Worldwide cuts in automobile production, coupled with global semi-conductor shortages, are causing delays in new vehicle releases for an Australian aftermarket sector keen to manufacture accessories. Nonetheless, for Adelaide manufacturer Allin Towbars, business is still booming. By Carole Goldsmith.

Allin has achieved a 25% growth in sales in the past 12 months, and employee numbers have increased from 20 to 30 in the past five years. Managing Director Penni Donato emphasises that 30% of the company’s employees are female: “Although they are not working in trades and manufacturing at the factory, but in customer service and in administration, we are certainly open to training both male and female apprentices in fabrication and auto electrical work.”

Allin supplies the automotive trade and general public with towbar design, engineering, manufacturing, supply and installations. Its employees manufacture hundreds of types of towbars, custom-built for many different vehicles. These towbars are fitted directly to the car, either at the workshop, from mobile vans, or by resellers in their workshops. The company is a one-stop shop supplying rear steps, SmartBars, Bull-Bars, electric brakes, dual-battery systems, towing mirrors plus other caravan and 4WD accessories. They are also proud stockists and installers for ARB, SmartBar and Redarc.

Allin was established in 1946, with Penni’s father Ron Gynell buying the business in 1983.

“When Dad passed in 2014, there was no succession plan in place,” she recalls. “Our accountant told us to either run the company ourselves or see it fold, so my three sisters and I decided to give it a go operating the business. I was the only one with a bit of management background, and even though engineering and fabrication wasn’t my skill set – I worked in food technology before Allin – I took on the management role. Kimberly (Gynell) is a silent partner, while Kylie (Walden) handles accounts and Samantha (Smithson) does the online store and marketing. Our brother-in law Grant is Operations Manager for our towbar installation area.”

“I quickly realised that the ‘blokey’ culture was pretty toxic and there were many things that needed to change in the business. So I decided to take on the MBA at Adelaide University and do the job with increased management skills and knowledge. That took me four years to complete and it was a very steep learning curve.”

Penni completed the MBA and a Company Directors course in 2020, and slowly but surely, a change in mindset began to emerge at Allin: “Suppliers and customers returned and we helped empower the employees to grow the business.”

Penni explains how every towbar produced by Allin is custom-designed for the vehicle to which it is fitted: “Each towbar is specially designed for each model. That is why mass-produced imported products are not suitable, as there’s no such thing as a universal towbar. It takes us five days to make a new design towbar for batch production, which includes design, fabrication, and ADR testing. There’s also the wiring component, if the towbar’s being connected to a caravan for example, to power up the fridge and other electrical parts. That’s why we employ auto electricians as part of the installation team.”

Allin has recently expanded its engineering services with two mechanical engineers on its team now. It is also a licensed testing facility to carry out ADR static testing, which enables Allin to do towbar load testing independently and for its customers.

Allin is a Champion Company for the Auto Innovation Centre (AIC), an initiative of the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA). The AIC has been a very valuable facility for Allin, says Penni: “We all have the same problems, such as the guys building the bull-bar at the front of the car and us building the towbar at the back. You start pulling things apart, and all of sudden, the sensors don’t work and you can’t get them back together. Rather than us spending a month trying to work out what the problem is, it’s easy to call the lab and ask if anyone else has had this same problem. Then we can share the solution, and it’s all about the aftermarket manufacturers, collaborating and sharing information.”

Looking forward, expansion is part of Allin’s short-term strategy.

“Whether we stay here, move or expand part of the business, is all on the cards,” says Penni. “We’ve already started to sub-let a storage place locally because we’re bursting at the seams. Post-COVID, we have grown 25% thanks to the caravanning and 4WD demand, and the increase in Australian motor enthusiasts buying our Australian-made towbars and products. We are widely known as a female and family-friendly business with a fun, positive “can-do” attitude that radiates throughout the organisation.”