Today in our Celebrating Australian Made series — sponsored by Australian Made — we hear from Berkowitz Furniture. @AuManufacturing speaks to Sales Consultant Justin Berkowitz, a member of the family’s fifth generation.
@AuManufacturing: You’re a retail partner of Australian Made. Does the company manufacture itself, or is that a part of your history that you’ve moved on from?
Justin Berkowitz: We buy off about five different Australian sofa manufacturers, plus another three or four different dining manufacturers. They’re all close by in Melbourne. So we don’t actually manufacture anything ourselves.
The thing to know, firstly, is that we’re a fifth-generation, family-run business in Melbourne. We used to manufacture nearly everything, but that’s going back to 30, 40 years ago. But now one of the big parts of our business is selling Australian-made sofas and dining.
@AuManufacturing: There’s a lot of history behind you. Your website tells us you goes back to 1896.
Justin Berkowitz: I’m in the fifth generation. My dad’s still running it. It started back in England: My great great etcetera grandfather started there and then moved over to Melbourne and started manufacturing everything in Melbourne with his sons.
@AuManufacturing: You said it was 30 or 40-ish years ago that you stopped making furniture. You mightn’t have been around, but what happened?
Justin Berkowitz: Well, we manufactured our own stuff now and were selling it, but over time, as you know, it became harder and harder. So that probably ended about in the 90s or so.
@AuManufacturing: How did you start working in the business?
I’m 28 now. And I’ve been around full-time, probably sometimes that 21 or so. When I was about 13, 14, I’d always go into the warehouse to help. I’ve always sort of been around the office and warehouse from a young age. And so I started just getting into it post-uni, where I studied marketing and accounting.
@AuManufacturing: Tell us about your customers. Are you purely retail, or is there a wholesale side as well?
Justin Berkowitz: We really are just retail. A big part of our business is selling a lot of Australian Made. A lot of customers come in knowing that we can customise really anything, fabrics or size of a table or timber colour. It’s a real strength of our business.
@AuManufacturing: You mentioned Australian Made and customers. Have you noticed any change in people wanting Australian products because of reasons of quality or anything else?
Justin Berkowitz: I think with Covid a lot of people just supported Australia. For us the big thing is it’s got the best guarantees in terms of how it’s all made, with quality and ethical sourcing. And people are demanding it.
@AuManufacturing: Tell us about some of the Australian companies that supply you.
Justin Berkowitz: A lot of manufacturers are small family businesses, run by two or three people. We’ve got at least eight or nine really small families that make all their furniture in really small facilities. When I go there, it’s been amazing to see how they manufacture the stuff in their warehouse, which are often much smaller and more artisanal than you’d think. They are in Mornington, in Essendon, near our store in Adelaide, and elsewhere.
Then we’ve also got a partner like Molmic, who are well known in terms of Australian Made. They are a more established brand as opposed to the smaller manufacturers.
(This article has been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Picture: Shona sofa by Molmic (credit berkowitz.com.au)