Ankle-Biters

Precise Builders

It’s also a story about some younger-generation guys who believe in bringing a greater degree of commercial awareness, modern business practices and above all, customer handling and customer satisfaction to their building activities.

Andrew Ramirez and Anthony and George Szelocei exude a self-confidence that is rare at the moment in this rather depressed industry. They started up Sydney-based Precise Builders in 2011, working initially in the residential market sector, then adding some commercial work – with the business currently split 60 per cent commercial and 40 per cent residential. “We have developed our company to the point where we think we could take on a lot of third-tier building companies that are out there in the market at the moment. We have the systems and procedures to equal or even better them – like 50,000 dollars worth of accounting software which is much the same as what the big boys are running their companies on.”

The complete back-end of the company is run on a sophisticated administration system just like the bigger second-tier companies. “We are definitely biting at the ankles of a lot of third-tier builders.”

The three Directors, together with Con Pappas (their colleague who was unable to be present during our interview) share a background of working at blue-chip companies as project managers and running a business providing carpentry services. It all came together when they decided to join forces and form Precise Builders.

Yes, they say, they were definitely apprehensive at the prospect of launching their business in such a vulnerable and shaky economic situation, not knowing how soon the upturn would come. It was more a question of making sure “initial clients would be exceptionally happy with our service because we knew we would have to rely on repeat business to get us through, paying the wages and the overheads until the economy picked up. Accordingly, we spent a lot of time servicing clients and spending a little extra money and time making sure that word got around. That was a key to keeping us going until now.”

Andrew says he believed everyone else would have looked at them and asked what they thought they were doing, starting such a business at such a time. “But we didn’t look at the negatives; we just chose to give it a shot and I guess it has paid off.” So many people have a negative view of the economy that it kind of talks itself down, they believe. Competitors run around complaining that there is not enough work to go round, “but we have not struggled to find enough for us. It’s not like jobs are just falling from the sky, but we have managed to do well so far.”

And, they point out with some justification, if a company can start, survive and prosper in relatively tough times, then it is in good shape for when the sun starts to shine again and can do even better when the economy does improve. Overall, they enjoy running their own business. “We are glad we didn’t listen to all those who advised us not to try it. We won’t pretend it hasn’t been tough at times, but we don’t regret it.”

All four come from a commercial background so the company has the systems and procedures and – importantly – the mentality of putting the client first. “We get their feedback and build on what they say; we make sure we talk with all of our clients on a regular basis and survey them on the projects we are doing. We are now starting to tender on projects where we are as yet the underdogs, but it will only be a matter of time until we are beating more established companies by having lower overheads – because we are that bit smaller, but at the same time delivering a much better service because we have the same or better systems. We are very confident of that.”

‘Commercial awareness’ means being able to run a business efficiently as well as building things to the highest of standards. This is critical because this is where a lot of the industry falls down, they say – where its bad reputation stems from. “Builders fail to service clients in a professional manner, and we are trying to do the opposite.”

Precise Builders likes to target commercial projects a little above the bargain-basement where things are so intensely competitive, projects where the dimension of customer service and attention to detail is either appreciated or demanded. However, many customers – especially those buying construction services for the first time like a family wanting a home built for them – remain under-aware of the amount of client services available to them nowadays; their expectations are low because of the clinging poor image of the industry.

Anthony says Precise, with its systems and professionalism on tap, might be competing in this sector with a builder whose ‘office’ is the back of his ute. He believes that what the housing industry needs is a builder that gives the client all he or she needs – detailed quotes, everything up front, no hidden extras, constant attention. “It’s basically down to being honest so the client can make all the decisions before they enter into what may be a half-million dollar contract rather than finding out half way through the job that the builder is trying to drag extra money out of them.”

There needs to be some trust – a working relationship – between builder and client. The Directors of Precise are certain this is generally lacking in this sector of the industry at present and it’s something they pride themselves on. It begins with the little things, like ensuring the client is welcome on site (it’s the client’s site, after all!) at any time. “We don’t have the project-home builder approach where the client is not allowed to visit the job until we say so.”

Precise is happy constructing a diverse range of buildings. The company relies on trusted subcontractors to do much of the direct work but manages all the trades, “so the buck stops with us, not them.” Because of the Directors’ backgrounds, they were able to build a healthy list of subcontractors that they already knew and could work with. The staff at Precise work with their range of systems to ensure all the admin is taken care of; they invested heavily in time as well as money to install and fine-tune building systems and have “one for everything you can imagine. Nothing is done without following a system – we even have one to take care of quality control.” There’s another for safety, one for tendering, “one for every process within the company.” Now everything is in place and bedded in and the staff are fully conversant with the way it all works, the path for growth has been marked clearly.

Surprisingly, despite being a self-confessed minnow in the industry, Precise is working interstate for one of the biggest global names in computing. The client contracted the company to work on all its retail stores, doing basically whatever maintenance or building work is required. Below a certain job value, Precise uses trusted local subcontractors – for more expensive jobs, staff travel to supervise the job, no matter where in the country. The client, they say, is demanding but fair and appreciative of the quality of attention and service that Precise brings to the job.

Is this a revolutionary approach to the building industry? Not really, says Andrew. It’s more a question of applying a large-scale company approach in micro-scale. “We are nowhere near the Multiplex level but it does seem that companies at our level are not as strict as us or have our level of presentation. I think in our market we are pretty unique; the systems of the larger players are superior to ours but we are not competing with them. It does no harm to emulate the big boys. We aim to be a sort of ‘mini-Multiplex’.” Who knows? In a few years, Precise may not be so ‘mini’ anymore!

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’?

February 23, 2020, 6:09 PM AEDT