During my recent first ever trip to Adelaide, South Australia, I visited Chris Childs and son Brett Childs – the directors of roofing truss business Port Adelaide Timber Truss (Port Adelaide TT). This father and son team also work alongside Chris’s wife and Brett’s mother, Glenda Childs.
Managing and being part of a small business environment has been a goal of Chris’s since early on in his career.
“Before I set up the business we are in today, I worked for a timber company that was acquired by ACI Timber Products. I ended up working with ACI for three to four months before deciding I needed to go out on my own. I just knew I preferred working in a smaller business, ” Chris says.
Today, he has 10 employees underneath him and his son Brett by his side.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
Port Adelaide TT commenced operation in 1983. While Chris was briefly working at ACI he was looking to leave and start a small business, so he started Port Adelaide TT, grabbing the opportunity with both hands.
The site Brett and Chris work on today was originally leased from a business called Wakefield Timber, which unfortunately folded after attempting to expand. This meant that Chris had an opportunity to purchase the site from Wakefield Timber, and after that, he never looked back.
Intuition is a funny concept, and in Chris’s case, he was right on the money. ACI Timber Products folded in Adelaide eventually, but Chris’s business is still going. Looking back, it was the best decision he could have made.
Brett brings modern processes to the table, which have ensured the business’s survival in a sometimes turbulent industry within South Australia.
“Since we have been operating, we have watched bigger companies come and go, and sadly a lot of traditional timber companies in Adelaide have also fallen by the wayside and closed down since then,” Chris explains.
Brett joined his father at the business in 1998 as a fresh-faced 21-year-old. Regardless of the fact that his father was the boss, it was important to Chris and Glenda that Brett started his role in the company working on the floor with everyone else, learning the ropes.
Brett worked at a large company for two years before working with his father at Port Adelaide TT.
“I always wanted to eventually end up working here. As part of a curriculum at school we had to write letters to potential employees, and they encouraged us to steer away from family businesses,” says Brett.
“I think now, looking back, it was good for me to initially go out on my own and get some perspective, and to find my own feet,” he explains.
Today, Chris and Brett run the business as equals, with shared responsibilities that tap in to their individual expertise, and keep the business cogs turning effectively. However, while things run smoothly, a family owned business like Port Adelaide TT comes with its own unique challenges.
“I really appreciate being within a family business, but the thing is, there’s only two of us here, so if you are unwell it puts pressure on senior detailer Tim Lobzin and the rest of the team,” explains Brett.
KEEPING IT OLD SCHOOL
“All of our design criteria, and obviously our production work, is still initially completed on paper. It’s also a lot quicker for pricing. We obviously have a lot of companies around us that use software to price jobs, whereas with pen to paper, we can give you an updated quote over the phone within 30 seconds,” Brett says.
“A lot of the bigger companies have everything set up on databases on the computer, and all the information needs to be entered into that first. If a price changes you’ve got to go back through and update everything, so we still find pen and paper to be the quickest method,” he adds.
Today Chris prefers the pen and paper method over technology, declaring “I think I’ll retire before I have a computer!”
INVESTING IN THE FUTURE
Port Adelaide TT has been a licensed Pryda fabricator for just over 18 years now. Brett and Chris say using Pryda ensures that the software and machinery within the business are constantly maintained.
“Our largest investment in the last 10 years has been our computer operated automated saw manufacturing system, the Mango Tech Apollo Saw, and we use it with the Pryda software,” says Brett.
Chris adds that in terms of efficiency, the saw is imperative to the effective daily workload at Port Adelaide TT, and is well-suited to a smaller business like theirs.
“It’s made it a lot quicker for us to cut our truss components, but that’s a “˜Mickey Mouse’ saw compared to some of the bigger truss plants that have $250,000 linear saws. Ours is suitable for a small operation,” he says.
The majority of the work for the Childs father and son team comes from residential projects around Adelaide and the surrounds, with only the occasional commercial project.
“The building methods have changed over the years, and we have been manufacturing a lot more floor trusses in the last 10 years as a result of this,” explains Chris.
The biggest observation to be taken from SA’s developing construction industry, explain Brett and Chris, has come down to the style of homes that are now being built.
“Because of the sizes, and lack of land, two to three storey apartment blocks and units are extremely common these days,” says Brett.
Chris adds “We’re utilising floor trusses more, and probably not as many roof trusses.”
The demands from the wider construction industry within SA have been affected by the devastating roof truss collapse at the Riverside Golf Club in 2002, which caused two fatalities and injured many others.
As Chris explains, the transformation in workplace health and safety standards has been extensive since the tragedy.
“Today, we do a lot of things differently to New South Wales and Victoria, because our construction code changed dramatically after that tragic event, changing the rules completely.
“A lot of design criteria, product assurance, and quality control details have been imposed since,” Brett says.
THE KEY TO SUCCESS
Looking to the future, both Brett and Chris are aware of remaining competitive while still maintaining the qualities that have ensured their survival for years to come.
“Definitely for us, it all comes down to service and price points we can deliver, for sure. We deliver trusses when we say we’re going to deliver them. Honesty and integrity are key – you have to have those two in an industry as small as ours!” explains Chris.
Eventually, Chris will retire and leave management in Brett’s capable hands. From my chat with these two, the future looks bright for Port Adelaide Timber Truss.
“Yep, this is it for me, time to kick on and get on with it!” exclaims Brett.