30 years and going strong! Starleaton marks three decades in business
1978 was a big year in history; the very first computer bulletin board, forerunner of the internet and email, was set up in Chicago; Australian Ken Warby smashed the world water speed record at 511 kph at Blowering Dam near Tumut, NSW – a record that still stands; the Camp David accord established peace between Israel and Egypt; Pope Paul IV is succeeded by Pope John Paul 1 but he dies after ony 33 days in office; the Sydney Hilton bombing becomes Australia’s first and only terrorist attack; the Little River Band sang ‘Reminiscing’ ; John Paul Young sensed ‘Love is in the Air’ and Sir Robert Menzies ended his long and distinguished life.
It was a big year for Peter Eaton also in that he married his Lea in Sydney and started a business with Max Starley, to bring heat-seal laminating and dry mounting adhesive sheets to the Australian professional photography and graphic display markets. A UK firm – Coated Speciality Ltd – had sent Starley and Eaton samples of their products, and the fusion of their names gave birth to Starl-eaton.
“At that time, the market for this type of product was controlled by two companies, Letraset Australia with their Ademco brand and Swift (later Kayell) with Seal brand,” recalls Peter. “We felt there was an opportunity to provide better service and continuity of supply, so we invested in a few pallets of CSL products and the market responded by supporting us because we re-invested in stock and could keep up with the demand.”
In 1980 Peter and Lea Eaton were able to buy Max Starley out and their first office/warehouse was at home. “By 1982 we were converting and re-packaging our own rolls of dry mounting and laminating materials – usually on the floor of our lounge with a little ‘help’ from our three-year-old son Ben!” recalls Peter with a laugh. “I began traveling to Victoria and NSW and establishing supply deals with the big professional laboratories such as Townsend and Nu-Lab.
By the middle eighties, roll and pressure-sensitive mounting and laminating was taking over from heat-seal and SDS moved with the times, adding Morane hot encapsulation laminates to their range. “By then we could offer mounting and laminating solutions from A4 up to big posters, maps and plan drawings,” says Peter, “and business was booming in the Eastern States so we set up our first warehouse in Brookvale in 1989. The move-in took less than half a day. When we moved last year – still in Brookvale – it took 3 weeks and over 50 tonnes of stock was shifted!”
1990 saw the installation of SDS’s first converting machine for slitting down jumbo rolls of materials; “we increased staff to four – including Lea and me!” muses Peter. 1991 was a huge year for the firm when Ian Burns joined and Starleaton was incorporated as a company for the first time. “We also purchased the brand and distribution for Ademco from Letraset and bedded down our national distribution with Photoline and Framerpix in Qld, Framing & Graphic Supplies in NSW, Perth Pro Sales in WA, Jayco in SA, Celmac in Vic and Stallard’s in Tas. Later in 1991, CSL, Ademco and Seal all came together via merger and acquisition and Ademco-Seal was born.”
Starleaton (SDS) continued to expand in the 90s and partnerships with Xerox and Budde International were formed; enabling SDS to offer complete digital print-to-finishing display graphics solutions.
“In 1998 our son Ben officially joined the company – nearly twenty years after helping out as a three-year old on the floor of our loungeroom in Perth!” says Peter. “By then Ademco-Seal was just Seal and had swallowed another competitor Sallmetal. Ben oversaw the installation of a new converting machine in 2000, adding to our ability to meet customer orders quickly and from local stocks. Starleaton’s philosophy of re-investing in stock and carrying what we sell was paying off handsomely so we were able to attract Kodak (Encad) to offer us distributorship of their wide-format inkjet products in 2000. We started Starleaton Digital Solutions this year and Gary Smith – who I had first met at Budde – joined as a partner and the ColourGate Rip was added.”
By 2001, buoyed by strong demand, SDS had opened its own branches in WA, Vic and Qld and another partner, Ian MacAuley came on board to head up the Melbourne operation. “Ian Burns, who helped the company through its incorporation, retired in 2002, so once again it was Lea and me. Ben moved into a sales role and our daughter Mel joined in a sales and administration role,” recalls Peter, marking the beginnings of a generational partnership to drive succession planning.”
Riding the wide-format digital explosion
The early 2000s saw explosive demand for wide-format digital printing technologies and consumables so Hewlett Packard and Epson brands were added to the mix. SDS became a brand on its own for low-cost but high quality inkjet media and laminates – all converted and packed in-house at Brookvale from bulk reels sourced globally. PacPrint 2005 was a huge success for Starleaton, following which Ben was promoted to Group General Manager.
“In 2006 we moved into larger premises yet again and began warehouse upgrades in all branches – again ensuring stock that we sell is available on hand,” says Peter, “We added the Neschen brand to take us into the solvent and UV digital printer markets up to 5 metres in width.
“So far this year, we have added Alcan Composite materials to expand into rigid substrates for mounting and printing, numerous new staff and we have begun the move to Eco-friendlier inks and substrates ready for the inevitable measuring of carbon ‘footprints’ which our customers will be compelled to offer.”
“30 years is a long time but it seems like a whirlwind ride of constant growth, good people coming, going and some staying for a long time, customers old and new, digital progress, highs and occasional lows and always a focus on what comes next. However, the one constant is that there will always be a growing need for business to display and advertise its products in both interior and exterior venues and these images and signs need to be professionally produced and protected. Starleaton has been there all the way with the right products, delivered on time, at the right price. You might say from start to not-quite finished yet!” concludes Peter Eaton.
Starleaton Digital Solutions Pty Ltd