Torquay is well known for its surf design heritage. It’s also headquarters for a leading Australian brand design agency, Fluid.
Clifton Daniell was mid-commute on the Princes freeway, bound for his Melbourne based graphic design job, when his former colleague Mike Beck rang with a business proposition. The two had spent time working for a Geelong based design agency some years earlier before taking separate paths. Mike was in the final stages of setting up the Melbourne operations of a leading Sydney brand packaging design firm. He could see that there was still an untapped market opportunity beyond their offering.
So, Mike wanted to know, would Clifton join forces with him by heading up the creative arm of a new Geelong based design business, to compliment Mike’s business development and operations prowess? Stuck in horrendous traffic in the midst of the M1 upgrade, Clifton’s answer was a resounding yes, with the caveat that they decamp the business to Torquay as soon as they could.
Following his own relocation from Melbourne to Barwon Heads in 1996, Clifton knew that Torquay would be his longer-term base. In that phone call, he laid down a vision for the work lifestyle mix he was seeking for his young family. Mike agreed. And with that, Fluid was born.
Early operations were reminiscent of Aussie ‘dossing’ adventures in overstuffed London share houses, with the two initially working in the renovated kitchen space of another business’s office on Pakington St Geelong West.
The business vision was simple- to deliver the best design work they possibly could. They elected to eschew the challenge that can come with being ‘outsiders’ in a small town by fishing where the fish are- focusing their business development efforts on Melbourne based clients. They knew that if their body of work could speak for itself, they would be attracting clients closer to home soon enough. It proved to be a highly successful strategy and Fluid consolidated all business operations into Torquay five years ago.
To this day, Fluid has a 70/30 skew of Melbourne VS Geelong based clients. But the business is vastly bigger now, with a total of sixteen staff on board. This elevates Fluid into the top 5% of design agencies in Australia by number of employees. Fluid is now also regularly sought out for creative brand work by significant business and government players in Geelong, including projects for COGG, Barwon Water, Cotton On, TAC and many others. Their Melbourne focus remains the driver of longevity and growth.
During the early days, their first business break came when Fosters bought client BCB Beverages. The sympathetic brand tweak they applied to the Torquay drinks range won immediate kudos from their new beverage overlords. Almost overnight, they went from working on four cans to rebranding 60-90 products over a two-year period.
The Fosters/CUB relationship is an enduring one, a testament to the quality of Fluid’s creative output and their ability to nurture and flex with the demands of their client. In the branding world, enduring relationships are the exception, not the rule, so this is a massive accomplishment.
The tyranny of distance is something Fluid continually turns from a potential negative into an overwhelming positive by honing in on the business fundamental of relationship management. “Of course we can and do attend as many meetings in Melbourne as necessary. But we can’t do spontaneous morning drop in’s at client offices” says Mike. “So we make sure that we always listen very carefully to what the client actually wants from us. We’ve grown our processes to nail this over time too” adds Clifton.
Client phone calls trump emails and evolving processes negate dependencies on face-to-face meetings to progress work. “Most companies just don’t have time anymore for unnecessary supplier meetings so the modern way of working suits us. So many things can be done electronically and instantly, which has had a big impact,” Mike explains.
Fluid also use their location to great effect as an asset to retain and attract talent. As Clifton says, “surf doesn’t work to a clock,” so if the waves are on, staff can work their schedule to suit. This flexible approach enables Fluid employees to truly embrace the incredible benefits of living and working on the Surf Coast. As Clifton says, “our staff bend over backwards to complete work to tight deadlines when required, as they appreciate the flexibility.” In turn, Mike and Clifton credit staff retention as a key contributor to the on-going health and enduring nature of their client relationships.
Attracting quality talent is another key benefit of their location, with their last five new appointments all being Melbourne sea-changer’s coming from highly regarded design firms. “Our people have much greater access and visibility with our clients than they might do with other agencies. Many see this as a plus in their development and truly work as co-creators on products. They’re absolutely getting opportunities here that they wouldn’t get in Melbourne firms,” says Mike.
Increasingly, their Torquay location is viewed highly favourably by Fluid clients, who are starting to travel down to see the company operations in action. The only downside Fluid attribute to their location at the moment is lack of available freelancer talent when larger projects need a short-term resource boost. They’d love to hear from professionals across Geelong, Bellarine and the Surf Coast with real credentials in packaging and branding design. In the interim, they have a satellite hub in Melbourne to flex around freelancer needs.
“We’ve managed to create something special here” says Clifton. In a churn and burn industry, Clifton’s yin met Mike’s yang; a dogged determination for producing work born out of design integrity, to drive tangible results for clients. “We work nationally against some strong competition for the FMCG space, working with strategy and market research insights to compel end-users to choose our client’s product over someone else’s. A decision to pick up a bottle of wine off the shelf might happen in a matter of seconds, but so much goes on to get to that point,” says Mike.
Package branding and brand identity is Fluid’s backbone, but fourteen years of experience validated by success is seeing the business expand into brand and creative strategy.
The Fluid story is a compelling one for professional people weighing up a Geelong, Bellarine or Surf Coast relocation. Mike, Clifton and their team show that by committing to chasing and delivering work of the highest caliber, quality work opportunities will keep coming your way. On that basis, you can take the plunge and live and work somewhere you love to be.
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