Duraflex Group Australia, one of Australia’s longest running jewellery industry suppliers celebrates 60 years in business this year.
Throughout its operation the company has weathered many storms, from economic recessions and the global financial crisis to the more recent global pandemic.
Anniversaries provoke not only celebration, but also reflection, and Duraflex Group Australia (DGA) managing director Phil Edwards told Jeweller it was a time to look back, as well as ahead.
“We are a close-knit team and we are very proud of our company history,” Edwards said.
“More than half the team have been with the business for 10 years or more and our current longest serving team member will celebrate 25 years with us in 2023.
“Our long-standing success in the industry is testament to our long-standing relationships with our retail partners. We’ve forged and fostered these relationships over many years.”
With a watch focus initially, Duraflex was founded in 1962 by Ron Kearns and while ownership has since changed hands the humble roots of the business are reflected in the name today – an amalgamation of “durable” and “flexible” – after watch straps.
The business would eventually become the clear leader for local supply of said watch straps, before Ron Kearns partnered with his son Rod who expanded the business into the distribution of a limited range of jewellery.
The next major change came in 2003, when Phil Edwards acquired the business from the Kearns family.
Edwards said his immediate focus at the time was expanding Duraflex’s international brand distribution portfolio.
“The strategic expansion of our business was essential,” he said.
“The retail industry has transformed and shifted direction over the decades and our ability as a business to pivot and adapt and change and champion innovation has proved critical.
“Working in close collaboration with retail partners and constantly adapting to their diverse business needs whilst striving to provide the best products, pricing and service possible – these points have always been the underpinning of our success.”
The most significant of these brands would be launched three years later in 2006. The formation of a partnership with one little known European jewellery brand Thomas Sabo would change dramatically change Duraflex’s status position in the local industry.
Thomas Sabo was founded in 1984 and took more than two decades to gain international recognition as the trade remained fiercly divided between fine and fashion jewellery.
DGA opted to launch the brand at the Sydney Trade Fair in August 2006 and in the early days, trading struggled to gain traction.
It wasn’t until the Charm Club collection was launched in 2007 that popularity surged. Within seven years, Thomas Sabo would be held by more than 300 stockists across Australia and New Zealand.
Edwards said that for DGA the success of the Thomas Sabo distribution partnership marked an evolution of the business.
“It proved pivotal to DGA’s repositioning as a multi-branded distributor and certainly in hindsight was a defining moment,” he said.
“It was also defining moment for the industry and the development of the branded jewellery category in our local market. DGA is immensely proud to have been one of the leaders of the category expansion.”
Fast forward to 2022 and DGA distributes 16 major international brands while remaining a fully Australian owned and operated business. More than 1,100 retail stores are supplied by the business, which remains based in Chatswood, Sydney.
Recent years have been far from smooth sailing for Australian retailers with the COVID pandemic throwing more than a few spanners in the works. Some impacts of the pandemic were immediately clear such as major disruptions to supply chains, a lack of direct access to customers and rises in job insecurity.
Edwards said that simply surviving the pandemic wasn’t the company’s aim – seeking a strengthened positioned was also important.
“It all comes back to working in close collaboration with our retail partners by tailoring our services and support to directly assist their unique and individual business needs during any challenging period,” Edwards said.
“For many, when the store doors were forced shut they opened up online, and we were there to assist by providing e-commerce and dropship solutions. For others, it was about weathering the storm together and preparing strategically for reopening with extra support where it was needed.”
“We also recently redeveloped a new upgraded B2B Portal which is ready for launch. The aim is to enable our retailers to place orders with more efficiency and ease.”
Over the past 60 years Duraflex has evolved from watch straps to European branded jewellery, a diamond range, and more recently Swiss watches.
From here, Duraflex’s attention turns to the International Jewellery Fair, beginning in Sydney on 27 August, where a distribution relationship with Swissn watchmakers Edox will be launched to a sea of eager buyers celebrating the first large-scaling industry gathering since 2019.
A HISTORY IN REVIEW
Edox returning to Australian stores
The Age of Individualism
The journey of Thomas Sabo: Through Turning Tides
Duraflex enters the diamond jewellery category