Mike O’Bryne of Central House Movers has built a reputation for turning a dream into a reality. Richard Silcock looks into what has made Mike and this Bulls-based business so successful.
From growing up and helping-out on his parents’ dairy farm in south Taranaki he now operates (along with his extended family) a multimillion-dollar heavy haulage business and owns a lifestyle block on the outskirts of Palmerston North. And he attributes his success to sheer hard work, building a reputation for providing a professional service and exceeding clients’ expectations.
“As a kid I used to help with milking the cows every morning at 5am before going off to school,” says Mike.
“I think that work ethic instilled in me the need to work hard and while academia did not really interest me I loved the practical things and working with machinery.
“On leaving school, I worked for several years for a local contractor in Taranaki before setting up my own business, O’Bryne Earthworks, and did a lot of work on farms.
“I lived and worked out of an old shed, sleeping on an old mattress in the corner and working 24/7. Life was pretty rough but I made enough to buy an old house in New Plymouth and have it relocated to Manaia.
“It was that move that sparked my imagination and prompted me to consider heavy haulage as I figured it was far more lucrative than earthmoving in those days.
“I purchased the former Keith Hay Homes yard in Stratford and leased a truck and trailer unit and in 1991 got into this business with the dream of making it the best in the industry.”
In early 2000 Central House Movers (CHM) moved to Bulls on SH1 into what was the former Carter Holt timber yard.
“Bulls is far more central to the Manawatu, Taranaki, the Kapiti Coast and Wairarapa which is where we do most of our business, but we also retain a yard in New Plymouth.”
CHM has an impressive fleet: three Kenworth 600hp fully automatic tractor units, a Stirling (Ford Louisville Freightliner) unit, two MTE command-steer trailers with clip-on axles, a four-axle TRT trailer with two steering axles, two Hino trucks for carrying jacks, two crane trucks (an eight-wheeler and a four-wheeler), two Grove cranes (a 60-tonner and a 20-tonner), several tip trucks and four diggers for site works, a couple of utes and an old 1984 W900 Kenworth that is used for truck shows and shifting the odd house.
“The command-steer trailers have really proven their worth,” say Mike.
“They enable us to operate around some really tight corners as they track independently of the truck. They are the Rolls Royce of trailers in my view.
“These days all of our plant is purchased new, right down to the state-of-the-art automated hydraulic jacks. Having the latest gear pays as there are less maintenance problems and three guys along with a pilot can run a medium-sized relocation quite easily using state-of-the-art technology.
“We have three moving crews. My two sons, Aaron and Mathew, and Roy (Stephen) Read – who has been with us for some time and has a wealth of experience – each head-up and supervise the crews.”
Mike adds that he is extremely privileged to have such an amazing group of people working for CHM – many of whom have been a part of the business for many years.
While it is essentially a family run business, CHM employs 13 additional staff. Most are engaged in the actual relocation work, while others – like Mike’s daughter-in-law Kiri, who runs the office and sales side of the business, and Mathew’s wife, Jen, who is a qualified Class 1 pilot – can be brought in to assist.
They also have a diesel mechanic and a small team of builders and painters on staff for repairs, restoration and painting of the stock houses.
“We are at the top of our game,” Mike tells me.
“We are relocating around 200 houses a year at the moment and would have to be a leader in our field particularly in this part of the country. I attribute this not only to the reputation we have built up over the years but also to the present housing shortage and availability of builders.
“Clients are either buying ‘discarded’ housing direct from an owner, or through us, and then have us do it up and move it to their section. Many relocated houses are used as beach houses or on farms for staff quarters.
“We are also seeing an upsurge in pre-built, prefabricated housing where the client buys new from a building company and has us move it to their new section, or for example, to an established property as a stand-alone house for rental income or to house family members.
“While house relocating is our bread and butter, we often relocate farm buildings and cow sheds as well. We have also moved a number of large boats for boat builders in Palmerston North and Wanganui.”
On the question of health and safety, Mike says that in this type of business it is a priority, though he says the criticisms around parts of the new Health and Safety Act where ‘one rule fits all’ do have some merit.
“However you can never be too careful and the regular checking of gear, the load, the route, and following correct safety procedures is paramount.”
The biggest challenge for the industry these days, he adds, revolves around the increase in the amount of traffic on the roads and impatient drivers who try and pass and disregard the pilot vehicle, signs and directions.
“Accidents that can result from this kind of stupidity could have an adverse effect on our industry’s ability to operate in a safe environment, with the up-shot being more bureaucratic enforcement and curtailment around our hours of operation and road use.”
Being in this type of business has been a dream come true for him, he says.
“I really love the work and to this day I am still passionate about it. I live and breathe it and still get a ‘buzz’ from what we can achieve despite the long hours and often adverse weather conditions.
“I believe the success of our business can be attributed to our relations with the client, our hands-on approach to each relocation and by our adherence to that LV Martin slogan, ‘it’s the putting right that counts’.
“It’s the customer who has to be satisfied.”
This article was first published in Contractor March 2018.