Point Of Difference

Rankin Builders

Founded by Neil Rankin in 1992, Rankin started out largely as a premium house builder, completing projects with an average value around the half-million dollar mark, until the turn of the century when Neil built a large bakery in Eden. In December 2003, when Don Hassan joined him, Neil was invited by a developer to price a Bi-Lo supermarket. As Don explains to us, having previously been general manager of a small commercial construction company in Melbourne, he was able to help Neil on the administrative side of the business, fine-tuning the tender, and the company won the job. Nowadays Don is half-shareholder, director and general manager.

The Sapphire Coast and the Bega Valley shire are fairly heavily dependent on tourism, according to Don. “There are no really large towns,” he explains. “Bega – known of course for its cheese – is as big as it gets around here with a population of around 6,000.” Otherwise, apart from Merimbula on the coast, it’s all small hamlets such as Bermagui. There has been a steep decline in industry in the region, which Don describes as “decimated”; even the tuna canning business in Eden has closed down and the local fishing fleet is a tenth of what it was. “Pretty soon, apart from Bega Cheese, we won’t have any type of industry around here,” he explains. “The whole of Bega shire is in the process of having to reinvent itself at the moment. One of the biggest challenges here is to create enough jobs to keep the young people who want to live in the area employed.”

All of which, understandably, has had a major impact on the local construction industry. However, Don believes it is an opportunity much more than a problem and says there is a lot of interest from state and federal government to invest in the area to create some new industrial life.

“There is a plan to develop a new port at Eden, which is Australia’s deepest natural water port,” (also said to be the third deepest natural harbour in the southern hemisphere) “as we don’t have a marina there – it’s quite bizarre. We are involved in two or three developments down there that are currently in the planning process,” explains Don. There has also been a plan to build a $10 million-plus supermarket in Merimbula which has been in the works some 14 years, says Don, and he is hopeful this will soon be approved at last.

Rankin Builders is in that league despite its size – as Don says, it’s just three people in the office and staff out in the field. “We are not a huge business but when we have a big job on, we employ and subcontract a lot of people.” This is the advantage of staying local, he adds, saying, “If we tender a job too far from home we are at the same disadvantage as everyone else is so we try to concentrate our activities around the local shire.”

The company also performs a modest amount of work in Victoria and in the far-east Gippsland region. “Every now and then something pops up [there],” says Don. “In fact we are doing a job over the border [about 70 kilometres away] right now.”

Rankin Builders is also happy to take on smaller projects for regular clients, and by keeping it local, Rankin is always at or very near the top of the list. “There are a lot of small to mid-sized jobs in the queue now and around four major projects coming up of which we might realistically expect to pick up at least two,” shares Don. Despite its leanness, the company has the capabilities to handle up to four substantial projects at any one time, he says. “We have had three on the go at the same time on a number of previous occasions.”

The area’s tourism industry is bolstered by a number of caravan parks, although as Don agrees this is not of particular help to the construction industry. In fact there is something of a shortage of upmarket hotel accommodation along the coast, and one of the prime proposed developments at the Port of Eden would be a five-star hotel on the waterfront.

Indeed, many tourists come to the region to sample the fishing delights of Bermagui, where Rankin has completed several notable projects. The biennial Four Winds festival of classical, cultural and world music is located just outside Bermagui and the company was delighted to win the job to construct the outdoor amphitheatre which provides performance space of a high international standard. This was a sail-style shade structure over a stage with walkways beneath, a community project last year supported by Federal funding and worth $650,000.

“This was a challenge,” Don says, “not least because of the location in the bush and relatively limited access. Our brief was to work with the natural shape of the land and create a largely natural amphitheatre; we were very lucky to be working with the architect Philip Cox as designer, probably the leading Australian architect of today, and he did a magnificent job.” Philip is also the designer of a project to build the new Bega civic centre, a design-and-construct in which Rankin is one of the three final tenderers awaiting the green light from council (expected in the next month or so).

The company was also responsible for the redevelopment of the Bermagui Fishermen’s Co-operative, a $3.3 million project; as well, a sound pavilion project may already have commenced by the time you read this. Don is particularly proud of these jobs as they are complex and require precision, but also because they attract such a wide audience once finished.

Rankin does maintain its residential builder’s licence but Don says the accent of the business has moved away from single houses. “If someone comes to us wanting a million-dollar home we will certainly look at it for them,” however. “But we would not quote on a small unit – a customer would be better off with one of the local builders because that is what they do.

“Overall,” says Don, “we are very lucky to have people like Philip Cox and similarly gifted people working in the industry in this area and that in turn makes it easier for us to ensure we are competitive in our pricing. From where I see it, our business has to be virtually seamless, from the first day we meet a client and begin talking about a project to the day we hand over the keys. There’s a right way and a wrong way – plenty of wrong ways – for things to get done, and it is my belief that we are very good at getting things done the right way. We don’t take short cuts.”

If there is a straight choice between a quality material and something cheaper that will not perform as well, for instance, Rankin will not compromise the standard just to save a few cents. As Don says, “we are just not interested in the problems and comebacks you get when you take short cuts.”

Occasionally, says Don, the company must walk away from a project because of this philosophy, which one suspects is the only aspect of Rankin Builders that is not flexible. “If people base everything only on price, so be it. We don’t do anything that can be seen as ‘cheap’. We won’t price everything down to the last cent and scratch around to make a dollar. We would rather wait for the right job to come along.”

If you once compromise your quality ethic, Don believes, you can never get it back. There have been quiet periods over the years, “but there has always been something to keep us going,” and there are few if any other companies in the shire that can do the top-end kind of work this company is capable of. Fortunately, not only for Neil and Don but also for what that says about quality building, the jobs appear to be flowing and this corner of far-south NSW can look forward to some exciting renewal projects.

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’?

October 23, 2021, 12:30 PM AEDT