In the past few months, tradies all over Australia and New Zealand have been slammed with post-lockdown work. As a result of the COVID travel bans, people seem to have found other ways to spend their cash, with many trades businesses reporting a strong uptick in home improvement and renovation jobs.
One of the trades businesses experiencing the boom in home reno work is Queensland-based electrical company and Fergus customer KVA Group. We spoke to Ben Davis, co-director of the business, on how his team is managing to stay on top of the massive spike in workload lately.
Ben started the company with his business partner Elliott Furlong in 2015. They specialise in residential electrical work, commercial shop fit-outs, air conditioning and solar collection system installations. Lately, as Aussies have been spending more time at home, KVA Group has seen a huge rise in renovation work (ranging anywhere from $50,000 jobs to high-end home renovations worth between $2 and $3 million). In just 8 months, the company saw a 65% jump in home security and automation jobs compared to the same time the previous year, including installations of CCTV cameras, alarm systems, AV and home theatre systems!
Ben has no doubt that the HomeBuilder scheme is adding to the spike in jobs, and he’s optimistic that trades businesses will reap the perks for some time to come: “It’s always one of those things, but I think the amount of traction it’s made will expand beyond that March date. We’ll continue to see the benefits of it.”
The last few months have been flat out for Ben and the rest of the team at KVA Group. They had to hire 6 new employees, including site managers, project managers and apprentices (counting a total of 10 staff) and get 2 extra vehicles! To be able to deal with the sky-high demand, they had to “recreate” their roles – him stepping into a business management role, and Elliott putting on the hat of a construction manager. Both are now completely off the tools, and Ben says that implementing Fergus played a key part in that transition.
“We started looking into job management software because of the huge amount of workload we were experiencing. It was a big wake-up call when we started to get run off our feet. We had to decide to work on the business, instead of in the business as such.”
In pre-Fergus times, at the start of each day Ben would meet with his team in a little shed attached to the office, hand out job cards, and sort of “wing it” from there. Since switching to Fergus, the difference has been night and day. Ben now works from home three days a week, and the software helps him delegate, schedule jobs for his staff, and keep everyone going no matter where they are. The company’s bookkeeper is also using Fergus, which means that he no longer has to go to Ben or Elliott for information because it’s all right there in the system. Payroll was another serious issue and a time drain for the business in the past – a burden that, as Ben puts it, has now been eased by Fergus.
His main regret is that they didn’t look into job management software for tradies earlier. “If I could go back in time, I would’ve gotten Fergus 6 months earlier. That way, I would have been much more efficient with it by the time things got busy.”
Previously, a lot of minor jobs would often fall through the cracks.
“There were a lot of lost opportunities in the past but now, without a doubt, we can record everything much better. Some smaller jobs would often not get invoiced out on time, we would be losing things, or some materials would go missing. Ever since we got onto Fergus, the automatically created job number gets allocated to the job, and now all the job costs are there in one place.”
More clarity and transparency was another thing that made everyone’s lives easier.
“One other benefit that we saw since getting Fergus on board has to do with accountability; being able to explain to our builders and clients that it’s all there in front of them. If there are some discrepancies, we can pull back the files and explain to them the amount of resource and time that goes into the job. It’s much better than them just getting an invoice at the end of the day and not really knowing what they’re paying for.”
Fergus is also taking a load off when it comes to pricing at a time when the cost of materials is changing almost on the daily.
“We priced a job for 135 houses in a retirement village on the Queensland Coast. When the job kicked off 6 months later, we were stung with a 30% increase in costs. Cooper alone went up 37%, so I had to go back to the client and renegotiate. Being able to manage all the price variations and charge out rates in Fergus has been a lifesaver”.
At the moment, Ben and Elliott are focusing on growth management. They want the business to stay at a level where they can service their customers on a personal level while making sure that all the staff members are busy. But with good systems and processes in place, Ben hopes they’ll be able to expand in the not-so-distant future.
“We’re actually in talks now about bringing some consultants on board that would focus more on the sales side of things for us. Still, we don’t want to get too big, too quick, and then implode.”
When asked about any tips for tradies struggling to keep up with the workload, Ben lays it out straight – job management software is a must.
“I would suggest to someone starting a new business, or expanding their business, or trying to work more efficiently, to get job management software right away. Even if I was a one-man-band or had one apprentice working for me, I would jump straight into it. We’re working so much smarter now, as opposed to harder. Lesson learnt for me, I guess!”