‘My role has changed dramatically since the beginning,’ says Poulter. ‘When I started, I was doing everything; plumbing, quoting, staffing, accounts... now I have learned to delegate. I have recruited a full-time estimator, an accounts person and more people to delegate to, which frees up my time to focus on running and winning jobs.’

Creative Plumbing mostly take on large commercial projects in Melbourne and some regional areas, having recently found a flair for new plumbing technologies in dairy production facilities. ‘We don’t do your average plumbing jobs. We try to target projects that many people would be reluctant to bid for. It’s all about finding your niche and being ambitious enough to bring different skills to the table. We did a lot of work with Woolworths for a while – we were one of about three in the state who were trusted to complete their upgraded stores while they were trading.’

‘Innovation is key to our success. Our expertise in the dairy industry is a prime example. The jobs are extremely hard to map out. It’s something that not many people are prepared to price for due to intense planning and complexities. You’re potentially putting yourself at risk accepting a job like that – there’s so much to consider in the great unknown, from materials to manpower. But we’ve been successful in stepping up to the task.

The science ‘We have been working at the Fonterra dairy plant in Stanhope, at a new cheese and mozzarella plant. There is a strict cleaning regime that employs a heavy component of chemicals to ensure sterility. The cleaning process uses hot water with the chemicals that inherently corrodes some types of pipework. Acid resistance of this pipework is critical to the longevity of the plant’s system. There are two materials that can be used to get around this. One is stainless steel, which is expensive and requires a specialist welding crew, the other more accessible option is fibreglass.

We have chosen to work with fibreglass technology that I imported from New Zealand. I researched it on the internet and went to NZ to meet the team in person. Armatec environmental are a cutting edge Kiwi company. Although small they are progressive. They are head supplier to Fonterra in New Zealand so the relationship was already made. All I had to do was build on it. To innovate you have to look beyond the prescribed way.’

The staffing

‘Taking on a broad mix of jobs requires varied amounts of staffing at different times. I have a trusted team of plumbers, but sometimes we need more. Going back to my roots, I recruit my apprentices through the Master Plumbers. I have an allegiance and loyalty to the Master Plumbers Group Training Scheme, as I was part of the first group of apprentices to complete an apprenticeship. It gave me the opportunity to get into plumbing, so I like to reciprocate. With apprentices available across various disciplines, it also gives us the flexibility to expand. When business fluctuates, we can retain our core group of plumbers but also diversify and recruit temporary apprentices to add to our pool of skills.’

The pricing

‘For me the trick is to break the job into components, meticulously segmenting each task as much as possible. A good starting point is to get your team to break down and record the amount of time spent on jobs eg stormwater, roughing in, or fit off. Our guys provide timesheets that refer to those specific segments. I can then use that information to check that we are pricing things at the correct rate for future jobs. Costing, budgeting and allocating manpower then becomes easier to come back to a breakdown of components and time spent.’

‘Discussions usually happen on site not in the boardroom. I’m always open to ideas and improvements. It’s very much a collaborative e ort, not just me telling. I listen to all my team members and try and activate their ideas. We are pretty progressive in that way. When we are dealing with such complex projects, many heads are better than one. It’s always our mission to make it simpler, safer and take any measures to increase productivity. So we throw it all on the table to the boys – in a world of ideas, everything is up for grabs.’

Things are made easier sitting face to face. It’s all about communication.