Above: Ash Drake (left) and Gary Smith, the new owners of Gold Coast Building Removals.
Local entity and former owner of Gold Coast Building Removals Tony Greig has sold the business, hung up his iconic cowboy hat and headed north for some fishing. Richard Silcock caught up with him before he retired.
A former stonemason, Tony Greig and his former wife Zelda set up Gold Coast Building Removals in the 1970s after a friend asked if he could move his house for a few cases of beers and a helping hand.
“I hired a truck and trailer unit and some jacking gear and it started from there,” he says.
“The first big job was moving the Eastbourne Rugby Club rooms from one side of the field to the other.
“It was different in those days – we just got on with the job with very little paper work. As long as we had authority to travel on certain roads, we were pretty much ready to roll.
“We initially ran the company out of a yard on Kapiti Road, Paraparaumu before we moved in 1986 to the present site which was formerly the Firth Concrete yard just south of the Waikanae River.
“Most of our work was sourced locally and we found a niche market just moving houses, although we did move a few boats over the years.”
He named the company Gold Coast Building Removals as that was the initial name given to the Kapiti Coast, however, it was dropped due to confusion with the Gold Coast south of Brisbane.
“After some 45-years in the saddle it was time to move on,” says Tony.
“I’m 77 and getting past it, what with the night work and the proliferation of paper work that is now required so last July I sold the company to two of my former employees, Gary and Ash.”
Gary Smith and Ashley (Ash) Drake have an equal partnership in the Kapiti-based business and are ably assisted by a crew of five staff, two of which are Gary’s sons. Jaime Bradbury runs the office and does the paperwork associated with consents, insurance, approvals and sales, and as she says: “Keep the boys in line!”
Gary says that both he and Ash, who was once the captain of the Cook Islands Sevens Team, pretty much went into the industry straight from school, having been offered jobs by Tony.
“I’m an outdoors guy,” says Gary.
“I did spend a few days working in a shop but gave it away and started with Tony.
“It is not a job for everyone. It’s a tough life, working all hours in all weathers, but I enjoy it. Every job is different and there are always some challenges to be thought through and solved. In the 33 years I’ve been involved I haven’t looked back.
“I get a kick out of moving houses especially when there is a challenge.”
Gary says they essentially operate around the lower half of the North Island, from Whanganui and Palmerston North, south to Wellington and the Wairarapa.
“We are pretty busy due to the demand for existing houses and the difficulty in getting a builder.
“It’s a whole lot cheaper to relocate a house to a vacant section than it is to start from scratch and build. It’s the same with good sections.
“Many of our customers just want us to remove an existing house so they can build a new one.
“We often buy these ‘unwanted’ houses, move them to our yard, do them up and then on-sell to a new owner for a profit.
“It’s the cream on top of the relocation work, and we usually have six to eight houses in the yard for on-selling.
“Part of our service is to provide the foundation work for a relocated house and we often get called upon by other house relocators in the region to do this and repiling on their behalf. This has become an important part of our operation.
“Another part of our business, which we run in association with local house fabrication company, Competitive Homes Kapiti, involves erecting a new house on our yard, selling it and then moving it to the customer’s section.
“Most of these houses are basic boxes of a modern design and are targeted at first home buyers or those wanting a beach house.”
Gary says that most of their work comes via word-of-mouth as they are well known in the region and have built up a good reputation for being honest, professional and for providing a service at a fair price.
“Ash is also a Class-One pilot, and several of the ‘boys’ are Class-Two.
“This saves us the expense of hiring a pilot, giving us greater flexibility.
“We run an R-series, 1982 Mack unit, coupled with a Modern Transport Engineering non-steer trailer, a couple of Hino trucks for the gear, two new Nissan Nivara utes and we have three jacking plants.
“We find this provides us with ample capacity to handle most jobs, but when we need to haul a heavier/larger load we work in with Brittons with whom we have a very good relationship.”
Asked about some of the more memorable jobs, Gary says it is difficult to pin-point any in particular as they are all different and have their own particular quirks.
“We’ve had to work in some pretty tight spaces at times and this has often resulted in having to crane a house out and over others, which can be a bit nerve racking. There have also been times on the Rimutakas where some of the tight bends leave little room for error.”
He adds the sheer volume of traffic on the roads and the cavalier attitude of some drivers to oversize loads is an issue these days, as are the design configurations of some roundabouts and signs overhanging the road.
“Also, and even when you’re only doing 15-20 kilometres per hour, when you’ve got a 15-18 tonne house on board it takes time to brake, and some people don’t understand that when they pull out in front of you,” he says.
“I believe NZTA is listening to what our association is saying in regards to some of these things, so hopefully improvements will be made in future and road designers take on board our needs.
“I am an advocate for knowing the route we are going to travel, with the difficult sections noted. We do handle with care and we don’t take anything for granted in this business. Safety is paramount.”
Gary, who has lived in Waikanae all his life, says he is a true Kiwi as most of his working hours are at night!