Damian De Vincentis is the Director of beOnd Plumbing. He spoke to Matt Reynolds about what it is like working on the award-winning, reality TV program The Block.
How did you get the opportunity to work on The Block?
My cousin Maurice Del Vecchio from Del Vecchio Building was the builder for Shannon and Simon on season 9 of the show, The Block: Glasshouse, which won the series with the highest purchase on auction day. Following his debut and success he was approached by contestants for this series. He was initially reluctant to do it again due to the pressure and time constraints we all see watching the show. It was also set to be the biggest build the series has ever seen. Eventually, he agreed to take on the project with the condition he could use all his own tradies as he knew it would take the best to tackle this project. He chose our plumbing and electrical divisions to work with him. Maurice made a call to me on a Friday night; following a lengthy discussion we agreed to do it and we were onsite the following Saturday for induction and to get ready for a demolition.
Was it what you expected, in terms of the pressure and time constraints you mentioned?
Like many tradies, I’ve always been interested in the show. You think a lot of what you see is put on; a show just for the cameras.
I can assure you, all that chaos you see, all the dramas and arguments, they are not just for the cameras. The pressures that are required to get a job done can raise frustration levels beyond anything imaginable. Everything is up to the contestants and their tradies, and I can assure you there’s no extra help. You’re trying to complete months of work in a week so it’s only natural that the pressure skyrockets. To paint a picture, we had to rush out at 2am early one Sunday morning because the tilers got delayed, which threw our allocated time to fit off back. Room reveal is at 10am Sunday morning so you have no choice, you drag your employees out of bed and you get it done. That’s just how the show works. It was a great test for us and challenge for all at our company. They really thrived in that competitive environment.
How did your team go working under the pressure?
Thankfully, we have a great team. None of us had any idea what was really involved and what the expectation was going to be.
This was the biggest build the show has ever done, a multi-level townhouse development and as we know from watching the show, it’s to be built by people who have never renovated before with tradies who have never worked together before. We had a team meeting before we committed to the project and the whole team decided we would view this job as a challenge for 2019. You don’t really get any plans to work from, at least anything detailed anyway. So, all decisions are made on the fly. The team very quickly found themselves relying on their experience and just had to grind it out, they did incredibly well. One of our strengths as a company is that we have a great skill base, we can think outside the square and we are good at dealing with unforeseen issues. It probably comes from the emergency response and maintenance work we do every day.
Did anything surprise you about working on the show?
The turnaround time is unbelievably tough and the success of the show depends on the tradies. You feel that pressure straight away. I would often mention to our contestants that their success is dependent on their ability to engage with the tradies who have the resources and knowledge. And from what I experienced on the project, the contestants that had a good level of time management and communication skills were generally the ones that were constantly putting themselves ahead of the rest.
Take away the lights, cameras and microphones, and you still have a building project that needs to be completed. Everything needs to be done to code and everything needs to be done right. People will be living in the property and they will rely on services you install for many years to come. You obviously can’t take shortcuts, but the pressure continues to mount every day so we had to adapt to that pretty quickly working in and around multiple trades at one time.
One of the things that often gets spoken about among tradies is the potentially low quality of a rushed build, what’s your opinion on the quality after being involved directly in the construction phase?
Being a licenced tradie, most of the hurdles and dramas arise because of the high level of standards and regulations we need to work to.
It’s a good thing, it forces us to think of ways to get the correct job done quicker, we can’t cut corners. The foremen, Keith and Dan do a great job ensuring everything gets done correctly and in accordance with the appropriate standards and regulations. We’ve seen that the waterproofing has been an issue in past seasons and had to be redone on multiple occasions because of this. By no means would I ever recommend that people attempt at home what they see on TV though, simply because unless you can afford to pay all the tradies to wait in your driveway ready to jump in when you need them it just won’t happen. All the suppliers need to be onboard too; be willing to open after hours and have any product delivered to site in under 30 minutes. So, the quality stays the same but every other aspect involved in making that happen is put under huge pressure.
Is it actually a paid job for the trade companies?
All contestants get a budget, their responsibility is to complete the build to that and the trades get paid under that. The rates are negotiated before you start but it’s a flat fee and by no means rates you would experience on a standard project, there isn’t really any allowance for after-hours work. However, we have to ensure all our employees are paid correctly under awards, which our company absorbs.
Do you plan to use the exposure of being on the show in your marketing going forward?
We never did it to get exposure, we went into the project on a competitive basis, to see if our team could do it, to test ourselves.
We wanted to see what we could achieve, to see where we stood on the big stage and how we would go competing against other trades. The team, as I said, was up for it so we went for it. As a result, I’m sure beOnd will been seen on TV and regardless of the exposure we receive, it never really had any influence on us entering the challenge. We had some long serving partners in suppliers and work wear providers (e.g. Get Real Workwear) jump on board and assist with the required apparel and supplies that supported our investment made towards our participation in the series.
Are you putting your hand up to work on next year’s season?
I’d never say no but I would approach it very differently. Rather than going in cold, I’d plan much better in advance for each room. Gaining a greater understanding from contestants of their overall design goal would be an area I would focus on. For example, keeping the tapware the same through the entire site would be a big time saver.
Any advice for other plumbers thinking about going on TV?
I recommend you have a lot of labour behind you and flexibility to change things on the fly. You need to have the time to do it right, and it will take more time and more resources than you think. You never know what the next phase of the job will be, so be ready, it’s quite a ride.