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At 16, young Ben Garraway thought he wanted to be an electrician when a casual observation proved him wrong. ‘Day one on my first job, I remember the builder coming onsite,’ he explains. ‘I watched him talk to the other guys, giving direction and advice, and I thought, “that is the guy I want to be!” It was the moment I knew I wanted to be a builder.’
Despite this flash of insight, Ben completed his qualifications and pursued work as an electrician and electrical inspector in Melbourne where he was living with his partner, Amy. When baby Garraway arrived, the couple decided to move back home to regional Mildura to be with family.
Ben may have now been qualified and experienced in his field, but the level of work available in his hometown came as a shock. ‘The jobs just weren’t there,’ he says. ‘That’s when an opportunity for a building project came up and I started Garraway Developments in 2016.’ With his builder’s licence under his belt, Ben’s design and construction business took off, beginning with units and smaller three-bedroom homes. A strong commitment to building beautiful homes for his clients was unwavering.
‘I loved it – moving the bricks, picking out the materials,’ he says. ‘Our homes are always built to a high standard because I would always picture myself living there.’
With an expanding team of trades, Garraway Developments had a pipeline of work catering to young couples, families or downsizers across Sunraysia in northwestern Victoria. As with many growing building businesses, a key marketing strategy is to construct a display home as a showcase of what they can offer to prospective clients. Ben says this became the next big project, which would include a higher level of inclusions and solidify his brand as a quality builder in the region.
‘We began the build in 2019 and it was completed in May 2020,’ he says. ‘But it was a worrying time to finish a display home because no one could come and see it. For 12 weeks in the lead up to completion, we didn’t have one enquiry. People were consumed by the pandemic.’
It was a defining moment for Ben and the team. ‘You can imagine our relief when the HomeBuilder grant was announced in June 2020, one month after we’d completed our display home. We started receiving more enquiries from potential clients after that.’
During this difficult time, Ben says being a HIA member was a big help to the business.
‘Getting to Melbourne from regional Victoria can be difficult, and it was impossible during COVID. Our membership with HIA provided a lifeline,’ he says. ‘HIA kept us up to date with all the industry news via email, and we were able to use HIA Safe Scan to safely open and operate our job sites.’
Recognising that a strong online presence was going to support the business and help with enquiries, Ben outsourced marketing, invested in a new website and professional shoots of specific projects. ‘The visual experience of a high standard home completely transformed our enquiry,’ Ben reveals. ‘Now, every build we complete, we have professional photos and videos taken. And we must be doing something right because our videographer, Alastair, engaged us to build his home!’
Ben has seen that compelling content showing the build has spiked leads in the past six months. ‘Sea Salt Marketing takes care of our digital marketing and SEO,’ he explains. ‘They transformed our website to reflect who we are, our professionalism and dedication to high-quality construction. Sea Salt included a questionnaire, which helps us better understand our clients from the beginning. They guided us through the whole process and we’re rapt with the result.’
An opportunity for Garraway Developments to complete specialised housing projects in collaboration with Sunraysia Residential Services (SRS), a provider of housing for elderly residents or people living with a disability, has offered a new challenge but rewarding experience for the team. The homes are all completed to the platinum level of liveable housing guidelines.
‘We have a great partnership with SRS because we share the same values – we’re building beautiful and functional homes,’ Ben says. ‘The feeling of home is the priority, and all compliance is incorporated into this.’
Garraway Developments’ latest projects with SRS are being completed to the High Physical Support level of the NDIS Specialist Disability Accommodation, and Ben ensures the team keep abreast of industry standards. The homes are designed with aesthetics in mind, and on the Garraway website, images of these homes blend in naturally with other housing projects. ‘We love working in this space,’ Ben says. ‘SRS does a lot for the community, helping people achieve the best lives they can, and we can be a part of that.’
Establishing any new business has its thrills or worrying moments, and with the building industry experiencing challenging times over the past several years, Ben has experienced it all. But clever planning is helping to ride the uncertainties. For example, Garraway invested in storage to stockpile materials to keep to project timelines. This requires careful monitoring and cash flow management.
‘With shipping delays and supply shortages our reality, we had to adjust our ways of working and we now order well in advance. We store items for our builds from slab stage. It has paid off because instead of being four weeks behind, we are now two weeks ahead. We know the confidence in us is there – word of mouth and referrals show that.’
Seeking the professional advice of a builder’s coach, Kurt Hegetschweiler, around process and delivery, has also provided Ben with the confidence to achieve ongoing growth. And with a new finance manager and draftsperson joining the team, plus an increase of jobs in the pipeline, Ben is excited for the future.
‘Loving what I do has made all the challenges bearable. I honestly can’t wait to get up in the morning and get to work!’ he says. ‘Our love shows in the homes that we design and build, and our communication with our clients. Many in our team will say, “us” and “we” and “our house”. Our clients see we are as passionate and committed to their beautiful home as they are.’
Ben Garraway has been a HIA member since 2016. From contracts to courses, his business Garraway Developments makes good use of the products and services on offer.
‘HIA’s online information and training events are great because we get to learn how we can better ourselves and grow the business,’ he says. ‘We can jump online and learn all we need to like changes to the National Construction Code.’
Garraway Developments first entered HIA’s awards program in 2020 and has already walked away with several state awards, including 2022 HIA Victorian Specialised Housing which was a national finalist in the 2023 HIA-CSR Australian Housing Awards. Ben says he loves seeing his team’s hard work recognised. ‘It’s our team that builds the homes our clients are over the moon about, and the awards allow us to share this appreciation with them.’
First published on 4 August 2023