Building a Reputation

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-By John Boley

The current custodian of one of the oldest names in the Australian building industry says he has an “enormous responsibility” to uphold the company’s long established reputation. Craig Percival is Director of Woollam Constructions, one of Queensland’s best known companies, which is still a family business to the extent, says Craig, that the Woollam family trust is a major shareholder. Nowadays there are two more families in the business – the Brodels and the McGregors. “It is still very much a family business and certainly the Woollams are still a big part of the business.”

Craig and Managing Director George Bogiatzis have both worked under three generations of the Woollams, “so we certainly know a bit about the family and how they expect the business to operate.” Craig says that on one hand, “it is a terrific honour to be given the responsibility, but on the other hand you have to be sure to maintain the Woollam values. That always comes first and foremost, and to combine that with an industry that gets very tough at times – and obviously you have to stay modern – there are times when it can be quite tricky.”

Times are tough for the industry right now – Craig doesn’t hide the fact. He recalls the early 1990s when maybe 20 or even 30 companies would be on a tender list, especially for state government work. “Back then we probably didn’t realise how bad things were. But now we are back to seeing longer tender lists and you just have to be on your toes consistently at the moment to try and stay ahead of your competitors.”

It is competitive to get on tender lists at the moment, he accepts, but the Woollam name and reputation is more than just a foot in the door. “It is half the battle. We still very much compete in that open tender market, which is good for our clients, and we don’t have our heads in the sand. But even when it is easier to win work we still work very hard to maintain that ‘best value for the dollar’ ethos with our clients.”

Woollams is all about long term. “We pride ourselves on the amount of repeat business that we get.” The company has one client, for example, for which it built a facility 30 years ago. “In 2001 we went back to do some more work and we ended up being there for nine years, just doing one job after another. That is one of the things I am most proud of about Woollams; the fact that once people get to know us, they like what we are about and are usually as keen to keep the relationship going as we are.”

Brisbane has always been the site of the company’s head office. “However, most of our work has been around regional Queensland.” Nowadays, “our Ballina office in NSW is doing very well. We have been there for seven or eight years now and we are starting to get involved with a lot of opportunities in that region. We are fortunate, too, in that some of our key foremen over the years have very much been the type of people that can do everything. They will travel to a region and basically ‘become’ Woollams and we are fortunate that we have had that level of competency.”

Woollam Constructions usually employs some 120-140 people on a permanent basis, many of them long-term with the company. One foreman, once apprenticed, spent 50 years with Woollams and two staff members in the Mackay office have clocked up 40-plus years each. This too brings extra responsibilities, says Craig, first because such loyalty needs to be looked after carefully through good times and bad alike. “Like any relationship, you sit through the good and the bad, and that goes both ways, as the employer and the employees.” The situation in Rockhampton – and Mackay too – is good from the opportunities viewpoint but Craig admits they employ approximately 50 people in each region and it can be difficult trying to compete with some of the wage rates being offered by resources companies in the region.

Craig is cautiously optimistic for prospects in the next 12 months or so. “There are some positive signs and it is just a case of keeping your head down and getting on with it. As builders, you are never happy – you either have too much work or you don’t have enough, you have too many staff or you don’t have enough. It’s just different issues on different days.” Like farmers. “For sure – it hasn’t rained, or there is too much rain. Never that balance.”

The company is primarily known as a commercial builder – of nursing homes, public facilities, public clubs, hotels and anything else that falls under that ‘commercial’ umbrella. Mackay Stadium, home of the town’s rugby league and soccer, is one recently completed project and another is the Convention Centre, also in Mackay – a new 20 million dollar facility. “Around 20 years ago we built the entertainment centre and the convention centre is built beside it, attached to it.” Keith Woollam rated the older building as one the company was most proud of, “so when the convention centre project came up for tender we wanted to win it for a number of reasons. Certainly one of them was because we had built the entertainment centre. Fortunately we won it and it was good, it was what the next generation of Woollam long term is all about.

“We had some of the younger, new-generation Woollam employees responsible for the project as well as a couple of the guys that had been with the company for 20 or 30 years and even worked on the original entertainment centre who got to work on the convention centre as well. We really pride ourselves on building the regional and the Queensland landmark buildings.”

Building in these regional areas requires a slightly different approach, says Craig, from the big city. “Even though we have some of the biggest suppliers in town, in a lot of cases you just can’t go there and expect to get what you need, especially for bulk orders. You need to be on your game, thinking ahead and having everything well scheduled, unlike Brisbane where there are more suppliers and more stock.” Greater planning helps to get better results, he says, and also, with the demand from the mining sector in the area, “there is an advantage in having full time employees based in these areas.” In Gladstone, for example, where Woollams has just finished the airport project, “It is only an hour or so down the road but in most cases it is a down-and-back because of the accommodation shortage there.”

Craig enjoys the challenge of maintaining the Woollam tradition. “I really enjoy the opportunity to work with a variety of different people and understanding that it is more than just constructing a building. It is understanding what their business is about and anything that we can do along the way to help their business, we will certainly do it.”

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 21, 2021, 6:33 AM AEDT