Turning Dreams into Plans

Gallacher

The company’s two directors are Charles Gallacher and Matthew Turner, who tells Construction in Focus more about how this enterprising outfit has prospered since its debut in and around the bustling metropolis of Perth.

Matthew started as a contract manager and rose to become director a couple of years later. “Most of what we do is retirement villages and aged care facilities,” he explains. “We have constructed a number of retirement villages around the metropolitan area. We also do a number of small mixed commercial and residential developments, and some retail work including automotive showrooms and workshops.” Gallacher maintains a breadth of experience and enjoys a variety of projects, but largely centres on the growing aged care sector.

Gallacher works only in metro Perth and selected parts of WA, typically in the southwest, says Matthew. The furthest outpost of the company’s activities is a suburb just south of Bunbury (the third largest city in Western Australia, some 180km south of Perth). This ensures that the company remains able to fully service any of its projects without stretching itself too thin on the ground. Gallacher has approximately a dozen staff members at present.

Aged care building is not a distinct speciality, says Matthew, but rather, “there are certain elements and idiosyncrasies in it that could cause problems for the uninitiated. We understand more of the mechanics behind how a client needs to go about raising funding and securing contributions from the government, so by having an understanding of that bigger picture we can offer more in the way of assistance to the client,” effectively transforming clients’ wishes into real projects.

It is far from being just about bricks and mortar; Gallacher does a lot of design and construct work and as a result tends to develop a close relationship with many of its clients. By understanding the basics of the client’s relationship with the federal or state authorities and how that works, “we can change the design and the construction methodology to suit the budget and the timing.” There is rather more to it that the unwary might suspect.

Gallacher specialises in what it calls “value engineering,” of which this ability to work within the client’s means is a strong example. The approach also includes looking at alternative methods of construction or using different products that provide equal or better performance at reduced cost. “We recognise that the construction industry has been lagging behind the rest of the world for a while and it is high time we started to catch up,” shares Matthew. “There are a lot of good ideas coming out of Europe and the US and typically – I can’t speak for all of Australia, but certainly WA – this industry has been quite resistant to change for a long time, at least as long as I can remember.” It is in many ways quite archaic and “that is reflected in some of the designs and forms of construction still being sent to the market for pricing.”

Chicken and egg, though, isn’t it? If the industry fails to offer better ideas, the client has no means of specifying them? “That is a legacy of the more traditional form of project procurement in which the client goes to an architect who then gets the builders to price it.” Matthew says there is a growing trend toward a situation in which the client no longer employs the architect but the builder, who in turn directs the architect. He believes this is starting to liberate the thinking about construction technology and opening the market to some less hide-bound practices and technology, as well as to problem solving.

Despite the general assumption that this is a money-no-object boom industry, Matthew says the reality is not quite so rosy. “It has been good for us over the years although you will find the market remains quite tight even in areas of the industry that appear to be booming.” A major reason for this is that other sectors of the construction industry are definitely not booming so the aged care sector has become more crowded and fiercely competitive. Gallacher had a head start, though, and was able to establish such a reputation that nowadays the company does not do much tendering. “Fortunately most of our work is negotiated. But as the industry becomes ever more competitive we are sometimes having to tender to secure work and find more and new clients. That is just part of the natural evolution of the industry.”

Indeed, Gallacher is better placed than many builders in the region. Competition, Matthew believes, has become not only fierce but considerably more adversarial as companies jostle for the jobs available. “The construction industry has always been adversarial but there is rather more desperation among some companies because the margins are so low,” he explains. The logical consequence is that clients sense that the industry is highly competitive and that they can drive even harder bargains, and the subcontractors are in the same situation, having almost to buy work and becoming quite aggressive as the marketplace becomes tighter and they try to maintain their own margins.

“But Gallacher is not one of the desperate companies,” Matthew emphasises. “We are very keen on sourcing new work, but we are not in the business of buying new work,” by way of reducing prices to the untenable levels now sometimes seen in the industry and the region. “That has never made sense to me. In any case we are seeing signs that we are entering a rising market and we all know what the result is of buying work in a rising market.”

The media doesn’t help, says Matthew, with its often contradictory messages about the state of the economy. “But there is a prediction that the housing market here will grow, and that is likely to put some strain on some sectors of the labour resources market.” That usually has a knock-on effect commercially and if some of the mining activities in WA that have been in an on-off situation over recent months get going again, “that will probably compound the situation of trying to secure adequate labour and that will drive up prices.”

Gallacher has a comprehensive management system and within this are robust health and safety and environmental management policies based on ISO (although the company is not yet certified) and everything is done according to those standards. “We are very big on safety,” says Matthew. “We have to be, anyway, in the light of big government efforts to change the way the industry is managed from a safety perspective.” The safety lapses still seen around the industry are “simply not necessary.” It is impossible to eliminate danger entirely but “we try to make everything we do much safer.”

One of the recent projects of which Gallacher is most proud is just such a progressive building – three stages of a retirement village for Stockland at Baldivis, originally known as Settlers East but now renamed Affinity Village. This boasts one of Australia’s greenest club houses, having achieved the first Green Star rating for such a facility in October 2012 and, according to the Green Building Council of Australia, has a “5 Star Green Star – Public Building Design PILOT rating representing ‘Australian Excellence’ in environmentally sustainable design. It is the first retirement living community centre to achieve a Green Star rating in Australia and achieves substantial cost savings when compared to a ‘standard’ approach, up to $50,000 in utility savings each year.”

Matthew explains that this project showcases his views on materials and design. The company was fortunate to be able to test many of these new departures before using them on the project and Wood & Grieve Engineers, the consultant, was “extremely supportive. It is an area of expertise for them and we were able to consult very closely with them. Many of the materials used here were new to us and new to a lot of our subcontractors. To achieve that 5-star rating required a different approach and a lot more discipline in the actions of our contractors – recycling and environmental protection, for example. It was very interesting to work on and the end project was something we are all very pleased with.”

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’?

July 14, 2020, 2:49 PM AEST