21/04/2011 - 00:00

Building a business on solid foundations

21/04/2011 - 00:00

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GEOFF and Wendy Watters have taken a measured approach to growing Southside Mechanical Services over the past decade, allowing time to find the right quality driven process at each stage of development.

GEOFF and Wendy Watters have taken a measured approach to growing Southside Mechanical Services over the past decade, allowing time to find the right quality driven process at each stage of development.

The Geraldton-based business started in 2001, when the couple bought a workshop and the required tools of the business, and Mr Watters slowly started growing a client base.

After several years operating as a one-man show, Southside has moved into a space close to four times the size of the original workshop and now employs six full-time mechanics.

The Watters have recently invested significant resources in refining the business’s computer systems so they can spend less time in the office and more time on other interests.

Mrs Watters said the key to having reached this point was allocating more money and more time to getting processes and staff right, from the start.

“With our computer systems we got someone in to do it right the first time; we don’t want to put all the energy in and set something up that you have to rectify in five years’ time,” she said.

“It was always pre-empting the next step forward, we didn’t do it when we were drowning, we got help before.”

Between 2006 and 2010, the Watters focused on investing in premises, equipment and staff and took part in an intensive business-coaching program for 12 months to help expand their operation.

“We had talked about all the different scenarios that might play out, so we felt completely mentally prepared for expanding,” she said.

As a result of this forward planning, Mrs Watters said, there hadn’t been any “surprises”, though staffing had been a major area of focus.

Crucial to the model is having a dedicated senior mechanic as foreman who liaises with every customer. Mrs Watters said having an experienced person on hand to be the contact between the person doing the work and the client had been critical in developing good client relationships.

They have also adapted their staffing model over the years by hiring staff who want flexibility, allowing for fluctuations in workload.

“We are actually probably a bit overstaffed, and that is deliberate, because then if people need time off that is ok,” Mrs Watters said.

Teaming a flexible staff base – some who like to work four days and others who don’t like to work during school holidays – with a flexible workplace that didn’t often say no to time off, Mr Watters said it was easier to manage workloads and staff requirements.

“We put a lot of effort, probably 50 per cent of our time, into learning about how to take care of our staff, communicating with them and making sure they are happy,” Mrs Watters told WA Business News.

Staffing became an issue during the last boom when the business advertised a position for 12 months and didn’t receive an application – an experience through which they learned what their staffing blueprint was.

“We have guys here who don’t want to do 50 or 60 hours a week, they want to have a lifestyle as well, so we aren’t going to lose them to the mines, they aren’t interested in it,” Mr Watters said.

The Watters have combated the ebb and flow of business over the years by moving into commercial fleet contracts, which now account for 30 per cent of business.

Southside’s fleet work started five years ago through individuals recommending Southside to their workplaces, with large organisations like Iluka Resources now on the books.

“Then we did make a strategic decision to tap into that, and that is what we have been doing the last few years, targeting bigger companies and we went through a government tender process to win bigger tenders,” Mrs Watters said.

 

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