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The name Steelfort may be synonymous with lawnmowers, but that only scratches the surface of this innovative family-owned business.
The story of Steelfort spans 75 years - and it all started with kitchen benchtops.
Steelfort was founded by Frank McOviney, an immigrant from Yugoslavia (Croatia), back in 1946.
However, Steelfort's origins date back to the late 1930's when Frank started producing kitchen benchtops for the growing post-war housing market, through his associate company Terrazzo NZ Ltd.
He noticed an upsurge in the popularity of stainless steel as the new material of the time; so he employed three sheet metal tradesmen to fabricate sink bowls for his Terrazzo benchtops.
The three tradesmen stayed with the company until their retirement some forty years later, and their early work with the company led to the general stainless fabrication business that still exists to this day.
In 1946, Frank acquired a reel mower manufacturing business, Fuller Engineering, to strengthen his existing manufacturing base.
Steelfort stuck to manufacturing reel mowers for the next 21 years, when the company began making rotary mowers – and the LawnMaster brand was born.
The first LawnMaster rotary mower was developed and manufactured in 1967, and Steelfort hasn't stopped innovating since.
Today, the LawnMaster brand receives global recognition in the outdoor power equipment industry and Steelfort is in the capable hands of the late Frank's son John.
The younger McOviney remembered his father's passion and commitment to the business.
"He was hard-working…a strong person both in personality and physically. He always did things the way that he wanted to do them.
"He was always up early in the morning, always at work early [and] worked 'til late. His whole life was really about his business and his family."
While his father's history of stainless-steel fabrication continued to be an integral part of Steelfort, John looked to diversify the company's interests when he took over in about 1980.
Under John's guidance, Steelfort expanded its manufacturing base and now specialises in custom engineered solutions for commercial fabrication, as well as manufacturing commercial heat exchangers.
The company's innovative design and expert staff meant Steelfort was a trusted name in New Zealand as well as internationally, John said.
"Everything we do is 'made to measure'. Our talented designers, engineers and skilled fabricators plan and manufacture engineered solutions for businesses both nationally and globally."
Steelfort also diversified by forming partnerships with leading global brands, such as Cub Cadet, MTD, Rover and Countax, to supply even more top quality products, John said.
"These brands and their products are made in the United States and Great Britain, and are high-quality products that complement our LawnMaster programme."
Although Steelfort recently moved its lawnmower manufacturing offshore, it is still a Kiwi company through and through, John said.
"LawnMaster products are designed and purpose-built for New Zealand conditions … we pride ourselves on providing reliable, robust, high-quality products for all New Zealanders."
John is very proud that Steelfort is still the only New Zealand-owned lawnmower business, especially in an increasingly tough worldwide market.
"It's not easy manufacturing in New Zealand. It's extremely difficult because we're competing on a global market, and especially when you're up against Asia, where rates of pay and rules and regulations are a lot less than they are here in New Zealand."
Steelfort still employed 50 people in its commercial products division, where "the playing field's a lot more level," unlike lawnmower manufacturing, where there were more "unknown costs," John said.
"But we're still committed to our New Zealand roots, for sure."
Today, John continues his father's legacy of innovation, through the recent introduction of battery and lithium-based lawn and garden products, for a more environmentally conscious world.
In this way, Steelfort continues to look towards the future, by playing its part as a sustainable leading supplier, John said.
The business is expanding too, with a new Auckland showroom opening this month, which John was excited about.
Unfortunately, Covid has cancelled the official opening of the showroom, but he remained optimistic about the future.
"We may have it next year. I'm pretty proud of it - it looks great."
John reckoned Frank would also be "extremely proud" of how things had turned out for Steelfort over the last 75 years.
He thought his father would be especially pleased with how family remained an integral part of the business.
John has four daughters and two of them are involved with the company. He even has a couple of grandchildren helping out and working during the holidays.
"[My father] was very much about business and family, and I would think he'd be extremely proud of the company today."
Find out more about the Steelfort story here.