AS the person responsible for setting up Elders' new East Rockingham wool business headquarters, show floor and woolstore, operations manager Ryan Fletcher is steeped in wool industry traditions.
Mr Fletcher started in the industry as a wool presser in the 1990s for contractor Westside Wool Service and worked in woolstores across Perth's western suburbs, first pressing and blending bulk class wools, then classing, typing and valuing wools and preparing auction catalogues at the Western Wool Centre (WWC).
"I was taken under the wing of Wayne Dorey, he used to be the foreman at Standard Wools in Fremantle," said Mr Fletcher of his training in the wool industry.
"He put me through all the courses I needed to move up and I eventually became his 2IC and relieved him a bit.
"Then I moved into the office and started wool classing and valuations on the show floor, wool typing and putting the show floor together and allocating what wools were going into the sales.
"I studied Talman (a software system used by most of the wool industry to record information inputs from brokers and buyers) - I know that like the back of my hand.
"At that time (2000) Spearwood Wool had just started up and they were looking for someone to do their bulk classing and I wanted to do a bit more physical stuff again, rather than just sitting in the office, so I joined them and they grew and took me along with them.
"I learned a lot through them - they actually did the transition from AWH to their own store (the same as Elders is now doing).
"They're a smaller company than Elders, but they did the same thing as we're doing, just on a smaller scale," Mr Fletcher said.
Now he is overseeing relocation of Elders' wool business in Western Australia from its current base - essentially a tin shed within a tin shed - as part of the giant AWH warehousing complex at Bibra Lake, to its new wool handling centre being established in 12,400 square metres of East Rockingham warehouse.
The last time Elders' wool business had its office, show floor and woolstore on its own property was back in the 1980s, based at the iconic double-storey brick woolstores on the corner of Elder Place and Goldsborough Street, Fremantle.
Its then state wool manager, now contract wool auctioneer, Terry Winfield, oversaw the move from the outdated Fremantle woolstore to become part of what was to be the AWH complex that for a time was jointly owned by Elders and Landmark - now Nutrien Ag Solutions - and which now houses the WWC and surrounds the Australian Wool Testing Authority local laboratories.
"We're about to put in our own (wool bale) core testing line here (East Rockingham) which we don't have to share with anyone else," Mr Fletcher said.
"It will be a 30 metre bale coring line capable of testing 70 to 100 bales an hour.
"It'll be the first of its kind in WA, using the latest equipment.
"We're also about to start advertising for forklift drivers.
"We'll have our own electric forklifts and drivers moving our clients' wool."
Elders Wool's new home is located in Lodge Drive, just off Mandurah Road and conveniently close to the Kwinana Freeway to help truck drivers delivering wool from the south and east to avoid traffic congestion closer to Perth.
Trucks will deliver wool to a large hardstand area or collect wool heading for port from the same area on one side of the warehouse, while the opposite side will be set up as a show floor with up to 880 sample boxes to display clients' greasy wool.
Wool buyers will enter by a separate entrance away from the trucks to assess samples on the show floor.
While Mr Fletcher well understands the need for streamlined, time-efficient and cost-effective warehousing operations to maximise woolgrowers' returns, he can also remember a more relaxed time in the industry and in the relationships between woolgrowers and their brokers.
It was a time when woolgrowers and their families would often schedule a trip to Perth from the country to coincide with sale day, so they could call in at the woolstore to see how good their wool looked in sample boxes on the show floor in the morning, chat to their broker about the market, maybe go to lunch together at a nearby pub, then on to the WWC to watch their fleece wools auctioned in the afternoon.
However COVID put a stop to that.
During the pandemic Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX), which runs open cry wool auctions, asked brokers to discourage woolgrowers from visiting the WWC, fearing a significant outbreak could shut down wool trading in WA for a time.
One of Mr Fletcher's aims for Elders' new wool business headquarters, show floor and woolstore is for it to be a welcoming, family-friendly place that woolgrower clients feel comfortable visiting - a return to an industry tradition.
He explained that apart from offices across the front of the warehouse for Elders wool staff and some stock agents, there will also be a visitor lounge area and a cafeteria area, both with big windows overlooking the warehouse and the new bale coring line across the front of the warehouse.
Both the visitor lounge and cafeteria are planned to have large screens that will show AWEX wool prices in real time as wool is sold, Mr Fletcher said.
"The idea is that woolgrowers and their families can call in, see how their wool is handled and stored, watch wool being tested, talk to staff and watch on screen as wool is sold," he said.
"While they are here they will be able to get a bite to eat and a coffee - we want this to be a family friendly place."
Elders expects to progressively move its wool business to East Rockingham over the next few months and for the transition to be complete by July 1.
The warehouse Elders has chosen for its wool business headquarters has a history within the wool industry.
With State government assistance, the building was constructed in 1999 on a 10 hectare site and set up by Jandakot Wool Washing Pty Ltd at a reported cost of $30 million as the last wool scours operating in WA.
A further $17m was committed to an effluent plant to recycle water used in the wool washing process.
The scours closed in 2009 after the wool scouring equipment was sold and shipped to Tianyu Wools in China, where it is still in use.
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