• A Woolworths staff member with SupplyAus hand sanitiser (Facebook: SupplyAus)Source: Facebook: SupplyAus
The small Indigenous-owned business SupplyAus had only been operating for 12 months when it got the request for 150 tonnes of hand sanitiser for Woolworths employees.
Keira Jenkins

29 Apr 2020 - 8:18 AM  UPDATED 29 Apr 2020 - 8:25 AM

For the past year Indigenous-owned company SupplyAus had been developing as a brand, producing workwear, PPE and corporate and office supplies.

A few weeks ago, the Coronavirus pandemic meant that the business had to adapt - and fast.

Managing director Shawn Andrews said the team thought there would be a slowing down in the business, but they were wrong.

"We were in the process of putting our own labels onto the bottles," he told NITV News.

"No one really cared about that one week into the virus, and we were able to move it. The strange thing was that we sent a list out of our products that could help with COVID-19.

"One of the ones we got back was from Woolworths who wanted to move 150 tonnes of hand sanitiser in the first lot.

"We had to work out how to fly a plane out of a locked-down country in order to get hand sanitiser here so Woolworths could stay open because it was for their staff."

Mr Andrews said the SupplyAust team was happy to help the supermarket giant keep their staff safe, but it took a lot of hard work and long hours to figure out exactly how to do it.

"We were a company five weeks ago with less than $5,000 in our account as a company, which was fine," he said.

"We were sitting back thinking, 'now everything that we're doing is going to be delayed'. But when you get a 150-tonne order in from Woolworths, you've got to work out how to essentially fly a hand grenade across the ocean - because it is 150 tonnes of alcohol in a plane.

"We couldn't fly the plane out of China from where it was so we had to move the plane to another location to fly it out. 

"We went from a very small company to a  - well still small as far as staff - but starting to make some good revenue and turning over and moving close to 250 tonnes now of hand sanitiser.

"It's phenomenal to think that's what we've been able to do."

Mr Andrews said the feat was something that much bigger companies hadn't been able to pull off. He's proud of the flexibility of the SupplyAus team, as well as the support of other businesses who helped get the massive load of hand sanitiser to Woolworths stores around the country.

"Once we started delivering, we had the biggest companies in Australia couldn't fly in anything as quick as we could - a small Indigenous company with $5,000 to its name," he said.

"I think it says a lot about Indigenous ingenuity and the way that we are so flexible in the ways we work, and the power of Indigenous business."

For Mr Andrews, once he started to see the Woolworths staff using the hand sanitiser, it touched him on a personal level.

"My mum works for Woolies, she loves her job, and it really hit me when photos started popping up of the staff using it and mum getting to use it," he said.

"Seeing family from Darwin and Brisbane and Sydney. Seeing those photos get shared - when you know you can make the mob a bit safer, and they can go to work, and they can look at something and go 'we're able to work because an Indigenous company moved this in here', that's just an incredible feeling.

"There were lots of tears of joy when that happened."

But Mr Andrews said he hopes this isn't the last time an Indigenous business exceeds expectations.

"Now we can look at it and go 'well hey, during COVID-19, an Indigenous business flew in an entire plane of hand sanitiser, and they built that from nothing'," he said.

"Surely, that story to other Indigenous businesses will make them think we can really do anything as Indigenous business.

"Our model of business is different than the mainstream model - I think it's far superior - and we've got to just trust ourselves and work together and keep building that.

"Once we do, hopefully 150 tonnes of hand sanitiser will seem like old news."

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