Masters of the house

Award-winning master builders Drew Larkin and Craig Drought have turned a friendship into a successful construction business… By Lynne Testoni

There are many horror stories about business partnerships gone wrong, so it’s refreshing to hear about a success story, such as the longstanding partnership of Victorian master builders Drew Larkin and Craig Drought.

Based in Geelong, Larkin & Drought Homes specialises in award-winning high-end residential homes, a successful formula that has taken years to perfect.

Having clocked up 15 years of working together, Larkin puts their success down to both partners sharing the same values and having mutual respect for each other.

The duo were family friends from way back (their fathers were police officers together), but started with slightly different skill sets—Larkin trained as a carpenter/joiner, while Drought did an apprenticeship with a large construction company in Melbourne, eventually becoming a foreman and managing large teams of construction workers.

MAKING THE PARTNERSHIP WORK

When Drought became tired of the long daily commute from Geelong to Melbourne, Larkin suggested they work together on one of his upcoming projects—and the rest is history.

“I had a bit of work on and I just said, ‘You want to work together for a while and see how it goes?’,” explains Larkin. “And 15 years later we are still working together and doing everything 50/50.”

He says that the partnership works because they are similar types of people. “Neither of us are really flashy types,” he says. “We’ve never had a problem of one of us excessively spending and the other one not, or one working harder than the other. I think that’s where partnerships could fall down—if someone’s got a flashy lifestyle and the other one’s looking at him going, ‘Where are you getting your money from?’

“Don’t get me wrong—a partnership definitely has its challenges. You can butt heads, but as long as you can work through it, it’s okay.”

Larkin says both of them came from what he calls the rough area of Geelong and had to work hard to build their business from the ground up. “We both grew up in a pretty ordinary suburb on the outskirts of Geelong,” he explains. “We weren’t given anything, and we had to work hard for it.”

KNOW YOUR MARKET

The partners set their sights on building quality high-end homes in the Geelong area.

“We weren’t from moneyed families and starting our business was really difficult for what we wanted to do,” Larkin says. “We wanted to do nice projects instead of changing laundry doors that had been kicked in. You’ve got to know where your market is. We knew we could do quality projects and build them to a really high standard.”

It’s taken years for Larkin and Drought to build solid relationships with local architects, assemble a team of trusted tradespeople and create a buzz about their work, but Larkin says they are now in a position where the two of them can even take the odd holiday— though not at once of course!

“We are lucky to have the opportunities that we’ve got. We have completed some really, really cool projects. We really enjoy the design and construct side of the projects when given the opportunity,” he adds. “We work closely with some really talented architects.”

“It gives us a great feeling when we get repeat clients, or their family members go on to build with us.”

PRESTIGE WORK

Larkin says the best part about working on prestige projects is how creative you can be with the detail.

“It’s all about the finish,” he says. “There’s a little bit of thinking involved. You can come up with some really cool finishes. I find there’s lot of forward thinking in a project; you’ve got to be thinking three or four steps ahead and know how you’re going to tackle all the challenges that are coming. It can be the difference between doing that topend work and just mediocre stuff . And a good architect will know that you’ve done it, that you’ve really put in a lot of eff ort, and the clients do as well.”

Larkin and Drought won the Victorian 2019 Master Builder of the Year, which was a great honour, says Larkin, although he says it’s as much about the tight-knit team of eight people that work for them, as it is for the two owners.

“The team we’ve got, they’re the ones that really should be getting all the credit,” he says. “Craig and I are not on the tools as much anymore and our guys are amazing. “They are good, younger guys that have got that old-school mentality where they’ll go to work, work for eight hours and then leave. They turn up on time, all the time. There’s no excuses. We trust them—they’re good guys.

“And, of course, our sub-trades should take a lot of credit too. We have longstanding relationships with plumbers, painters, electricians, tilers and so many more. It’s all about building a good team.”