Making It Work: from the Ninja Warrior stage to home offices


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Australians have had to adapt after their livelihoods took a hit from government restrictions introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus. In this series called Making It Work, we look at how individuals and businesses have pivoted to stay afloat during the crisis.


Stagekings is a theatrical set building company based in Kurnell in Sydney's south. Founded by husband and wife Jeremy and Tabitha Fleming five years ago, the company has been responsible for building stage structures for music and arts festivals, and corporate and sporting events including Ninja Warrior and Ultra Music Festival.

making it work stagekings
Tabitha and Jeremy Fleming with head of production Mick Jessop.

The company has also worked on artistically-themed structures including the Pop-up Globe theatre for which they had to build the set three times around the country, and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

The team might work on an event in their workshop for a couple of months before taking it onsite where it might entail a five-day build with up to 30 people working on a single event, says Fleming.


Ultra Australia, Sydney stage #eurotruss #pr15 #stagekings

A post shared by Stagekings Australia (@stagekings_au) on Mar 7, 2020 at 3:57am PST

Under pressure

"The business was affected immediately," Fleming says. "I was in Melbourne for the Formula 1 season and had built the stages for Miley Cyrus and Robbie Williams.

"On the Friday (March 13) they cancelled the event and the public gathering ban was announced. From there it was phone call after phone call of people cancelling.

"It all collapsed within a 48-hour period after which we had everything booked through until November cancel - the Royal Easter Show, Vivid, Pop-up Globe and some music festivals."

The entire income for the company of 12 permanent staff and up to 50 casual staff was cancelled for the rest of 2020, and the couple was forced to lay off the entire staff with the exception of their head of production, Mick Jessop.

But, unwilling to go down without a fight, they immediately started thinking of new ways the company could make money.

A friend with a similar business in Ireland suggested that with their equipment and the right tradespeople, they could produce something in demand - work-at-home desks or isolation desks.

Not only would this keep a number of the crew employed, but the company decided to donate $10 from every sale to Support Act which supports music workers impacted by COVID 19.

Learning to adapt

With many events were cancelled after Stagekings had purchased materials for jobs but before the company had been paid, the financial impact was immediate, Fleming says.

"We lost $2.5 million in expected revenue from these shows over the next four months and all of that went," he says.

Fleming and his wife also had a mortgage to think about it.

"Because events was hit first I immediately started calling financial institutions for home loan and equipment finance but because not everyone had been affected yet they weren't open to doing much," Fleming says.

"Our home loan allowed a reduced rate for three months but now more people are affected the banks are more open to those conversations.

Stagekings also had to consider the rent on its Kurnell warehouse - a whopping $250,000 a year.

"With no income I thought we could make only four months - with all the outgoings as normal," Fleming says.

Staying afloat

After the announcement, the Flemings and Jessop started thinking of other options.

"We came up with temporary structures for hospitals using our staging and temporary waiting facilities for hospital car parks, but none of those ideas took off," Fleming says.

Then the desk idea came up.

"We started thinking about it on the Sunday, and Mick's hobby was furniture and he came in on the Monday with designs and prototypes and models.

"Overnight we built an e-commerce page on our website and on Tuesday we went live and business hasn't stopped."

Stagekings just ticked over its 2000th order this week - which was effectively 3000 pieces of furniture, Fleming says.

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After launching our Home Schooler 2 weeks ago, we've been blown away by the support, and feedback we're receiving. With 52 people back working, we're putting out up to 150 IsoKing Desks and Home Schoolers around the country a day. So now is the time to get set up properly for the coming home-school term. We've added a couple of options to the original birch design now too, with a white, or black laminate top. Details on our store link in bio $10 from every desk order still goes to @supportact - supporting the live entertainment industry during the Covid-19 crisis #stagekings #isoking #flatpackfurniture #homeschooler #theoriginal #homeschool #wfh

A post shared by Stagekings Australia (@stagekings_au) on Apr 10, 2020 at 10:49pm PDT

"It's really amazing and we have 50 people back working," he says.

"The thing is, it's keeping everyone sane more than anything. They're back working, and there are four workshops being used.

"We're also using out of work event people to do the deliveries in metro areas.

"It's all us events people who were out of work, now working together."

The future

Fleming hopes to continue this arm of the business as a sideline moving forward.

"We have a lot of other ideas and we've put out a few different types of furniture and the sales have been amazing. While the likes of competitors having delivery times of a month to 19 weeks we think our sales will be ongoing for the next couple of months if we can stay ahead of the [sales] curve," he says.

The company is now looking at warehousing in all capital cities in the country to dispatch goods within 24 hours. "Everyone is looking for Australian made that we can turn around in a day," Fleming says.

"It's going to be logical to keep it going."

Like all of us, Fleming doesn't know when the next event will be. However, he says the company could build a stage a week after they had an order, while a big stage would need a couple of months, but they are keen to get back to business.

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
Shane Hunt
April 17, 2020 9.00pm

What a fantastic story. Should be on everything medium. Gives hope when there wasn't any. They didn't abandon they embraced