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The Rebirth of Nixon Build
  • Posted Thursday, 12 January 2017
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  • In Articles

The Rebirth of Nixon Build

In 2005 Bret Nixon found himself in Brisbane without a job, divorced and with not a lot left other than experience, initiative and a nose for innovation.

"When I started off it was with an old four-wheel drive, trailer and two $20,000 credit cards. That was the extent of it," he recalls.

The experience came from the 1980s when Bret was working with his father, prominent North Queensland builder Don Nixon whose focus was renovations and house raising and relocating, complemented by an engineering workshop.

Bret then had struck out on his own, heading to university, followed by stints in the corporate world until competition from China closed down the major engineering business he was working for.

So he went back to what he knew. "Naturally, a trailer full of tools and knowledge of the industry was a much safer pathway at that time,’’ he says.

His son joined the reborn Nixon Build, initially established in Brisbane and Townsville, a year later after finishing school to continue the family interest.

A decade on, after steady year on year growth, Nixon Build is an award-winning renovations specialist with annual turnover of $3million, 15 employees, a floating team of subcontractors, and a reputation for taking on the jobs nobody else will.

Now ensconced in Townsville after phasing out the Brisbane operation in 2010, Nixon Build’s success has been built on quality and innovation.

‘’We progressively moved into bigger and bigger projects, extensions, raising buildings and homes in which I had a lot of experience in any case,’’ Mr Nixon says.

Specialising in renovations meant the market was a little more niched.

"Renovations tend to have a little bit more flexibility in terms of margins . If you have the experience to work quickly around difficult situations that extra money that is generally allowed in renovation work goes straight to the bottom line.’’

But when it comes to quality there is no compromise. "I’ll lose money on a job before I’ll hand over an ordinary finish,’’ Mr Nixon says.

The company’s pedigree, with its background in engineering, has also been vital to its success.

"I say to people if nobody else wants to do it then let me have a go,’’ Mr Nixon says. " If it is difficult we want to know about it. Specialising in difficult sites is really what we do. If they’re on the side of a hill, hard access, difficult engineering , we love it.’’

Townsville’s landmark Castle Hill has provided some steep challenges.

"We’ve worked on sites on the side of Castle Hill for instance where absolutely everything has to be crane-lifted up and when you get to that level the building you're working on is another four levels above that,’’ he says.

He recalls an inquiry about a 6.5m house raising and his doubtful son asking

"How are we going to do that?" to which Bret replied,

"I don’t know but one thing I do know is that we can."

And they did, engineering a set of lifting gear and raising the house high enough for two levels to be built underneath it.

Last year Nixon Build won the 2014 North Queensland HIA Australian Professional Small Builder/Renovator of the Year award, which made it a finalist in the 2015 national awards held in May.

At the core of this success was the company’s innovative management systems, especially project management software, which provide a clear and transparent audit trail from start to finish.

"We introduced the systems three years ago and it was very embryonic and difficult – subcontractors had to get on board, everyone had to have a smart phone because it interfaces with smart phones,’’ Mr Nixon says.

‘’We had to train our subcontractors how they need to engage because everything they do is on the system.’’

Initial inquiries are handled by a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program and then from the contract stage the project management system, which can be accessed by all parties, takes over.

"’Throughout the build all the communication is on the system and it looks a little bit like the text file on a phone,’’ Mr Nixon says.

"There all linked in, my guy on site, the owner. Owners can see notes, problems coming up and how they’re solved.’’

Variations are signed off by the owner and the contract price payment schedule is automatically changed. "There are no surprises, the amount you thought you were paying is the amount you’re paying. If it’s not on the system it never happened,’’ Mr Nixon says.

Mr Nixon takes obvious pride in this award and others the company has collected in recent years.

‘’If you speak to anyone who doesn’t have them they’ll tell you there are unimportant, but trust me they make all the difference to a business,’’ he says. " It gives us credibility, you don’t win awards easily, you have to earn them.”

People like to be part of success, he says. "If someone is making a decision there’s a level of faith here in that we’ve proven ourselves, we have accolades .’’

Building a strong company culture has been another priority. Last year an HR expert put the company under the microscope, asking questions such as how do you get people to own what they do, and the Nixon Build values have emerged from that process.

‘’We built the company values off the back of all that information that came back to us, and what everyone agreed on were the principles we’d work around were respect , honesty, professional and quality, competitiveness and enjoyable,’’ Mr Nixon says.

"’If you have a culture built around these principles, I don’t have to be there and I can honestly say behind my back our guys are doing what is honest and right and doing a good job.’’

Despite the more restrained times, Nixon Build still expects to grow, with a probable move into commercial, although residential will always be its bread and butter.

‘’When commercial is dead there are still mums and dads who need a bathroom, an extension or a deck . In tough times diversity is what wins,’’ Mr Nixon says.

But there are limits to growth "’because I believe once you don’t know who’s working for you lose track of control and quality. We do have some more growth, we do plan to grow but we do plan to cap that.”

It’s a far cry from that old four-wheel drive and trailer in Brisbane.