Specialist Plumbing Expertise, Comprehensive Services

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-By Aleisha Parr

“With more than thirty years in the plumbing and pipeline industry, our company has grown from a back shed office, $300 ute and one apprentice to being rated as one of three Australia’s major companies in the latest IBIS Industry Report – Plumbing Services in Australia.”

Headed by Chris Smith, a first generation plumber, Smith Brothers Group based in Adelaide SA, now provides clients with the complete one-stop contractor solution for Property Services through the offerings of its seven specialist divisions. Smith Brothers Group operates in an open and collaborative environment, ensuring that customers receive a complete package of specialist services – a rare achievement in today’s challenging economy.

“The divisions of the group are managed by exceptional people who work closely together and meet daily to assist with any situation that arises, ensuring our clients receive the best and most effective solutions utilising all our resources” explains Managing Director, Chris Smith. “This approach differs from traditional company divisions and gives our clients a collaborative and thought-out solution, with safety being at the forefront of our operations.”

A little over a decade ago, Tyco International approached the Smith brothers in the interest of purchasing Smith Brothers Group and in 2000 a deal was struck and the business changed hands. Tyco at the time was a US Listed company on the NYSE and a member of the USA Fortune 500 with a turnover of over $2b p.a. A condition of the sale from the Smith brothers was that all employees must remain with the business and that they would continue to manage the business. Tyco’s intent was to acquire other plumbing and pipeline businesses through Australasia and abroad under the successful model developed by Smith Brothers Group.

Tyco soon after experienced market difficulties in the US, resulting in the transfer of many of its Australian interests to a private equity company; then in 2007 this group of companies listed on ASX as Norfolk Group. During these changes the company retained key staff including Chris Smith as General Manager of Smith Brothers Group and on the Norfolk Senior Management Team. However, the intent to expand operations did not eventuate. In October 2010, Chris Smith purchased Smith Brothers Group back from Norfolk Group in the absolute belief that it was a good business being held back for lack of funds.

“At the forefront of that process has been extensive testing, review, and purchase of new equipment and technology directly from US & UK to reassert our technological expertise in the plumbing & pipeline industry. The new equipment now completes the vision we set out to achieve for Smith Brothers Group with the safest, most cost efficient, reliable and alternative options for difficult projects.”

Commented Mr Smith, “We learnt a lot from our 10 years as part of large multinational public companies and have combined that with our strong underlying principles of sound financial and debt management to streamline and hone our business in the last 18 months to be debt free, to invest in the latest technology and reporting techniques, vehicles and equipment, and to be agile to our key client changing needs and requirements.

“Our focus is on safe, sustainable and environmentally sound principles. Our plumbers receive additional training in “Eco-plumbing” and we are accredited to Green Building Council. We have had a Quality Management System in operation since 1997. This is what our key clients require and expect. This is just as important as our ability to compete on tender pricing.

“We are very proud of our team who has shown the ability to adapt to changes in the technology and diversity to bring our business divisions together to have the synergies we strive to achieve. We can complete due diligence swiftly and accurately to move on opportunities as they are presented to provide solutions to our clients immediately.”

Mr Smith asserts that Smith Brothers Group maintains a strong relationship with Norfolk Group, the Australian company which purchased Smith Brothers Group after Tyco became unable to support its Australasian holdings. “We still have a very strong relationship with Norfolk,” he says. “It really just came down to the fact that we were under-utilising our expertise with the equipment that we could purchase or renew and now we’ve invested a lot of money and we’re back up there where we wanted to be.

Driving this rapid turnover and ease of adaptability is Smith Brothers’ commitment to its company philosophy, which is “to do what we do best and stick with our core business capabilities.” What makes this approach so valuable for Smith Brothers Group is not only the in-house skill and technical expertise maintained, but also the comprehensive nature of the group as a whole. Chris Smith insists that this has only been possible due to the commitment of the team of excellent staff on-board with Smith Brothers Group. Many that began as apprentices with Smith Brothers now run the company as Divisional Managers, Project Managers, Estimators, Site Supervisors, Foremen and Leading Hands. They continue to mentor to impart their knowledge and expertise.

“We work hard to keep our competent people; a recent review shows that over 20 per cent of the workforce has 10 – 20 years’ service and an astounding 70 per cent has five years or more service with us. We know that it is the people that make our business a success.

“We are the largest employer of plumbing apprentices in SA and are proud of our training awards including the Ministers Award of Excellence. We are serious about our investment in the future by continuously employing apprentices for over 30 years and mentoring young people to become skilled, confident, responsible members of the workforce and community.

“Our reputation within the industry is [our] guarantee of winning business and attracting new clients. Both our employees and clients feel confident in our future. We would not have these resources if we had not invested in ‘building from the bottom up’ and producing competent, experienced employees who feel a pride and ownership in being a part of our successful history and future. Our success has been through the commitment of our people and our ‘never say never’ attitude to business. We invest in our people to have the opportunity to become an integral member of the team and to gain a reputation as a leader in the industry with a fair and equal open mind to business.”

Further, Mr Smith says that the company actively promotes an open and level communication field, encouraging workers to step forward with new ideas and concepts to help launch the entire team ahead. “Some of the best new practices and work methods come from our field people,” he says with pride. “We have an open attitude to taking on and promoting new ideas and products from the inspiration of our people.”

Mr Smith also contends that the company’s dynamic clientele have helped to launch the company to its national level of repute. Clients serve not only as a constant reminder of the company’s goal to provide the best quality and value on every project, but also as an equal partner throughout the life-cycle of a project. “We are selective on our client base and work for the best builders and Government departments in the country and are excited about the new technologies available in our company to put to our clients to assist them achieve their goals.

“We seek out clients who look for these company cultures and attributions in a company; hence we are endowed with a solid long-term client base. Many have used our services since the business started over twenty-five years ago. A good majority of our business is based on solid base relationships and consequent word of mouth referrals.”

To build a client base of this scope and magnitude, a company must do more than simply perform well; it can only achieve such loyalty through proven results again and again, each time surmounting expectations. That is exactly what Smith Brothers Group has done throughout the past quarter century that it has been operating within Australia.

Says Chris Smith, “We are constantly achieving savings of up to 40 per cent for our clients with our one-stop solution, over the traditional lowest-hourly-rate methods which take longer and have higher safety risks associated. We aim to bring to the table new solutions, so we look at the safest solution, the more cost effective and greener solutions. I think that’s where you need to be innovative and look outside the square.

“Our relationship with clients is open and honest and we listen to clients’ needs to find the safest and most cost-effective solution. We support our highly skilled team and all enjoy the successful outcomes we can bring to the table.”

It surely hasn’t been an easy path for the company, having to overcome traditional business setbacks, the GFC, and also a winding road of ownership changes, but the most rewarding of paths rarely are easy. Through these challenges, Smith Brothers Group has been able to identify its niche in the market, and has subsequently taken action to work toward its utmost capabilities.

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, 1:21 AM AEST