Every day for about the past six weeks, Eric and Robyn Day have measured the growth of a cactus stem that began shooting skywards below their home in Goulburn.
The stem climbed several metres before becoming visible from where they sit in their living room. They have measured its progress above trees in the distance, then the rooftops of industrial buildings across West Goulburn as it grew higher, and then the hills beyond.
Like the proverbial beanstalk, it has now climbed above the eastern horizon from where they sit. Little branches have shot out from the main stem and produced clusters of buds, which are about to flower. Inquiries at a nursery revealed the mystery cactus is a century plant (Agave americana) and once it has flowered, it will die.
The cactus’s spurt happened almost overnight after 30 years of unremarkable growth.
Its progress is not unlike the journey Eric set off on more than 40 years ago with his brother Graham after buying a business that Noel Betts established in 1948.
Operating from a little old shed in Wayo Street, North Goulburn, they had no idea the heights to which Days Industrial would rise as it branched out across southern NSW. Taking over from Noel in 1980, they continued supplying gas to engineering shops in Goulburn, Young, Cootamundra, Yass, Harden and Boorowa, and medical gas to hospitals.
This proved an eye-opener for the Days. No matter how big or small or remote a town was, it had engineering shops manufacturing and repairing equipment for farmers and other small-business operators. But these shops were overlooked when it came to supplying what they needed. As well as the oxy-acetylene gases for welding and cutting, they needed welding rods, MIG wire, protective gear and more bits and pieces for their assorted jobs.
The Days decided to supply them with everything they needed.
Planning to expand, Eric and Graham began collecting material to build bigger premises, which they ultimately constructed after buying a larger site for $60,000 from Goulburn Farm Machinery on the corner of Wayo Street.
They increased their stock to include more electrical tools and clothing.
Graham later left the business and Eric’s son Anthony, an electrician who had worked for Southern Tablelands County Council, bought his share in the venture, which continued gathering momentum. They expanded again into the former Supertex Industries vacant carpet factory shed in Wayo Street where they installed a shopfront with counters, painted the floors and insulated the corrugated-iron building.
Later Eric and Robyn’s grandson and granddaughter Tom and Jessica joined the company. The younger Days began chasing business and found more opportunities in Wollongong, where BOC Gas eventually approached them to lease their operations. Being big is not always better, as the Days discovered.
“Big companies have accountants pretty well at the top (of the organisation),” Eric said. “They don’t like to spend money.”
Consequently, the companies would not carry large quantities of stock on their books, preferring to order in goods after customers had committed to buying them.
But this often wasn’t good enough for business operators who could ill afford the time to wait. They needed their materials immediately.
“That’s what helped us, we had all the gear to roll,” Eric said.
He said a client like BHP may need special MIG wire, which was very expensive.
“You have to have it available. If they run out of it today, time’s money today, you have got to have it. When they buy that, they also buy the rest of their supplies off you.”
Six weeks ago, about the time the cactus in Eric and Robyn’s garden took off, Days Industrial expanded once more into Wagga, from where its services are rolling out across the Riverina and beyond, including Narrandera, Griffith, Leeton and Junee.
Over the three locations, Days Industrial has a staff of 24. Wollongong’s branch has two sales representatives, one heads north as far as and including Sydney, and the other heads south as far as Eden.
Tom Day travels to Canberra, Cooma, Bombala and all the quarries in the Southern Highlands and Tablelands, Yass, Young, Cootamundra, Lake Cargelligo, West Wyalong, Forbes, Parkes and Cowra.
Unlike the cactus, which will soon perish, the family business of three generations is flourishing across southern NSW.