge in the big blue or more about enjoying your time on the water without wearing it, then you need to see and investigate which of the multitude of exceptional Gill products have seen them become Australia’s pre-eminent favourite. Respect the elements for sure, but respect yourself and wear the gear that is designed to work for you.

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