Ready to Branch Out

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-By John Boley

BTF Projects is a four-year-old company with a very solid joinery base. But it’s quite an unusual animal: a specialist in fitout concentrating on bringing architectural and design concepts to realisation.

Mark Wilson, BTF Projects’ director, says “we started off as a joinery company 16 years ago. Off the back of that we started the building company, mainly focussing on commercial and retail fitout and high-end residential [work].”

Mark’s experience includes work as a detailed joiner in addition to his business and construction management expertise. At BTF Mark takes a lead role in overseeing the company’s direction, monitoring industry and technological developments, and employee selection and retention.

Mark agrees with the view that fitout is a distinct speciality discipline and not just an adjunct to the build process. “A lot of the big builders do what I think is a reasonable job but not a great job, but I believe we take it to the next level.

“We started BTF Projects four years ago and now our main clientele is franchises and rollout facilities. Westpac is one of our main clients, for whom we have done about 18 retail fitouts – refurbishments and brand new fitouts. We take care of their commercial offices as well.”

A top Australian bank is a good client to have, but as Mark points out, Westpac’s strength and size also means it is highly competitive and keenly priced. He is realistic. Westpac offers “very ordinary percentages but the quantity is there and a degree of consistency. We also deal with a couple of retail operations, doing their fitouts for them – Looksmart is one of them.”

Looksmart Alterations is in a premium location at Chatswood Chase, together with designer Hydra Design. Chatswood Chase, one of Sydney’s most upmarket shopping centres, required Looksmart to be designed and constructed to the highest of expectations. BTF, Looksmart’s preferred head contractor, ensured that the works undertaken were in correlation with the centre’s requirements, designer’s vision, and client’s demands.

At the heart of BTF projects’ portfolio is a lot of concept work. “We did the Tabcorp Number One concept at Rosehill racecourse,” a private suite which is intended as “a gambler’s paradise”. The Number1 club lounge at Rosehill Racecourse was designed to offer a real VIP experience to punters. “This was a challenging and complex project utilising complex materials, including marble, stone, and veneer.”

A lot of the high-end fitouts are “very heavily joinery-orientated, so having the joinery arm does help very substantially. We can CAD-draw it up fairly quickly so that it’s ready to manufacture, so once we have drawn it up and the client has approved it, it has cutting lists and pretty much everything it needs, ready to be installed.

“We don’t really do design and construct. It’s a sector we would like to get into but we are not quite ready to go into it yet; we would like a full-time interior designer on board before we do that; we’re not quite at that stage of the business yet. At present, people come to us with drawings and ideas and we will put it into reality.”

Mark and his team do have a serious role as advisers – what will work and what won’t, especially with their experience of the variety of materials they have to handle. “That’s probably one of the reasons why our customers keep coming back to us. We will problem-solve and tell them ‘it won’t work’ before it gets built,” so they don’t get failures on the rollout.

“Because of our joinery background, we know what will and what won’t work before we ever just let them make it.” BTF also plays an important role in offering alternatives – materials or methods – and can work with the client to find solutions. In general, “materials are usually selected for us by the architects but if we see that something will – for example – bow or warp the way they have used it, we can give them an alternative that would be more suitable for the purpose they have in mind.”

BTF Projects’ own staff consists of project managers, site managers, contract administrators and estimators – all full-time. The company has done work as far afield as Perth in the casino. “We manufactured everything in Sydney and shipped it across.” There has also been work nationwide on behalf of major clients who have used BTF for the wider rollout of major concepts they have jointly developed.

It’s evident Mark and his team enjoy and take pride in their work. “Every job we do is a challenge because it hasn’t been done before – BTF works with its clients on concepts in order to ‘get it right’ so the client can then roll out the design across other sites. The concept work is the most enjoyable work we do; the quality of finishes is usually the best and the budget is less constrained – then they value-engineer it from there. The rollout is [often] more of a compromise!”

Mark agrees that BTF is really a leading specialist in this field of concept fitout with a reputation that precedes the company. However, “we have pretty much flown under the radar so far with the clients we have and now we are on a marketing push to get to that next stage. The reputation from the people who do know us is, I would say, very good and very high, but… so far it’s been word of mouth.”

In addition to the works detailed (see sidebar), Mark says the company is very proud of Westpac’s Level-Seven facility “which is essentially a retail bank but only for its own staff, not the general public. They have 6,500 staff in the building and wanted to give staff members their own branch – that’s one of our favourite jobs, we were head contractor.”

BTF also carries out a number of high-end residential works. These are necessarily highly confidential and Mark is unable to disclose addresses, let alone names of (high-profile, famous) clients. But he can say this type of work is – not surprisingly – “very demanding. Owners usually know exactly what they want.” In this field BTF is also working with top-end interior designers and architects who at this level “tend to be pretty good to work with.” Which, judging from the amount of repeat business from some highly respected high-street names, also looks to be the case with BTF Projects itself.

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’?

January 27, 2021, 1:13 AM AEDT