In the Face of Adversity

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-By John Boley

Against a background of a depressed market and drought, one company – or group of companies – in the southern half of Western Australia has developed a business model that is an “amazing success story.”

That is the view of Ian Holloway, general manager of WA Country Builders, one of a group of individual companies that has formed the JWH Group. An entirely Western Australian, family owned organisation, JWH Group Pty Ltd has grown from employing 120 office staff in its early stages, to currently more than 640 staff and in excess of 2,000 sub-contractors. A composite group of building companies situated in twelve locations, with an even spread between metropolitan and regional areas, the group is now Australia’s third largest home builder with an annual turnover in excess of $450 million. JWH represents a collaboration of reputable and successful companies, coupled with geographical spread and dedicated staff with many years experience.

WA Country Builders is a unique operation, says Ian, made up of five offices across the southern half of WA including Geraldton, Bunbury and Busselton. Instead of being directed from a Perth head office, “collectively we market together and create the product together, but we run our operations independently of each other so we can micromarket, providing to each of those country areas exactly what each of the areas wants, and gaining an understanding of those areas.”

Ian is a well known identity throughout the industry (please see sidebar for further details). Throughout his career, Ian has been heavily involved in the Housing Industry Association (HIA) and has received numerous awards and accolades. Most recently, in August 2011, he won the HIA GreenSmart Professional of the Year award. The HIA-Boral GreenSmart Awards recognise the best in environmentally responsible housing and the GreenSmart Professional award recognises the accredited GreenSmart Professional who best demonstrates the successful application of the GreenSmart approach to all aspects of their company.

Judges said: “With a pragmatic approach to sustainability and true to his philosophy, [Ian] works across the team to keep costs down. Tying affordability with sustainability is Ian’s strength, and he has been pushing sustainable building practices for more than three decades.” Congratulating Ian and WA Country Builders, HIA managing director Shane Goodwin said the awards represented the pinnacle of sustainable residential construction. The programme is “a voluntary initiative and accreditation our members can incorporate into their building practices to respond to consumer demand. The awards recognise the high standards and excellence among these practitioners.”

WA Country Builders started a little over 20 years ago and established its first office in Bunbury. “We have no interest in the metropolitan area. To deliver effectively, we have to think country – not think city.” Some operations serving the area would do their drafting and estimating in Perth, “but we do it all locally and because of that we get a much better understanding.” The only operations carried out centrally are accounts and IT; everything else is completely self-contained although the five general managers cooperate closely and share decisions – “it’s a sort of franchise operation but not like McDonalds – we make different hamburgers to suit different markets.” The five do not compete with each other because effectively each ‘franchise’ has its own clearly defined territory.

WA Country Builders is not only about housing. “We will do an office block, a retirement home, we tender on business and the outlying operations do a lot of work with local government.” The company is equally at home designing and building wineries, commercial buildings, chalets, offices and retirement villages. It’s a developer in its own right too, with a 60-lot subdivision at Boddington, site of probably the world’s largest goldmine (by output). WA Country is open to joint ventures with other developers and as the economy improves it is expected there will be more development projects coming up.

If approached by a developer with a piece of land, says Ian, WA Country Builders can provide everything, advising on housing type, costings and designs. “We are happy with design and construct – we can provide a one-stop shop and that’s one of the reasons we have been so successful, providing the country areas with a bit of sophistication you wouldn’t get otherwise from the smaller country operators.” That’s not to denigrate the smaller operators, he stresses. “They do a very good job – but they work on a slightly different level to us.”

WA’s team has been responsible for some exciting projects around the state, including the Fox River Winery complex in Mt Barker; the Kalbarri Golf Club; the Albany Lifestyle Village, a 140-unit retirement village for the RAAF; the Barry Court Holiday Resort on Middleton Beach; and the Geraldton Mariners Commercial Complex to name but a few.

But most of the business is in residential. “Because we’re a member of the JWH Group, one of WA’s biggest building companies, we have a huge range of homes under the WA Country Builders banner ‘Country Homes Range’.” In fact there are almost 400 designs to choose from. “We will build what is attractive to the consumers in each area. Take the Wheat belt – farmers tend to be quite conservative people and their housing tends to be quite similar to suburban buildings, but if you look at different lifestyles, people coming out of metropolitan areas, for example, and buying 20 acres, they want the more architectural type of product. We also do a lot of specialised [one-off] designs too and if people want to spend a million dollars we can build for them too – that’s not a problem. We have our own internal drafting and design service.”

Everyone talks about the mining money sloshing around in WA, but Ian reminds that many more people work in agriculture than in resources, and there has been prolonged and little-publicised drought for several years, dragging down the housing market along with the rest of the local economy. In all honesty, says Ian, it is a difficult marketplace at present, “but we have been doing reasonably well because of what we can provide – we are the largest volume builder in Geraldton, or the Wheat belt.” To the south, virtually everyone has an office “but we are the only ones who can say we are truly local.”

And local is vital. “We are in a position where we can provide a local community with the type of housing they need, cost-effectively for that area, support the local trades, support local businesses and it’s been an amazing success story. No one else does it in Australia.”

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’?

June 25, 2022, 11:20 PM AEST