Carefully Constructed Confidence

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-By John Boley

Ivan Blazevic is an enthusiast for what he does and after doing it for more than 30 years he’s about ready to spread the word that his company not only does it, but does it really rather well. He is Managing Director of Invogue Group, a multi-disciplinary and progressive practice carrying out a wide range of projects throughout Australia, with a very substantial track record and expertise in delivering fitout, refurbishment and construction projects.

From the start, Ivan says, he focussed on not just winning a project but doing it as well as possible, “having the same organisations call you back.” Repeat business on the strength of a job well done is what Invogue has aimed at ever since its inception in 1981 as a family business specialising initially in fitout contracting. Eventually the business moved into project and construction management and then into design. “That’s what we started with and we’re still doing today; moving corporations from one location to another, basically managing the process of their fitout and designing it.”

Invogue was set up by Ivan’s eldest brother; Ivan himself joined the firm in 1986 from a structural engineering background. He had already been involved for some time, working at the company on weekends and school holidays. “I think I pretty much got a taste for it,” he comments, “The family has always been involved in construction; our father was a builder, and I think it all just carried on from there.”

Against a backdrop of a distinctly patchy overall business climate, Invogue remains in an expansion phase. “We’ve been in the corporate environment for 30-odd years and we know every single element of how it’s constructed. We’ve been designing for a lot of years as well now, so we know when we’re designing which are the things that we need to take into consideration. Our builders, project managers and designers are all just workstations away from each other so there is no disjointed approach.”

One of the reasons for Invogue’s success, Ivan believes, is that during the final years of the last century the interaction between builders and the design and client side of a project had become “somewhat disjointed. So we brought all that under one umbrella… that’s what our clients are finding attractive.”

Invogue’s role in any given project may vary, depending on the needs of the client. “We do get our hands dirty if need be and I think that’s probably the focal point; we totally understand the concept of getting your hands dirty.” But on-time, on-budget is the overriding concern. “When we say to a client ‘this will take six weeks’ it takes six weeks.” Having all the resources within a single company helps. “We’re able to react a lot quicker in a lot of instances, compared to having all those processes in different offices. It does take time to bring it all together, but in our case we can react a lot quicker to our clients’ needs.” Ivan stresses how important it is to be able to understand what a designer wants and make sure that all areas of a project come together seamlessly.

A favourite challenge is a project that has a strictly defined time-span before it must be fully occupied and operational, quite a frequent occurrence since clients usually come with a deadline in mind. “When we first start to speak to potential clients, we focus on their move-in date, then we work backwards from there. But we are more than happy to provide them with advice as to what we believe is the most cost effective and efficient commencement date for their entire process and that gives them a window of looking for the space that they’re after.”

Of course, optimally, Invogue would be involved in the decision-making process at an early enough stage to add its expertise and experience. “We can walk into premises and we know automatically how difficult it is going to be to build and whether the services are adequate for our client’s needs. So while the client is considering different premises with their leasing agent or tenant advocate, at that stage it is a good idea to have someone like us come in with the same level of expertise, and comment on the building and the suitability from an engineering point of view and an accommodation point of view, in comparison to their needs. We actually design a sample footprint for the premises that they may be looking at.” A client may be looking at several different premises and Invogue can prepare sketches of the potential layout for them to determine the best fit.

Invogue’s team currently comprises 12 people in Sydney and 10 staff at the Melbourne office. “We’re currently going through a process of opening up throughout Australia, so we’re looking at expansion over the next couple of years.” With such a depth of experience, the team has developed a kind of self-confidence it what it can achieve on behalf of clients and Ivan says there is an enjoyment in consistently delivering their requirements. “For me it’s an absolute pleasure. We have the greatest job and sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that. We love playing in this sort of stuff. It should be enjoyable, it should be challenging. It should be all those things. We genuinely believe and we remain excited that we think that we can do it a little bit differently, a little bit cheaper, and a little bit quicker, and do it a little bit more efficiently.”

More offices are on the way – Ivan says this is primarily in response to requests from existing clients. Canberra is close, the company is examining Perth and core management have been to Darwin and spent some time up there in preparation. Ivan believes there is real demand out there for Invogue’s method of delivery, one which is backed up by an unusual client assurance policy. The industry generally, he explains, has a defects liability period – the warranty, so to speak – that can be as short as 13 weeks (indeed some operators don’t offer one at all) and rarely longer than one year. But for a client who selects Invogue for design and construct, “then it’s for the full term of the lease. They may have a five year lease or seven years but we actually build things the way they’re supposed to be built and we take into consideration the entire design process and the delivery process.

“There is such an excitement for me in this model, so when I look at expansion, I look at taking something almost like a new product into a new area,” but the ‘new product’ is backed with that 30 years of experience. “Taking that experience into a new marketplace is quite exciting for us. It gives the opportunity for people who have developed through our offices to become state managers, to become directors and create a real opportunity for themselves.”

A considerable amount of the company’s business is with governments. “They are extremely stringent but very specific and [working with them is] a wonderful learning curve. Whenever we have a new project manager we always put them on government projects to learn.” The corporate sector can offer more of a span of opportunities – airlines for example, where one learns about “security levels and constraints that you may have in carrying out the fitout work. I found them very interesting,” comments Ivan, and indeed the firm has carried out a great deal of work at Sydney airport.

Banks and finance houses are good clients but hardly ‘money-no-object’ as they are sometimes portrayed. One of the reasons they can return so much to their shareholders is because they are very efficient in managing money, “so they’re not extravagant clients.” As with anyone else, they need value for their money and Ivan says that is one of the most enjoyable aspects of project management – when a client knows what their budget is and the designers have an approximation of what the client wants. “When you go to the marketplace, you have various people putting prices together, or guesstimating what things might cost. But with us, we already know what components cost, so we design to the client’s budget. We maintain a complete open book during the entire process, so the client can see everything that is being spent and where it is being spent. I think that’s the reason that we want to move forward in the marketplace and have more offices, to have a completely transparent transaction process with our client.” You don’t get second or third bites at getting costings right, he says, and there is no absolute requirement to spend up to budget limits if the job can be done right cheaper. “We’ve had situations where we’ve had to do urgent work and budgets have been stipulated and we’ve left half a million dollars in the budget because it wasn’t necessary [to spend it all].”

Ivan is focussed on pushing Invogue’s immense experience into the future. Clients have operations throughout Australia, so he will follow them, but the company is also looking further afield. “Australian companies looking at their manufacturing facilities in places like India and China have got to be attractive and perhaps some of our clients and our future clients may like Invogue to represent them where they set up manufacturing facilities. The greatest growing manufacturing areas are in those locations. It won’t be easy to go over there and go through those processes, but if we’re able to be good enough and we can do it then maybe we can help our clients through that process.”

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, 9:38 AM AEST