Building a business by adapting

BUILDING SUCCESS: Tayn Stefanidis (left) and Adrian Russell on a Wellington building site.
BUILDING SUCCESS: Tayn Stefanidis (left) and Adrian Russell on a Wellington building site.

Soon after Tayn Stefanidis and Adrian Russell launched their building company in 2006, and had completed two townhouses with the plan to move in to developing townhouses - the sector collapsed.

It was a huge challenge to the fledgling business owners but they didn't give up - they adapted - and leapt in to the add-ons and alterations market.

"It was really tough," said Stefanidis.

S&R Residential's Karori house, awarded PlaceMakers Supreme Renovation of 2012.
S&R Residential's Karori house, awarded PlaceMakers Supreme Renovation of 2012.

It's a potentially lucrative market, but Wellington-based S&R Residential was competing with established builders, he said.

"Neither Adrian or I are natural salesman so putting ourselves out there has just been one of those things we've had to do."

Stefanidis, who had a strong building management background, became the project manager in the office, while Russell took on the role of site manager.

The company targeted the niche high-end part of the market - sent out letters, backed up with phone-calls and tried to get an opportunity to tender.

At first they began doing alterations for family and friends but soon attracted other work.

A strong work ethic, good retention of staff, and expert workmanship meant the company last year won Silver Home of the Year award at the Wellington Regional Masters Builders Awards, for a replica turn-of-the-century home they built from scratch.

This year, they won no less than five awards - including the Supreme Renovations Award, Gold in renovations over $500,000 category, a GIB lifestyle award and a craftmanship award.

They snagged the Supreme Renovations Award for the work they did on a Karori home designed by prestigious architect Philip Porrit of Jazmax.

How did they get the Porrit contract? Stefanidis said they ensured they knew what their costs were and made themselves competitive through price and a tight projected contract period.

The awards mean the company will get a further foothold in the market. When building market conditions improve, they want to develop their own stand-alone residential homes, said Stefanidis.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

Both Adrian and I had been working within the building industry for many years, Adrian about 20 years and I had worked for about 13 years.

We were of the opinion, that between the two of us, we had a reasonable grasp of the basic fundamental skills required to own and operate our own business and both had a desire to do something for ourselves.

What have been the biggest obstacles in running your own company?

We initially set out wanting to do our own development work (one or two projects a year) while also knowing we would have to do full contract projects for clients to keep the cash flow sound. 

Name one thing you've learnt from while in business and from whom.

The most important thing I've learnt was taught to me by my former employer who drilled into me the importance of "knowing your costs".  As basic as it sounds it is one of the reasons we have survived and grown through the last six years.

What are your business and personal goals?

We both want to have a successful and sustainable business that allows both us and our employees the opportunity to learn and grow. I think we both put the dreams of early retirement and riches behind us very early on in our journey and put the focus into growing a reputation for producing quality workmanship and creating a brand that people want to use. 

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?

There's never a "right" time to take the leap, you can start a business and grow it in any climate. Never assume and know your costs!