Tauranga’s Don Mahoney and his team ride above the recession with an exciting gesture of faith in the future. BY GAVIN RILEY
While many New Zealand businesses are running for cover in the face of what could be a nightmare recession, Tauranga ready-mixed concrete producer Don Mahoney has been travelling in the opposite direction.
He has marked the 20th birthday of his company, Supacrete Concrete, by moving it 200 metres along Maleme Street to a new plant, a feature of which is the high local input involved in its creation.
When Mahoney built his last plant eight years ago he thought it would last Supacrete for at least a decade. But after about three years he realised the local economy “had gone through the roof” and the plant would not suffice for long.
“As far back as 2003 or 2004 we realised we had to think ahead, for probably the next 20 or 25 years,” he says.
Subsequent signs of a downturn in 2006 did not deter him from pressing on with plans to build a bigger and better plant, which cost about $4.5 million and was commissioned just before Christmas.
“When we started this project almost two years ago the slowdown had already started and it’s gradually got worse. But I think it’s bottomed out and we’re well positioned now for the future,” he says.
“Some of our clients ask, ‘Do you wish you hadn’t built this big plant?’. But it was exactly the right time to be building. You couldn’t afford to build it now. The cost of building it would probably have gone up 50 percent.”
Mahoney says some ready-mixed concrete companies go offshore to buy big, fancy plants which soon wear out, but that 90 percent of Supacrete’s was built in Tauranga.
“We’ve only imported the components like cement silos and vacuum systems for the environmental side of things, but everything else was built locally – even the control system,” he says.
“We’re very proud that we worked in with Environment Bay of Plenty to get the environmental side right. We have no contaminated water leaving the site at all. We recycle every ounce of water that we use on site.
“We don’t use the town supply. We’ve put a bore down so our water needs are straight out of the ground and we’re not a burden on the district council’s water supply.”
Supacrete also addressed the re-use of recycled aggregate, airborne dust, cement and leftover concrete, installed a back-up generator to ensure continuous power supply, and made certain the site had enough spare space to allow for company growth over the next 20 years.
The plant is more than 15 metres high and 43 metres long. Main infrastructure includes a drive-through concrete-structure batching plant, flanked by two weigh and storage hoppers holding well over 500 tonnes of materials for concrete manufacture.
Key local involvement in the creation of the plant includes: Bryan Fraser Engineering – plant management, design and manufacture of steel components; Automation & Electononics – operating-system software and PLC (programmable logic controller); Mojo Electrical – wiring and site integration; Riddell Construction – concrete drive-through and revamp of existing buildings; McLeod Cranes – lifting services; Kerbline Concrete Contractors – concrete placement; Russell Braithwaite Builders – construction of admin offices; SNS Construction – construction and installation of roof and weather protection for overhead aggregate bins; Arnold & Johnston – engineering and design; Baytech Systems – pneumatics; and Industrial Machinery – cement handling equipment.
From this “made in Tauranga” plant Supacrete’s fleet of 19 modern and exceptionally well-maintained green-and-white vehicles supplies the Western Bay of Plenty’s domestic, civil, commercial and industrial sectors with plain, coloured and decorative concrete and exposed aggregate. It’s a far cry from the single Bedford truck Mahoney started out with 20 years ago when he had to lug 40kg bags of cement and manhandle them into the back of the vehicle, load the aggregate required, mix in water and additive, and was pleased if he produced 100 cu metres of concrete in a month.
Having equipped Supacrete with a “supafleet” and now a “supaplant” doesn’t mean Mahoney is blind to the recession. He says a builder client has told him his workload is down 72 percent in Tauranga alone. Mahoney believes the next two years are going to be hard and “we’re just cutting our cloth accordingly”.
He says his company is not replacing staff when they leave, but adds: “Well, that’s our theory, but in the last three months we’ve had two people leave and we’ve replaced them because there’s a need to still provide that service.”
A high level of service and concrete which Mahoney has always promoted as “simply the best” are just two of the factors in Supacrete’s regional success over two decades. Others are the Tauranga region’s outstanding growth, the company’s ability to attract and retain quality staff, and leadership.
“The drive has come from Jeff Burgess our general manager, myself, and Keryn my wife,” says Mahoney, whose observable personal attributes include self-confidence, enthusiasm, optimism and energy.
“We’re just passionate about what we do. It’s all about having passion for the your business and the industry you’re in. We’re not totally focused on Supacrete – we’re totally focused on the industry.”
Mahoney, now 50, got into the readymix industry in 1980 when he arrived in Tauranga and joined B&M Concrete Services (which no longer exists). He spent five hard years with the company (“they had a site mixing truck which we broke our backs lugging bags of cement to”), then took some time out from the industry before forming Supacrete in 1988.
“Concrete’s one of those industries that once it’s in your blood…,” he says, leaving the sentence unfinished. “The opportunity was there in Tauranga. Tauranga at that time was at the point where it was going to take off and go to the moon – as it has.”
Mahoney also operated a small contracting company in those early days. Today he, Burgess and Russell Lloyd are shareholders in Kerbline Concrete Contractors; Don has another contracting business, Supafloors, which specialises in hardstands, driveways and house and shed foundations; and Keryn runs Chinook Bulk Haulage, which transports cement for Golden Bay Cement and sand for Supacrete.
In recent years Supcrete has been a readymix supplier to many of the region’s landmark infrastructural projects, including:
Now Supacrete is better placed than ever to supply readymix not only to major projects but all its markets in the region – a situation Mahoney regards with relish.
“Jeff and I are still young, we’ve still got a lot of years left and a lot to offer the industry,” he says.
Contractor Vol.33 No.3 April 2009
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