Something Different

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-By John Boley

Some 30 km northwest of Sydney’s CBD in Baulkham Hills is Quasar Constructions. Calling itself the “perfectly medium-sized” building company, Quasar is able to handle $25 million projects but is without the problems of red tape, working to shareholders’ agendas, or being burdened by obsolete systems. There’s more: flexibility of response, direct contact with top management and “geographical flexibility”. Indeed Quasar sums itself up as “next generation building”.

These are far from modest claims. Yet James Crawford, Quasar’s director, paints a very down-to-earth portrait. “I like to think Quasar is a good Australian-owned business and we like to think we have respect in our market. We like to think that every project we do is something we are proud of and also that the client is happy with their product and feel as if they have got value for money. I like to think we are going to be around for a long time, especially with our style of doing business which we think is different to the others.”

Different? “I tend to think so. Especially in our market, being the medium sized market. We give customer service. We provide cost planning, detailed programming sequencing, all that sort of thing free of cost. We like to be a bit proactive – delivering good product and getting repeat business.”

Quasar boasts that it will “never take a tender document at face value” but instead will proactively analyse it to assess critical client issues and examine aspects of buildability such as staging or cost savings. “Most of our clients are quite happy that we look at alternatives – different materials, for example, or different sequencing ideas – in order to save money.”

Mr Crawford says the vast majority of Quasar’s clients are in favour of being given a set of options and cites a project completed at Penrith as an example of the benefit potential. “At Southlands, the client wanted a green project. I think everyone was given the opportunity to produce something that would be cutting edge and probably quite expensive.” But when Quasar’s staff took a detailed look at the project and put a price on it, they came out with a figure that exceeded the client’s budget. “So we went through it again and changed the structural design and air conditioning design, modified electrical and hydraulic designs, introduced some prefab walls between tenancies – and saved 1.5 million dollars for the client (on a $15m project). And he’s still got a project that was fit for use and that everyone can look back on and be proud of.”

Some other companies would just price it like it is, reckons Mr Crawford, but “we like to think we are proactive. We prefer to offer what we think is a fit-for-purpose alternative that can be cheaper, smarter, faster, without deviating from the architectural design. We tend to spend two to three thousand dollars more per tender than the others to do this.

“Sometimes it’s welcomed, other times it can be seen as a waste of time – some clients are happy to stick with what the documents originally shown.” But the bulk of prospective clients seem to be in favour of the way Quasar takes a closer look at the tender and “we believe it’s good business practice to do it. We see ourselves as a service, almost as a consultancy rather than just a builder who builds off drawings.” This is good for business, he asserts. “I want more negotiated contracts, rather than just competitively tendering, so people get the real benefit of our expertise.”

Mr Crawford, who founded the company 15 years ago with fellow director Luke Smith, likes to stress the ethical dimension to Quasar’s approach. “We are not like competitors who are bigger than us. I tell my guys ‘don’t take [just] any opportunity’. We are growing, we want to be in this business for a long time”, build on reputation and be regarded as a trustworthy partner.

The benefits of trust are exemplified, he adds, in a recent project, Allowah Children’s Hospital, where Quasar carried out the project in a partnership deal with the Presbyterian church and the architect “and it was fantastic because all three of us worked together and achieved the correct product.” The relationship with the architectural firm has consequently blossomed and “they have since given us a lot of other opportunities as they see the benefit of negotiated tenders with a builder you can trust. At the moment I think we are up to about 60 percent of our business being via negotiation.

“I have some highly experienced managers and site foremen that have been with the company for over 10 years, and a good core strength. There is no tier of management – anyone can ring the directors straight away and we know everyone on a first-name basis – and that’s the way I want to keep it.”

Quasar’s portfolio of projects includes not only the retail sector but also community, commercial/industrial, corporate interiors, aged care, medical, residential, specialist buildings, hospitality and entertainment sectors. Recent projects have included a good deal of school development, hospitals and church buildings. Mr Crawford notes that although ecologically sustainable design is usually desirable in such sectors, in practice it can be difficult to afford. “I think the problem is that people do feasibility studies and then they go to the bank. In New South Wales, a lot of projects are borderline feasible and banks will not lend if it’s borderline.”

In many cases an ecologically sustainable design is not a cheap option and the chances are it “will not stack up for the banks,” he believes, “and that’s the problem for some of these private investors” – unlike government departments, he says, where the yield is better for a developer to produce a ‘green’ building. That is not to suggest there is no ‘green’ momentum in the private sector (he points to Penrith Southlands’ water re-use tanks as an example) but the ‘green’ bandwagon is running “a little bit slower than in the public sector”.

Feasibility, of course, is about keeping the business viable, so does the unusual Quasar approach pay the bills as well as sound good? Mr Crawford thinks it does. “I like to be a little bit humble because the proof of the pudding is that we are doing well. Business is good – I think there are a lot of companies that are struggling for work but at the moment we are very busy.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

September 27, 2020, 3:36 AM AEST