Up North

Osborne Construction Solutions

An 1,800 km hike up the east coast leads to the tourist magnet of Cairns. Phil Osborne was born in Adelaide and moved to Brisbane before continuing to the north ten years ago, working in the construction industry. He was invited to take over an existing business by its owner last year. This was the beginning of Osborne Construction Solutions.

According to Phil, the main change in the business came in terms of administration. “I was doing what I am doing now; it was just that before, I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills and that sort of thing,” he says. “But managing jobs and making sure they were finished on time was what I did then and still do.”

The Osborne team has built homes, schools, surgeries, dentist offices, shops, offices, restaurants, takeaway outlets, sports courts, car parks and undercover parking structures. They have constructed new buildings and refurbishments, undertaking large and small projects throughout the region from Cape York to Mt Isa and along the Coast.

All in all, Phil is enjoying the added responsibilities that come with entrepreneurship, working with his wife Kristina. “Of course there are ups and downs but in general, it’s good,” he says. He comments that the state of the economy and business prospects in the area are “patchy.” While some construction companies are busy, others in the sector have trouble finding work. Responses to postings for tradesmen would have been modest just a couple of years ago, he explains; but these days it is much more substantial.

Osborne has its own in-house workforce, which sets the company apart from most of its competitors. It also gives Phil closer control over output and quality control. It is vital to the company that core activities such as electrical or carpentry move quickly. “Otherwise the other trades don’t move along either,” he says. “Things get done quicker and there is definitely a cost saving benefit there as well.” This adds to the company’s competitiveness during the tendering process.

The company tends to do most of its work within the Cairns area, though it has done jobs as far away as Mt Isa or Townsville. Papua New Guinea is another potential source of work, Phil says, but not at present for him. “I like to be hands on myself; I like to go round all the sites so that if there are any issues they get resolved straight away. With jobs done further away, further than a day trip, I have had people I can trust.” But a location as far as Papua New Guinea would involve too many variables or unknowns to ensure continuity in other projects and proper quality control.

Most of Osborne’s revenue comes from private and commercial work. This includes substantial business from the Catholic schools and some state government work. The company has participated in recent school projects such as: OLHOC Stage 3, new GLAs, library building, sports building and administration building; Yungaburra State School, new resource building and hall; and Malanda State School, a resource building and GLA extension.

One of the company’s current projects is for St Mary’s Catholic College, a large secondary school at Wore. Osborne is working on a trade training center, engineering workshops, and a catering building that includes a commercial kitchen. The project is due for completion around the end of this year. These jobs in fact make up two separate projects. Their proximity on the site is helpful, as the company can staff a single foreman to oversee both jobs.

Recognising the good work done on a recent project for Spaceframe – Osborne carried out all of the Leukabond installation – Leukabond Australia has recommended the company as a preferred installer for its products for the region. The company is also a preferred supplier to several of the shopping centres in Cairns, a city of nearly 150,000 people. “We do all their maintenance work and anything that comes in such as fitout or refurbishment,” says Phil.

He explains that businesses are always moving because they are either getting bigger or smaller. Phil points out, too, that mall shops need to refurbish every five years or so, as part of their lease. With more than a hundred shops in the average mall, the construction business remains steady as a preferred supplier. There is little competition in Cairns prepared to do this sort of work, which needs to be accomplished in a tight time frame. “Everything has to be very carefully planned and very accurate, and not every company has the flexibility required,” says Phil.

But for Osborne Construction Solutions, no job is too small or too large. In recent years, there have been more refurbishment jobs than construction of new buildings, and Phil predicts that the demand for construction will grow in the near future. As a destination for tourism, Cairns is recovering. Earlier this year, Phil says, there were fewer visitors than usual. “It’s picking up again now, though,” he adds.

Some shops work exclusively with select fitout companies that are based in Sydney or Melbourne. Osborne is left out of these agreements and can only help out at the fringes of the job. Phil maintains a positive attitude, believing in the importance of doing a good job. He says that the company is “someone to contact for the future. We don’t want to let them down either.” Phil admits that there are misconceptions that quality service can only be found in the big cities. “A lot of people still think that Cairns is just a little outpost,” he says. “But it is a decent sized town and pretty much all the contractors we use have worked on multi-million dollar jobs.” The standards are just as high as anywhere else in the country – sometimes even higher, with consideration of local factors such as cyclone ratings.

There is no chip on Phil’s shoulder. “I just try to do whatever I can and if people give us a chance I am sure they would be pleasantly surprised,” he says. Phil’s attitude shows in the company’s work, and the clients pay attention. The team has been asked to quote for jobs as far afield as Brisbane, though Phil doubts Osborne’s ability to compete on price with companies that are nearby given added costs such as accommodations. “It’s nice to know they think highly enough of us to offer such jobs,” he adds.

There are, of course, particular challenges in working in an area that is far from most supply sources. Phil explains that generally, standard items are readily available but anything required in large quantities, or specific colours or finishes, may have to come from Townsville. “That’s the hub for us up here,” he says. “It’s only four hours by road, but that means an overnight service in most instances.” If it’s not in stock in Townsville, Phil says “the next stop is Brisbane, so there is always a need for some forward planning. In most cases, clients and architects are aware of the need for this extra dimension to their planning.”

All things considered, Phil prefers to be on site with his team. “If something crops up I want it sorted immediately, not to become an issue down the track,” he says. “Because then it costs more money or people get upset. I would rather deal with anything in an open and honest manner.” Phil accepts that as Osborne Construction Solutions grows, he may not be as available. But the Osborne team is staffed with experienced, trustworthy foreman. They can always contact Phil or his wife Kristina, who is responsible for administration and does not shy away from going on site either. Phil sees the near future as a time to refine the company’s reputation. “I expect we will put on more support people as we grow,” he says. “But I will definitely be out all the time looking at sites.”

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’?

November 29, 2021, 1:07 PM AEDT