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Last week, 54 Year 11 Business Studies students headed off to Kempsey to learn more about the manufacturing process of Australian icon, Akubra.
Along with Business Studies teachers, Mr Johnston, Ms Isbel, Ms Langford and Mr Morton, the students were thrilled to meet Akubra’s Managing Director, Mr Stephen Keir IV, whose family has owned the business since 1905, and whose daughters, Laura (Year 12) and Jessica (Year 9) are both boarders at Wenona.
What immediately struck our students as they toured the plant and met some of its 90 employees, is that most of the manufacture is still done by hand. Given that there is a minimum of 11 key steps involved in making each individual hat, it’s little wonder that Akubra is synonymous with quality around the world.
Here is what some of our students had to say about the excursion:
“I found the trip to the Akubra factory extremely worthwhile and valuable in gaining knowledge for the HSC next year. It was definitely a unique experience to be able to tour around a factory for a well-known brand like Akubra. It was especially interesting to listen and ask questions to the panel of managers at Akubra, and see what they discussed being put into action when we toured around the factory. Both of these aspects of the day definitely complimented each other and gave me a more holistic view of business operations.” Jacqueline (Year 11)
“It was lovely to see their production process and the use of 'older' machinery to produce a high end product that is used country and worldwide. We got to hear from the head of marketing, finance and operations and learn how each of their departments has differing goals within the business. It was also very interesting to hear that they are very aware of the current issues resulting from the drought and that they are not letting this impact their sales, as well as to see their dedication to providing for their employees. Overall, the experience was extremely valuable and will be useful in Year 12.” Olivia (Year 11)
“It gave me the ability to appreciate all the craftsmanship, time and energy that is put into making these hats ready to sell. It made me extremely proud to be able to see such an iconic Australian brand’s processes and understand what they do to give back to the community and be sustainable in their practises, and to see the sense of community in the factory and the supportive vibe that was created by the managers.” Kate (Year 11)
“The Q&A panel was really informative as we learnt how the different departments in a business all work together to achieve success and profits. Overall, despite the long drive, I found this excursion extremely valuable as it provided us with a real-life example of the theory we learn in Business Studies.”Amber (Year 11)
“Akubra focuses heavily on their operations process so it was a good insight to hear first-hand how they run their business as this will help for further knowledge in the HSC. Walking through the factory was very beneficial as we got to see how the hats are manufactured and the care the employees have towards making the hat. The employees all ensured that hats were made to the best quality and would check for faults along the production process. We also got to see the first steps in making the hat and then the final product at the very end of the factory.” Lily (Year 11)
“Our group split into two and took a tour of the factory looking at things such as the machine that separates the rabbit hair from fur, the multiple employees who worked hard and did things such as cleaning and drying the fur to make it stronger, the shaping of the hat, cutting of the edges and the women who sewed in the leather of the hat and around the brim. We were also given the opportunity to buy our own hats in the store, which was interesting as we had just seen the process to create the product. As well as this, we were also given the opportunity to have a Q&A with the heads of marketing, accounting, and sales which allowed us to get a deeper insight into the business such as outsourcing, technology/machinery they use, environment sustainability and many more aspects. This was a great opportunity as it allowed us to receive a more personal response which was more detailed and helpful for us in answering our questions.” Talar (Year 11)
“Being the only members of the public to view the factory, we gained a first-hand experience into the operations of the business and were fortunate enough to ask questions to the heads of marketing, finance and sales, which provided key insights on areas such as management, processes and influences of Akubra. They also explained the historical aspect of their family business, which I personally found very fascinating, particularly their long-running contract with the Government. They also gave great insight into the current challenges the business and steps they have taken to ensure that they beat their competition. An example of this is their product differentiation of using rabbit fur and their high quality. In addition, they have created new styles and colour options in order to reach new markets, particularly urban areas, which has been highly successful as they have currently maintained growth, even though their main customers have been suffering by the drought.” Isabelle (Year 11)
“What amazed me was how long the family business had lasted, and the Q&A session helped understand how they have adapted to the constant changes in the business environment by introducing digital technology for research and marketing, but by also continuing to be a conscious business citizen, through its production of slouch hats for the Army contract and helping the farmers in rural Australia, who are the majority of their market. After the session, we had recess and we were also given a free Akubra bag and a book on Akubra’s history. We then had a tour of the factory guided by one of the employees. I learnt that Akubra hats go through a meticulous process, where rabbit fur is transformed into hats through hands-on practices and machinery. This gave an idea of the level of quality and dependability Akubra hats have, which contributes to their success as a business.” Nusha (Year 11)
“We were introduced to Mr Stephen Keir, who is the 5th generation in the family to run the business and has been working for the Akubra business for more than 20 years. The second part of the excursion involved Mr Keir walking us through the hat factory where all the hats get made and going through a huge process before all the raw materials turn into the final output of a hat. We were able to gain an understanding of how a successful business runs and how it is sometimes tricky to maintain. Overall, the excursion was thoroughly enjoyable and I’ve learnt heaps in regards to the operations management aspects in the Akubra business.” Bella (Year 11)
“The tour allowed for an insight into the operations of a manufacturing business and provided knowledge about marketing, finances and operations in great detail surrounding this type of business. I believe that it further provides a great case study to use for HSC business and provides us with a great opportunity that many other business students would not be able to have going into their HSC year. I found the Q&A panel very interesting and learnt about the importance of brand recognition and quality and was intrigued throughout the factory tour as it is not very often that you get to see the workings of this kind of business.” Grace (Year 11)
“This has provided us with first-hand information regarding the processes of the business, allowing us to have access to a detailed case study which can be used next year. During our time at Akubra, we were involved in a Q&A with the three leading managers of Akubra, who manage the sales, quality and cost minimisation of the business. From this, we were able to understand the manufacturing, social, environmental and ethical practices that Akubra adopts within its operations. Overall, this trip allowed me to develop my knowledge and understanding of the operational factors, methods and practices involved within a business in a first-hand experience.” Sarah (Year 11)
It was wonderful for our Year 11 Business Studies students to learn about a quintessentially Australian brand that has deservedly retained its iconic status for more than 130 years. A huge thank you to Mr Keir and his staff for taking the time to welcome, inform and engage our students. Thank you!