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Building through the decades

Building through the decades

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Diversification and adaptability are the keys to success for this Newcastle building company that recently celebrated 40 years of HIA membership.

Gabrielle Chariton

Content Writer

Australia, 1983: Bob Hawke comes out on top in the federal election; Australia wins the America’s Cup; we’re all bopping along to Michael Jackson’s Thriller in our XE Falcons or VH Commodores; and Return of the Jedi is the must-see film. It’s also the year that builder Allan Browning and his wife Suzanne start a company trading as Ad-built Extensions in Newcastle, NSW, to capitalise on the growing popularity of second-storey extensions.

Four decades later, as V8s are making way for electric cars and we’ve all but forgotten the America’s Cup, Ad-built is still going strong, and still run by the Browning family. Second-storey extensions continue to be their bread-and-butter, but the company’s product offering has expanded over the years. Today, it continues to provide a turnkey design and construct service for all types of residential alterations and additions, and kitchen and bathroom renovations. The business also offers commercial fit-out services and sports court construction including synthetic and acrylic surfacing.

L-R: Craig Jennion, HIA Executive Director – Hunter, presents Rod and Matthew Browning with Ad-built’s 40-year membership certificate.

It’s this strategic diversification that’s kept the small business resilient enough to weather 40 years’ worth of industry ups and downs, pressures and challenges, says Rod Browning, who joined Ad-built in 1999 and now runs it in partnership with his brother Matthew. ‘We’re proud that we’ve survived so long in an industry that changes all the time. We’ve been able to diversify our business model to make us flexible when sections of the market go through troughs,’ he says.

While significant market pressures were felt with the GFC in 2008, more recently Rod and Matthew have steered the company through the impacts of the 2018 banking Royal Commission; COVID and its associated effects on the availability of materials and skilled trades; and now, the current cost-of-living crisis. ‘With all the negative media around interest rates, people are nervous about committing to financing larger projects,’ Rod says. This means large-scale renos are on the backburner, but the kitchen and bathroom sector, which typically involves a much smaller financial outlay, has remained relatively buoyant.

As a trusted brand, the majority of Ad-built’s business comes from referrals from happy clients.
‘Owners seem to know more about what they want in their renovations,’ explains Rod Browning.

Ad-built’s approach is to ‘roll with the punches’, so to speak. ‘What do you do? You scale down and deal with it,’ Rod says. ‘Then move back in and regrow again when things get better.’

They’ve been in the industry long enough to know these trends tend to be cyclical and are hopeful stability is on the horizon. ‘Once the industry can get through the cost-of-living crisis and mortgage rises, it will come back again,’ Rod says. ‘That’s going to depend to an extent on how banks and governments, whether state, federal or local, deal with housing in general.’ 

Rod says the building landscape has evolved in other ways since the 1980s. For example, second-storey extensions ‘tended to be a box on top of a house’ with little thought put into their design because homeowners wanted ‘bang for their buck’. But over the years, new-generation products, new building techniques and a more discerning breed of consumer has changed that.

‘Owners seem to know more about what they want in their renovations,’ explains Rod, who believes social media and the popularity of TV renovation shows have played a large part in their general awareness. ‘They’re switched on about what they can do with their buildings, so they come to you armed with more information up their sleeve.’

Increased regulations, BASIX and the escalation of bushfire requirements have added a layer of complexity to both onsite and administrative procedures for builders in NSW. But throughout all this change, Ad-built’s HIA membership has remained a constant, with Rod and Matthew often turning to the Association for advice and guidance.

A before and after: This tired home was revitalised and extended by Ad-built, as seen in next image.
‘Second-storey extensions are Ad-built’s bread-and-butter, but its product offering has expanded over the years.'

‘It’s good for builders to have a body like HIA providing representation to government on our behalf and listening to what we’re asking and saying,’ Rod says. ‘We make use of HIA’s technical and legal department at times, and we use some of HIA’s contracts and documentation. The Association also provides us with networking opportunities with other builders.’ 

From a big-picture point of view, the Ad-built team are committed to encouraging and educating our next generation of building professionals, offering work experience placements for high school students, and presenting career talks at local schools. ‘We try to show them some of the opportunities you can get in the building industry,’ Rod explains. ‘Because we design and construct, we talk about drafting, architecture, engineering, interior design and surveying and all the things they won’t necessarily relate to being involved with building. 

‘It gives them a chance to think outside of the square because many assume if you’re going to work in the building industry, you have to be a carpenter.’ 

As a trusted, well-recognised brand across Newcastle, the majority of Ad-built’s business comes from referrals from happy clients. Decades of experience mean they’re experts within the renovations niche and their onsite teams work like a well-oiled machine. This allows Ad-built to move through projects quickly and keep the workload turning over.

‘We’re proud we have a good product, and we look after our clients,’ Rod says. ‘We’re happiest operating at a size where we can control our workload and projects, provide our clients with a quality product and run a good business. Everything we do, we want to do well.’

Ad-built is committed to encouraging and educating the next generation of building professionals.
‘We’re proud we have a good product, and we look after our clients,’ Rod Browning says.

Get more from your membership

Whether you’ve been with HIA for 40-plus years or only a few months, we offer support, information, advice and networking opportunities for every business and every career stage. Here are some benefits you receive with your membership:

  • Resources: free industry information for members on our website, and regular regional and national news and alerts.
  • Industry expertise: access to our courses, events and technical and legal teams.
  • Affinity partner deals: take advantage of exclusive deals with major brands such as Toyota, Ampol, The Good Guys, Isuzu and more.
  • Awards: enter our awards program for the chance to receive national recognition for your business.
  • Discounts: access member pricing on building codes, economic reports, HIA Safety Services, HIA Contracts and more.
  • Apprentices: receive the benefits of an apprentice on your team without the hassle of their employment administration through HIA Apprentices.

Log on with your membership details to the HIA website to discover what else you can access today.

First published on 22 November 2023

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