Restaurants, Schools, and More

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-By Robert Hoshowsky

When it comes to building restaurants and commercial structures, it takes a special kind of construction company to get the job done right. Not only do the building interiors and exteriors have to be designed and finished to exacting specifications, but deadlines are often extremely demanding. Time is money, and when worldwide chain restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC want restaurants completed by a specific date, they call on a building company they can trust every time: Clifford Constructions Pty Ltd.

Based in Hornsby, New South Wales, Clifford Constructions is a highly respected building contractor skilled in creating projects for Australia’s commercial, industrial and retail sectors. Serving New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, Clifford Constructions was formed in 1991, and started out creating service stations and public works projects. Over time, the company’s reputation for excellence has grown and it has expanded to take on many more sectors, including schools, churches, fire stations, tertiary buildings, and public works structures, along with projects for high-profile clients like Woolworths Petrol Plus, Caltex, Big W and multiple fast food restaurants.

“We work on a lot of different jobs,” explains Stuart Abbott, Construction Manager and Director for Clifford Constructions since 1994. “Originally, the company formed to do a number of service stations – that was primarily the company background. From there, as other opportunities came up, we took them. The service station work led us on to McDonald’s and KFC, the style of work which we do now, which is a natural progression.” Along the way, the company also associated itself with Big W, Woolworths and others, building their outlet stores, supermarkets, and electronic shops, “and we just kept going from there,” Abbott enthused.

With a dedicated, focused, and highly skilled full-time staff of 36, along with a number of highly respected subcontractors, Clifford Constructions has a great deal of experience successfully handling and delivering multiple projects concurrently. In fact, it is not unheard of for the company to be working on a dozen projects at any one time for three or four major clients, taking them on from start to finish.

“We do turnkey completion,” says Abbott. In many cases, especially when it comes to restaurants, it is vital that all projects be completed by a specific date, regardless of external factors such as foul weather or a delay in receiving supplies. Often, a business will open its doors to the public just two or three days after the new building is handed over to them, spending the days between handover and opening getting the business in order and training staff. The timeframe is often so tight that a missed construction deadline, for whatever reason, could prove disastrous, which is why many large chains trust Clifford Constructions to get the job done on budget and on time.

“With restaurants, it is all about timing and the client’s demands,” comments Abbott. “I think that when we’re doing a public building like a church or a school, they have more flexibility with external factors, such as weather. When you go to McDonald’s and you tell them you’re going to have a restaurant in 12 weeks, they expect to have it in 12 weeks, regardless of the circumstances. So you’ve just got to be thinking outside the square most of the time.”

Over the years, the company has done multiple jobs for McDonald’s, at one point successfully taking on and completing about six locations for the company simultaneously. Often, Clifford Constructions will tender multiple restaurants for one lump sum. “Between McDonald’s, Woolworths and KFC, we generally have about ten projects on at any time,” says Abbott.

Even for the best construction companies, tracking the day-to-day progress of several building sites at the same time can be a challenge. Issues arise often, and it is critical to ensure supplies are on site, tradesmen are available, and subcontractors are suitable for the job. Without proper coordination, handling more than one job site can quickly become a disaster, which is why Clifford Constructions has the right staff to ensure projects proceed smoothly from start to completion.

One of the company’s many strengths is the open nature of its work environment, which evokes the old saying, “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Needless to say, the company doesn’t like to leave anything to chance, so there is a great deal of forethought built into the process. “There is always a lot of discussion about the projects we coordinate, and if we believe there is going to be a clash on any program, we work around that,” remarks Abbott. “One of the biggest, most important things we do is keeping an eye on the programs collectively rather than individually. We do a thorough capacity check with the contractors that we’re going to put on each project, and if they are awarded two or three jobs, we make sure they can handle those two or three jobs. We have four project managers here, so we’re comfortable with twelve projects; it means they’ve got three jobs each, and that is quite manageable. Again, it means getting them the support that they need to handle those works. Site managers get the support, and are able to adjust their program as they see fit to get around any other potential clashes they see coming up.”

Along with building restaurants and service stations, Clifford Constructions has been involved in many projects in relation to the refurbishment or construction of public buildings, including churches, community buildings, and private and public schools. The company was part of the Australian Government’s $42 billion Nation Building – Economic Stimulus Plan “Building the Education Revolution (BER)” Program, which saw $16.2 billion of that money allocated to the BER program aims to create and modernise schools through the delivery of necessary, world-class infrastructure, with about 24,000 projects delivered in communities across Australia.

“We did eight schools altogether,” says Abbott, “and have undertaken a number of heritage work projects for the government. We’ve done about a dozen fire stations in the last ten years, and have worked on hospitals and railway stations as well.”

Realising much of the company’s solid reputation is built on customer service, Clifford Constructions believes in creating quality products for all jobs, regardless of size or budget. The areas around certain projects, such as schools and churches, require access during construction, and the company understands and appreciates the need to not only keep disruptions to a minimum, but for maintaining or providing alternative access to all amenities as well. Additionally, the company is committed to quality assurance, has a system in place, and has been audited by SGS and received accreditation to AS/NZS ISO 9001:2000. With a strong belief in environmental management, Clifford Constructions also keeps waste and emissions on its job sites to a minimum, and works within legal, regulatory and contractual requirements.

The strength of personal contact, says Abbott, cannot be overestimated. He personally attends as many site meetings as possible with clients, and believes this is vital to the success of a project. “It is a face to face meeting with the director of the company,” he reasons. “Clients see me and partner Craig Robinson as ordinary people who are very skilled in the building process, and it give them confidence to know that not only is the site manager and project manager more than capable of completing their work, but that the company directors are standing there, ready to be involved as needed, or give a certain direction where necessary by the company. I think that is important to them as well.”

When Clifford Constructions started 20 years ago, it was “kicked off basically with a wheelbarrow,” says Construction Manager and Director Abbott. Originally formed by Craig Robinson – who today serves as the company’s Senior Estimator and Director – and his former partner Steve Clifford, the decision was made to retain the name when Clifford retired in 2000, since the company already had an established reputation by that time. Abbott remembers the early days fondly, having done his carpentry apprenticeship with another company, completing his training, coming to work with Robinson and Clifford, and purchasing his share in the company when Clifford retired. Just as he was once an apprentice, Abbott is a firm believer in giving today’s enthusiastic young people an opportunity to rise in Australia’s construction industry.

“We have an apprenticeship program, and take on between two and four apprentices each year,” says Abbott. “Our apprentice program is mainly driven by the fact that both Craig and I were apprentices, who received a lot from the industry through the apprenticeship program, and we like to put back in.”

With the company, apprentices learn alongside a foreman in their first year, and move on to working with carpenters and others until they are made leading hands in their fourth year under an experienced foreman – by that time, they are skilled enough to run a small project. “We explain this to them: if you want to be hammering nails into timber and building wall frames, then this isn’t the place for you. But if you want an overall building experience, and you want to become a building manager of some degree – be it a site manager or a project manager – then the apprenticeship system will put you through, as well as some of the teaching and colleges that we encourage them to enrol in.”

Abbott is not only proud of apprentices who have worked for the company, but also of the fact that about 90 per cent choose to stay with Clifford Constructions. At present, three of the company’s four Project Managers completed their apprenticeships with the company, and five of eight projects currently underway are being run by former apprentices.

“I like to think that through the way we run the apprenticeship scheme, the guys think there really is a challenge there for them. If you just say, “˜You’re going to hang around this foreman’ they don’t feel themselves moving forward. With the scheme that we offer, at the end of four years and at the age of 21 or 22, they have the experience, and are quite comfortable in undertaking any task requested of them. In fact, one of the recent apprentices was praised for his skills on a job site by the project manager. “˜He’s taken the project by the horns,’ I was told. It is quite encouraging to hear that positive feedback from your team and know that the younger guys are willing to step up and take it on.”

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’?

July 14, 2020, 1:41 AM AEST