Building relationships

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Michael Domajnko, the Master Builders Association’s Residential Young Builder of the Year, places quality and integrity at the centre of everything he does.

By Frank Leggett

 

For Michael Domajnko, building and construction is in the blood. Many members of his family in Slovenia were joiners and carpenters, and when his father immigrated to Australia in 1973, he bought those skill sets with him.

“Dad started off as a carpenter with his cousin and then opened his own business and became a builder,” says Domajnko, owner and director of Milara Building & Development (MBD). “Even though I did a marketing degree and had a full-time job as an actuary, I knew that eventually I would become a builder.”

Domajnko worked weekends and after-hours with his father and eventually became an estimator in order to learn how to calculate and work out costings. In 2017, he opened MBD. “We’re presently coming to an arrangement between partners to make me sole owner of the business,” he says. “It’s going to allow MBD to have much more flexibility in the future.”

 

Initial success

Milara Building & Development, located in the eastern suburb of Blackburn in Melbourne, builds custom homes and townhouses. Its first landmark development, a multi-townhouse development on a sloping site had a few challenges. Space constrictions meant a turntable was needed to assist in the parking of cars. There were also design and positioning difficulties on the sloping site that were overcome by adding a third-storey void with a floating staircase to one of the townhouses. The end result was a cohesive and beautiful set of homes.

“My plan was to use that first development as a springboard to be at least nominated for a Master Builders award,” says Domajnko. “At the interview, the judges were pretty impressed with what I had to say and they nominated me for the 2020 Victorian Residential Young Builder of the Year. I was completely surprised when I won it.”

Domajnko takes these awards seriously and sees great value in them. “Awards give your business a bit of brand recognition and improves your street credibility,” he says. “If you have a few gongs behind you, then you’re taken more seriously. It’s a great way to highlight a point of difference.”

 

Building relationships

MBD was a young business at the time of that first development and they were still establishing relationships with teams of tradies. While most worked out very well, there were a few individuals who didn’t fit in with their business ethos.

“You learn your lesson and move on,” says Domajnko. “Building trusted relationships with skilled, professional tradies is one of the most important and enjoyable parts of my job.”

MBD is seeing its brand recognition grow due to its completion of seven projects across the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

 

Covid impact

Like many businesses, COVID-19 and the lockdown had an impact on Domajnko’s company and he was forced to make a few changes.

“During COVID, jobs were often delayed and cashflow took a real hit,” he says. “I instituted many more progress payments in a job instead of the typical five- or six-day progress payment.”

There were trade limitations on sites and clients were reluctant to make decisions when choosing products. Tiles were a real case in point.

“Our clients always want to pick their tiles,” says Domajnko. “Normally, they simply walk into a showroom and chose from their stock. During COVID, people didn’t want to go to showrooms or be in close proximity to people. And no-one is willing to choose tiles from the internet.”

These days, he finds that tile stocks are sometimes low due to lack of freight but everyone can visit showrooms without fear.

 

Entrepreneurial spirit

Domajnko was also a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year in the Australian Small Business Champion Awards in 2020. After scaling back the business last year and working through some personal issues, he’s now looking to the future and raring to go.

“We have a couple of pretty cool projects coming up,” he says. “One’s an extension renovation project on a little pocket-rocket townhouse in Yarraville. Some clients walked past that job, liked what they saw and then approached us to price their job. We’re looking to team up with a developer to do 10 townhouses in Dandenong. That’s going to take care of the next 12 or 18 months.”

Passionate about his work, Domajnko ensures that consistent quality and integrity are his benchmarks. He compiles blogs, posts on social media and produces video content to educate and inform his clients. His goal is to improve the perception of the building industry.

He’s also started coaching other builders and tradies in order to improve and expand their businesses. His advice for new business owners is to take your time, land one project and do it well. Actually doing the job will help you get your systems in place and allow you to grow the business.

“It really helps to set yourself up with a coach,” says Domajnko. “They can teach you many lessons so you don’t have to learn through trial and error. Network with other builders, go to networking conferences, ask how they got there and what lessons they learnt. I wish I had done a lot more of that.”