West is best: celebrating JH Stephenson

From a small shed in Geelong to a leading force in Australian steel manufacturing, JH Stephenson (part of the Steeline Group) recently marked a century of unparalleled growth, innovation and resilience.

In 1923, Joseph Hamsterly Stephenson started a business manufacturing plumbing supplies in Victoria.

Australia had received record rainfall and local infrastructure was unable to cope with the increased demand. At the same time, work was underway on some of the nation’s largest steel infrastructure projects, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Stephenson had a background in plumbing and gas fitting. However, his work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit saw him manufacturing supplies like pressed spouting, ridges, downpipes and water tanks.

Alongside his father, the pair began operating from a shed behind their family home in Geelong West—once the heart of Victoria’s industrial development.

After some time, the company had outgrown its humble beginnings, and the shed was no longer fit for purpose.

The family business, J & JH Stephenson, shifted from its initial base on Latrobe Terrace to Baxter Road, and then again to Victoria Street. This expansion was challenged during the Great Depression, which saw the nation’s unemployment rate peak at 32 per cent.

Steeline JH Stephenson’s 8,800m² warehouse

The company soon reverted to selling chickens and eggs to help pay for a new spouting gutter press.

However, the father-son business navigated these troubled waters and expanded their facilities once again, replacing the existing iron sheds with a brick factory.

It was the first of many storms the company weathered then and still continues today.

As the business recovered from the height of economic uncertainty, rainwater goods were in high demand. As such, J & JH Stephenson began to supply to local plumbers and wholesalers.

As economies and businesses were getting back on their feet, the WWII caused widespread devastation. The global conflict meant steel supplies for domestic purposes were reduced to a trickle.

J & JH Stephenson’s work largely became manufacturing goods for the Australian Defence Force.

Harvey Stephenson, who has followed in his ancestor’s footsteps, said they were lucky to have opportunities following WWII.

“After the war, materials became available and business increased due to the housing boom in Geelong. The family worked with a modest amount of machinery,” he said.

Several years after WWII, the business had recovered and the old Weller Street home was demolished to make room for a larger factory. 

“By 1963, it was decided to form a company and the business was registered as JH Stephenson & Son Pty Ltd which is still part of the company trading name today.”

“In 1977, the company was starting to expand with its product range and rainwater components. Due to the expansion land was acquired in Victoria Street in North Geelong and a purpose built roll forming plant was established in 1986,” Stephenson said.

The company has continued to embrace innovative technology and techniques to give their steel manufacturing a competitive edge in the local market.

Today, a fifth generation of family are at the helm of the company, known as JH Stephenson, which stands tall as an independent Australian manufacturer.

Grassroots approach to steel manufacturing

JH Stephenson stands tall as an exemplar of Australian steel manufacturing. Today, the Stephenson family leads the business, which specialises in high-quality steel roofing structure.

“The grass roots of the company has always been to supply our clients with great products with a high service level in the domestic, commercial and industrial sectors,” he said.

In 2002, the company joined the Steeline Group, who locally manufacture quality steel structures from 50 locations in Australia.

“This allowed us to have a national brand with other privately owned and operated roll forming companies similar to ours,” Stephenson said.

The shift to align with Steeline has been the catalyst in unmatched benefits for JH Stephenson, who are able to take on a wider feat of projects. It has also transformed the company’s facilities.

Today, JH Stephenson has a head office in the industrial precinct of Corio and a purpose-built warehouse in Truganina, which caters for some of the larger commercial and industrial clients. The 8,800m2 workspace provides plenty of potential for steel staff to work together on some of the company’s more complex projects. The company also operates from facilities in Dandenong and North Geelong.

“Further expansion happened again with the acquisition of a roll forming plant in Dandenong, which was pivotal to being able to supply to both the east and west of the greater Melbourne suburbs.”

“With four branches and multiple manufacturing lines we are efficient in being able to meet our clients scheduling all over Victoria and in more recent times New South Wales,” Stephenson said.

Local expertise, quality products

As part of the Steeline family, JH Stephenson offers an impressive suite of products and services. “JH Stephenson manufactures a wide range of steel building products, rainwater goods, roofing, purlins and fencing products,” Stephenson said.

One of the company’s recent projects was Project Oxygen, where 70,000 linear metres of purlins and girts were constructed for a distribution centre in Ravenhall, located in Victoria’s west.

JH Stephen also supplied 65,000m2 of Coolmax .48 Lokdek 700, the premium product in the Colorbond range, for Project Oxygen. This project navigated several layers of complexity because the material does not use roof-piercing fasteners to keep it in place. The project was completed with extraordinary efficiency, with large volume loads in excess of 24.000m2  delivered to site constantly, despite tight site access. 

Bringing projects such as to life relies on a dedicated workforce who manufacture roofing and building products in Australia for Australians.

Each of Steeline’s stores are independently owned and run, which means JH Stephenson is well-positioned to work closely with the local community. JH Stephenson understands the local area like no other. As such, the company can advise on products to withstand the nearby conditions and surroundings. This includes products made for bushfire-prone areas and manufacturing goods to maximise energy efficiency in steel framed buildings.

Celebrating a centenary

In 2023, JH Stephenson marked 100 years in business—a remarkable feat for any Australian manufacturing business. 

“Success in the company has really come from integral relationships all round. From our staff members, our key suppliers and most importantly our clients and customers,” Stephenson said.

Technology has been the driver of change in Stephenson’s business. From operating in an iron shed, to growing into multiple locations, the company has become a pioneer in the local steel manufacturing sector.

Stephenson said the company has never lost sight of its true intentions.
“JH Stephenson has prided itself on producing a great product in the industry with high quality machinery. We have never steered away from this process in all our time roll forming.”


On point

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