Building Rapport

Varcon Constructions

Michael is the head of Varcon Constructions, a prominent builder of residential and commercial property based in Melbourne’s western suburbs. “We can’t complain,” he says. “We could always be doing better, but I believe we are well established and we always have work ahead of us to keep it all churning over.”

His father, Michael senior, was a builder and founded the company as a purely construction-oriented outfit in 1974 (when it was called MS Homes). He retired some 20 years ago, since which time Michael junior has run the show, taking it up a few levels in the meantime, his father retaining a hand in the company’s very active development arm.

In all its activities, Varcon prides itself on a ‘big enough to do the job, small enough to care’ approach, putting customer satisfaction right at the top of its list of priorities. But such a philosophy has its limits, surely, as the scale of the projects grows? Not so, says Michael. “In the last few years we have begun to get involved in more complex projects and we are evolving.”

There is, after all, no fundamental difference between servicing a dozen small projects or a couple of large ones – either can be done with the existing personnel and expertise within the company. However, Michael says Varcon is not particularly keen on the really large jobs; some 80 per cent of the company’s business is residential and, “that is where our passion is – especially custom-built designer homes.”

Varcon will work on “a lot of the home projects that other builders don’t like doing because they are a bit more complex and technical than the run-of-the-mill work,” Michael explains. He says this is not a problem – he is fortunate to have “very good and experienced personnel that can provide the service that demanding customers require.” The company relies on referrals for the vast majority of its work, so he is quite used to receiving plaudits and testimonials from satisfied clients, something he says makes the job in turn extremely satisfying for him and his team. It’s also, he believes, probably why Varcon has a bit more work than some of the other builders out there today.

On the topic of customer satisfaction, and client handling, Michael agrees that it is important to realise that the customer today is “a lot more educated than 20 or 30 years ago.” He has built second homes for a number of clients who had a bad experience with their first builder and have understandably been a little hesitant. He has developed a knack of putting them at their ease and says, “they see it as a breath of fresh air and enjoy the process. We try to take away the stress and frustration that people perceive is part of going and building your own home. We have mastered the system and we take a lot of the hassle out of it.”

Of course, it’s not magic and there are always issues that need to be addressed and solved – “that’s part of the building process” – but success is down to how these get dealt with and resolved to achieve what Michael calls a “happy and stress-free outcome that the client will be happy with.”

The hard part is not the building, the laying of bricks on top of each other, he believes. “That’s the easy bit, that’s what we do day in, day out. The hardest part of building a house is building it on paper. We put a lot of emphasis on accuracy and correctness on paper and our documentation and client specifications are crystal clear.” With great care being taken at the front end, a project can then be “put into the system” and it gets built – with minimum fuss. It is important for a client to be able to see, feel and touch what is going to go into the house before they come into it, and to feel comfortable. Hidden extras are also verboten at Varcon, as management believes they can severely damage or even destroy the fragile bond of trust being built between client and supplier.

In terms of building said trust, Varcon’s own developments can effectively serve as show projects that can illustrate the company’s quality to prospective clients. Current projects of the firm’s development division include Lakeview Square, a five storey development at Caroline Springs featuring architecturally designed two-bedroom apartments with views of Lake Caroline and the surrounding parklands; and Aqua Lakeside Apartments, architecturally designed contemporary, two and three bedroom apartments with open plan living and dining spaces, premium finishes and appliances throughout, intended to offer peace and tranquillity just a brief drive from Melbourne.

The latter is Varcon’s largest project to date and “a challenge for us because of its size,” but one that the company is enjoying. It does not represent a particular stretch of resources and there is no danger of the ‘in-house’ projects overshadowing the work for outside clients. “We only develop one or two projects a year, it’s not like we are doing dozens at a time,” Michael assures. “Our capacity, our infrastructure, can handle the load and we have the resources to cope, without any hassles.”

One of the keys to building custom homes, says Michael, is having a list of selected skilled contractors who work exclusively for Varcon. “With our high-profile jobs we prefer to have our own selected, regular contractors only working on those jobs.” Sometimes it takes a little longer to achieve the perfect result, but “the end product speaks for itself and 99 per cent of customers are happy to work that way because they know at the end of the day they will have a superior product.”

Clients seeking quality homes are rarely so impatient that a few days or a week more becomes a problem – they appreciate far more the attention to detail that will give them a home that matches their expectations. “We are also very flexible,” says Michael. “If a client wants to make changes, we enable them to do so. People love it, because other builders don’t do that. We try to be very open and obliging. It’s all about making it an experience for the customer and they need to be involved in the process,” not kept at arm’s length or even banished from site as with some more old-fashioned companies.

Despite the litany of gloom-and-doom news from the construction industry, “people are still building,” Michael believes. It’s getting harder because it is getting even more competitive, and Varcon has a reputation for quality which, as Michael admits, makes it not the cheapest, but he finds that people are generally happy to make a larger investment in order to be confident that the service and quality will meet their expectations. The company’s website features a ‘How We Work’ page that sets out a step by step guide to the process, from complimentary initial consultation through rough plan and design refinement and fixtures and fitting, to approvals, construction and eventual handover that is destined to put a customer at ease. “Most people are uncertain of the processes involved and it’s this uncertainty that creates suspicion. Over time, people will probably build some rapport, but if we make it easier to break the ice and give them a clear understanding of how the process works, it makes the whole process a bit more comfortable.”

Varcon’s superior customer service extends even to a complimentary Feng Shui consultant. Feng shui is in demand not only among Varcon’s Asian clientele but also increasingly among westerners. The whole Varcon ethic is also in demand, and Michael says a current expansion of the company across the state border is a direct result not of a need to move further afield and find work but of repeated requests from existing clients to bring the company’s quality and service to New South Wales. He promises, however, that this will not compromise the company’s service provision in its home market. Continuity is another quality he – along with his clients – values.

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, 7:28 PM AEDT