CEO Magazine Feature – Shaking up an industry

A business idea that came about by chance has evolved into a highly successful operation thanks to its founder’s penchant for innovation and pushing the boundaries.

In 2004, young entrepreneur Nick Holden took an opportunity that, unbeknown to him, would lead him to great career success. He appeared on the ABC’s television show The New Inventors to showcase his concept of a composite boundary walling system, which was developed while he was renovating a house to on-sell, and passers-by took notice.

“Council restrictions stopped me from building a brick wall out the front of the house that I had bought. I wanted a masonry look, and they were unwilling to compromise,” says Nick.

With his father in a successful manufacturing business, and having access to his tools and machinery, Nick overcame this hurdle by creating what was to blossom into the first commercial version of a composite wall that looked like rendered brick but satisfied council’s requirements of not having any continuous foundations. “From there on, I got a lot of interest from people passing by,” Nick comments. Based on this interest and a passion for manufacturing, Nick started making the product from inside a small factory unit, and Modular Wall Systems™ was born.

nick-ceoSeveral months later, Nick came across an advertisement for The New Inventors and decided to give his idea a shot in front of the panel of judges. “I thought I would apply and have a go because it would be good publicity and couldn’t hurt,” he explains. “At that point, I, was the business. I made the coffee for myself, I answered the phone, I did the accounts, I manufactured the product, and I trained the installers. However, after my appearance on the show, literally the following day, I received hundreds of phone calls from people wanting to purchase the product.”
The positive response was overwhelming and demand was quickly increasing, so Nick realised his boutique operation had to scale up, and fast.

Today, Nick is proud to say that Modular Wall Systems™ is on an upward trend to turn over AU$20 million, employs more than 30 full-time staff, and has thousands of happy customers and contractors all over Australia. The business has also just completed construction of a new modern manufacturing facility, which is four times larger than the previous one.

“I look back on the rapid growth we have achieved and wonder how I ever survived! But I do what I do because I love it. I bounce out of bed every morning to design and manufacture new products and machinery.

“There was nothing else like it in the market place before we kicked off in 2004, so I suppose we invented what is now the modular wall category. I could see the market potential for the product growing, which only inspired me to work harder and faster.”

Nick has grown the company’s product portfolio greatly since 2004, and into other diverse areas of noise abatement. He is always encouraging his team to stretch the boundaries and to come up with new ways of doing things. “Innovation has been, and will always be, a crucial part of the business,” he says. Nick believes in unwavering persistence: “Make every second of your day count and never give up if you believe in the outcome. If you are not an expert in that field, then make yourself one.

“Our brick-and-masonry alternative modular wall range continues to be a large portion of our business, and when residential customers realise they can build a wall that looks identical to masonry for half the cost of bricks, it’s not surprising, really. We have recently launched an architectural-look fencing product called SlimWall, which is only 50 millimetres thick, lightweight, quick to install, and is cost effective given its aesthetically superior to traditional timber or metal fencing.

“Within the commercial division, we have seen huge demand from blue-chip customers seeking an alternative to concrete, masonry, and other forms of higher cost noise walls and perimeters.
“At Modular Wall Systems, we will always keep pushing the boundaries of innovation. We have recently developed a variety of high-strength sound-absorbing composite panels that have been extremely well received, and we are currently commercialising a new product for the roadway and rail corridor barrier market which is made from over 90% recycled materials.”
While Nick used to be a one-man band in the research and development department, the R&D team has grown significantly, and the entire organisation is instilled with an innovative, can-do culture. From the sales team to the factory floor, Nick has done every job at some stage of his journey, and has built an energetic team that is driven to think about new products, to find creative solutions for customer requirements, and to remain the industry leader.

“As the innovative disruptive player in the long-established and mature industry that is noise walls, everything that we do has to push the boundaries of new design and manufacturing techniques. We create and retain a point of difference—it’s our competitive advantage; it’s why we exist.”

Looking forward, Nick will continue to push hard, while also prioritising the need to nurture vital relationships with key suppliers and trade partners. He says supply-chain partnerships are vital to all of Modular Wall Systems’ operations. “Raw materials are sourced locally, and everything we do is Australian designed and manufactured. The challenge now is to go from being a medium-sized business to a large one,” he concludes. “We are striving to triple revenues in the next three years.”