Making a Difference

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Quality, not quantity, is the mantra of commercial builder Simbuilt, who specialise in prestige fit-outs and refurbishments in and around Melbourne.

By Lynne Teston

Creating a beautiful architecturally designed building in the challenging post-COVID era might cause many builders sleepless nights, but for the team at Simbuilt that’s what they love about their work.

Simbuilt founder and director Simon Buultjens says that he is often blown away by some of the projects the company works on.

“One of the focuses of Simbuilt is that we try and get projects that are unique,” he says. “They’re not your typical volume type projects; they’re a little more progressive in their design or a little bit more abstract. We get a lot of excitement out of doing projects that are that little bit different.”

Simbuilt has been around for about 10 years now and specialises in fit-outs, refurbishment and new builds, often working with heritage buildings. The company has a small, but tight, team of just 25 people. A commercial builder based in Melbourne, many of their projects are for universities, schools and healthcare providers.

“We specialise in a lot of university work, but we also do a lot of school projects for the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA), the state government and similar clients,” says Buultjens.

THE POST-COVID ERA

The last few years have been a difficult time for builders, especially those based in Victoria, and while the state might be leaving COVID behind now, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt. “In this market with material shortages and labour shortages, it can be really challenging at the moment,” says Buultjens. “However, trying to work as a team, bringing your suppliers and your subcontractors together, and delivering a great product is probably the greatest kick that we get out of a project and also having a happy client at the end of it. I’m blown away by some of the projects that we deliver.”

The labour shortages have particularly hit the heritage element of their work, he says. “Those trades have got their own issues. If you need people to install slate on slate roofs, for example, they used to come out from Europe quite regularly, but Europe’s got its own shortages. So, they’re staying home now.”

Naturally, working on high-profile public-facing projects brings pressure, he says, but that’s part of the fun.

“It is quite tricky—you’ve got to really consider the reputation of the client that you’re working for,” he says. “You’ve got to work in among students, teaching staff, or the public, which can be quite tricky to incorporate into the build program. Communication is vital.

Understanding what their expectations are and trying to meet them can be difficult.

“There’s so many complexities and layers in the construction industry. It’s interesting, and that’s probably why we love it.”

COLLABORATING WITH ARCHITECTS

Working on large public buildings means that the Simbuilt team usually works with architects as part of the project.

“We’re fortunate enough to get exposed to quite a raft of different architects,” says Buultjens. “And I think, again, that’s probably one of the benefits of doing the university work. The design is so exciting and leading edge. We’ve worked with some fantastic architects across a lot of projects.”

Working with architects is all about developing professional relationships that last well beyond each project.

“We look beyond that one project that we do with an architect, and hope that the job and the service that we provide leads into other work,” he says. “It’s not just about that particular project, it’s about trying to create a long-term relationship. It’s not all about the clients for us; it’s the whole stakeholder group.”

HOW AWARDS HELP

Simbuilt has won awards through the Master Builders Association in recent years, which has helped to raise their profile.

“We’ve been Master Builders members for quite a while—they offer absolutely amazing service in the construction industry,” explains Buultjens. Simbuilt has won a national Business Excellence Award for small scale builders three years in a row.

“I think we were really pleased because we felt we had a great offering, particularly given the size of our company. Off the back of that we got some really great exposure, not just through Master Builders, but the industry generally.

“Our clients love it, and our subcontractors get a sense of confidence that they’re working with a builder that’s reputable and has really good systems and processes. In this market, that’s really important.”

However, when it all comes down to it, success for Buultjens and his team is more about sharing the same values, something he believes gives the company longevity in the industry.

“As a business it’s important to have partners that align with our values, whether it’s our clients or our supplier base. I think that’s really key for what we are about,” he says.