The Australian industry leading the world in textile fabrication

STA Life Member Story: Bill Meneham

Bill Meneham

Bill Meneham’s interface with the converting industry started around 1977/78 when he was the National Dales & Marketing Manager for the Industrial Textile Products Group for Rheem Australia Ltd. He joined Rheem within the Hot Water Division in 1961 as a salesclerk in Victoria and progressed through the ranks over the next 9 years as Manager for Western Australia.

It was around 1970 where Rheem purchased the National Bag Company Ltd which led them to enter the synthetic industrial textile products market – all of which was in the manufacturing of woven bags. Bill was then transferred from Perth to take up the marketing role in 1972.

 To expand the business base, Rheem commenced the manufacturing of synthetic fabrics in 1977 and 1978. 

Rheem entered the industry with a range of polyfabrics under the brand names Canvacon, Fabricon and Solarweave.  At that time, the market was totally dominated by canvas products and the only synthetic fabrics made or sold in Australia were polyfabrics from Gollin & Co and Rheem. 

Market research suggested that the Canvas Goods Manufacturing Association (CGMA), the tore runner to ACASPA at the time, controlled the conversion of the industry by offering extensive advertising and building relationships which was seen through by main groups of manufacturers including Birkmyre, Brella and Bradmill.   

Whilst Rheem were steadily developing a customer base and their products being perceived as being at the “cheap” end of the scale, Bill saw the need to join the CGMA.  For about 4 – 5 years, this was unfortunately strongly opposed by the canvas manufacturers and our application voted down each year.

However, when Rheem added PVC products to its range, support grew and during 1981-1982, when Peter Sutton (Sutton Industries – Adelaide) was the President, we gained acceptance.  The first annual conference after that, in Adelaide, a combined stand was entered featuring Rheem, Nylex and Sarlon – all synthetic manufacturers.

It was at that particular meeting, Bill was elected to the CGMA committee as an associate member without voting rights. He then remained on the council until his retirement at the end of 1993.

Bill’s focus of those years was to:

  • Accept synthetic products within the membership
  • Impose the question for applicants: “What is in it for me to join the association?”
  • Position the association on a more business-like format.
  • Keep members informed of all things of interest to them through a regular a Newsletter.
  • See through the growth in membership. Rheem sponsored a mail out to all motor trimmers with some success.  Similarly, the Blind and Awning makers were approached.
  • Broaden the information base, technical and product availability. Bill witnessed the annual conference growth from a lowly 5 stands to what it is today – a professional exhibition.
  • Obtain government recognition of our industry.
  • Establish a formal apprenticeship for the industry where Max Brady was the architect of this extraordinarily successful project.
  • Encourage a relationship between ACASPA, IFAI (Industrial Fabrics Association International) and OFPANZ (Outdoor Fabric Products Association of New Zealand).

The major changes where Bill influenced the industry during that time were the introduction PVC and shade fabrics to the market.  It gave birth to the tension structure and agricultural services now provided by the STA.  In fact, Rheem sponsored the publication of an instruction manual for tension structures written by Bert Bilsborough.

With the broadening of the product range, opportunities for exciting concepts and creative designs opened for members. Broadening market opportunities, this in turn resulted in equipment manufacturers showing an interest in the association and encouraged them to display their wares at conventions.

The growth in membership resulted in manufacturers seeing the benefit of being an associate member – financial sponsorship grew significantly and full membership care was experienced for some years after Bill’s retirement.

Bill says that the best advice he ever received was from Cliff Bartlett (C. E. Bartlett), who advised Bill “to have patience” with what was then a very conservative industry.  Bill took Cliff’s advice and says

“having been out of the industry for 27 years, it is difficult for me to be a forecaster. However, the challenge for the industry is to remain creative while maintaining as large a membership as possible”

Bill’s greatest achievement during his career was the unlocking of the boundaries that constrained the association, the fruition of a vastly wider market for members   and the united front to its customer base. To recognize and acknowledge Bill’s work and commitment to the association, he was honoured with a life membership.