How to build a reputation

Ross Faulkner, owner/director of Faulkner Construction, at this Howick home. Photo Nick Krause

Faulkner Construction, which operates out of Howick, is celebrating 40 years in the business. Its owner talks to the Times about the early days and resilience and reputation have inspired trust and a load of industry awards

Imagine launching a new company and, the following year, having to hold your nerve as the world’s stock markets crashed and burned.

It was 1986 when Ross Faulkner, 62, and his wife and business partner Anne Faulkner established their Howick firm Faulkner Construction.

In late 1987 stock markets blew a major gasket with New Zealand hit particularly hard – falling close to 60 per cent from its peak by the end of February 1988. Oh, and the economy went into recession.

In an insightful look at this precarious period three decades on, Liam Dann, business editor at the NZ Herald said NZ was hit harder than anywhere else.

At the time of the Faulkners launching their company, the country was experiencing double-digit inflation and interest rates were soaring.

In the second quarter of 1987, inflation was running at 18.9 per cent, said Dann. Floating mortgage rates were above 20 per cent.

NZ was in its deepest recession for years and was foundering with an aggressively shrinking GDP.

The Faulkners and their fledgling building business showed grit in the face of seemingly overwhelming external pressures. But it was perhaps because they were small and adaptable, with a fortuitous and unwitting bit of help by Kiwis burned by throwing money at the stock market.

Dann put it succinctly, “The economy went into recession in 1988 and, perhaps most damaging of all, a generation of investors – the baby boomers – turned away from capital markets and put their savings into property and property-focused finance companies.”

That was 40 years ago and the company had morphed into an extremely successful firm at the top of its game.

“It’s more impressive than a 40-year marriage. More external forces come into play in a business. You can’t control a lot of it,” says Ross Faulkner.

As to the company’s longevity, surviving those rocky formative years, the global financial crisis (2007-2009) and Covid which claimed many casualties in business, Faulkner is certain it can be attributed to a holistic approach, a focus on not just the business but its personnel too.

“I think it’s down to pretty good management. We work very hard to make sure we don’t lose our staff.

We didn’t lay anybody off through any of those times because you know eventually it’s going to pass,” says Faulkner.

“We want our guys to be available to be there when times are improving. We work pretty hard to make sure that we don’t lay anybody off. It’s one of my commitments to the guys.”

Post lockdowns, the business landscape is hugely different, he says. They lost three big jobs after lockdown. “I came out and the work we were about to start wasn’t there. I thought, is there a cliff? Are we going over the edge or what?

“We got to where we thought something was going to happen and it just rose and it’s still rising. We’ve got more work now than we’ve probably ever had in our career.”

The company, which has 30 staff (26 on-site), is growing.

“We are actively looking for more staff. Everyone’s looking for more staff. We’ve probably taken on six since Covid,” says Faulkner.

Reputation means everything and it’s something that has been forged over four decades.

The company has amassed a remarkable collection of industry accolades over that time – some 25 Master Builder awards.

Among them are nine gold, six gold reserve, five silvers, local category winner, lifestyle award winner and national winner. And Faulkner and his team has three houses entered in this year’s awards (which take place on August 14).

Their young talent is nurtured from the outset too. Last year the company had two boys take second and third place. “And we have two boys in the 2021 BCITO Apprentice of the Year…they are currently awaiting their placings but as you go to print we know they have made at least the Top 10,” says Faulkner.

“It’s what I’ve always been pushing very hard. The quality is non-negotiable – that’s my mantra.  We did very well when we first went into the House of the Year competition we won our category in Auckland so I set a benchmark for us.

“The foremen that we’ve got are very passionate about making sure their houses come up to that standard and we use the House of the Year as a not only a marketing tool but also a quality mark for our guys. It’s a bit of level for us and for our foremen as well – they know that their house could be entered into the competition and if they don’t get a gold [laughs heartily] all hell’s going to break loose on them.

“They know it’s not me who’s going to be coming down on them, it’s going to be their own standards haven’t been met. I use it for my apprentices…we don’t you just to be a tradesman when you come out, we want you to be a craftsman. It’s that kind of philosophy that we try and develop all the way through the system.”

What’s mightily impressive is that the awards have been won for categories right across the board. “We do renovations for smaller houses up to the very expensive multi-million dollar houses,”he says.

“In saying that, people see that, ‘oh, you’ve got lots of gold awards so you must be expensive but that’s not really right. We’re not, we’re the same as other builders, we just do a very good job.”

Equally remarkable is that company is very much a family affair.  Wife Anne is not quite in the day-to-day operations but is very much in the picture.

“She knows what’s going on and when there’s an issue she knows how to remedy it. She’s my backstop and mentor in the background.”

The couple have three sons involved too which gives them geographic leverage from Wellsford to Tauranga.

Son Philip, 42, is a foreman in Auckland running a job in Franklin Road in the city at the moment. The youngest son Michael, 34, (who took third in the Apprentice of the Year competition a few years ago) went through the trades and became a quantity surveyor and went out and got some external experience.

“He’s come back to us and he’s moved up to Warkworth so we’ve set up a branch there which covers that northern area. Second son Colin, 40, moved to Tauranga to be with his family and is running a smaller operation in the Bay of Plenty.

As for the year ahead, Faulkner says they’re managing what they’ve got. The supply chain though is a huge issue.

“That is an ongoing issue that is becoming more of an issue as it goes on. It’s become ridiculous for some stuff. We’re waiting five weeks for some weather boards at the moment,” says Faulkner.

“I know of other guys who are having to wait eight weeks for certain types of weather boards that you shouldn’t really expect to. Once-upon-a time you just go and get if off the racks – it’s always there or available within a week.

“It used to be three-week lead time – it’s gone way up now, it’s crazy.”

“A lot of the supply solutions are in how good your relationships are with your suppliers. Luckily we’ve been with certain suppliers for quite a long time, we’ve got a good standing with them.

“It is a battle. You’ve got to be so far ahead.”

Faulkner Construction certainly seems to be.