Blenheim-based and family-owned Coffey House Removals (2007) carry out some unusual moves when it comes to building relocation work and put their success down to some key attributes. Richard Silcock explains.
Gerard Coffey says it is adaptability, the capability to diversify, planning, having a good team of staff and fostering close professional relationships with developers, engineers and clients that are the key factors when building a successful business in this industry.
A licenced and qualified builder by trade, Gerard and his wife Sandra established the business after returning from Australia where Gerard had been involved in some major construction projects.
“I gained considerable experience and skills over there and was appointed supervisor on several projects which gave me some valuable project management experience,” he says.
“Prior to going to Australia I’d been involved with house building and relocation work since I was 18, initially working with Keith Hay Homes here in Blenheim where I was involved in building and relocating prefabricated homes.
“In addition to my building qualifications I also have a certificate in applied design and building construction – all of which have added to my skill-set and given me the opportunity to diversify and provide not only point-to-point building relocations, but also a ‘turnkey’ service to assist customers with building consents, design, alterations and utilities.
“In doing this we often work closely with architects, engineers and sub-contractors and occasionally project manage the whole operation.
“In addition, we offer piling, repiling, levelling and rebuild advice on damaged properties.
“We also assess and quote on repiling as a result of damage sustained during the Kaikoura and Seddon earthquakes and we have done a lot of this type of work for engineers, clients and their insurers as we are able to provide subfloor assessments using our mobile remotely operated subfloor inspection unit.
“It allows us to assess, using a video camera mounted on the unit, the subfloor and piles of a building where the cavity space is so limited a person cannot gain access.
“This battery powered ‘moon-lander’ like unit was designed and constructed by our foreman, Ritchie Chapman, who has an interest in remote controlled vehicles. It has been a very useful tool and allows us to provide a unique service.
“We pretty much cover the top half of the South Island, including North Canterbury and have a full-time staff of six, two of whom are carpenters.”
Gerard says having good staff is a key factor and he likes to keep the guys up to speed when it comes to using new technology and attaining qualifications.
“We are currently assisting one of our apprentices through a BCITO training programme and providing him with the practical skills to become a licenced builder.
“Likewise, I’m adamant about adhering to health and safety regs and we maintain a weekly ‘toolbox’ meeting with staff to discuss site-specific safety aspects for each job because in this business no two jobs are ever the same and there can be danger points.
“Our main equipment consists of a single, 500hp International Transtar with a hydraulic push/pull unit coupled to a Modern Transport Engineering three-axle trailer which is remotely controlled from the cab. Our jacks consist of a number of Manawatu Hydraulics units which provide good lifting capability.”
Asked about some of the more memorable relocations over the past couple of years, Gerard says they are possibly a bit unique in-so-far as they are contracted to transport houses and baches to remote locations within the Marlborough Sounds that are accessible only by boat.
“This involves trucking the house to Picton or Havelock and loading onto a barge,” he says. “While the Sounds are comparatively calm most of the time adverse weather or a low tide can hold things up – so we plan carefully and wait for a high tide.
“We also transport houses over quite considerable distances from time to time and I recall relocating a large, old family homestead from Marlborough down to Central Otago. Due the size of the house we had to cut it into sections and make two return trips – a total distance of around 4000 kilometres.
“The earthquakes did curtail our operations for several weeks while we were midway through moving a school building from Clarence to Blenheim. We had loaded the classroom and were due to move it on the night the Kaikoura earthquake struck. With the highway closed due to damage and slips we were unable to move our truck for several weeks, and when we did, we had to unload the classroom and carefully drive back to Blenheim over the broken highway. It was several months before we were able to complete that job.”
The company also buys and sells relocatable houses and works closely with local building firm, David Wraight Cottages, who design and build new relocatable homes.
“I see this type of housing becoming more popular, as buying an existing house is becoming more and more expensive and this is a far cheaper option and gives the buyer a brand new ‘instant’ house,” says Gerard.
Repeat business comes from developers, retirement villages and local vineyards – when a building is required to be moved onsite for additional accommodation, or when a wine press or a 30-tonne fermentation vat needs moving.
When it comes to difficult moves, Gerard says negotiating the Takaka Hill to/from Golden Bay has its own set of problems as it is pretty steep with sharp bends in places which calls for acute driver judgement.
“It takes a lot of driver skill, careful planning and traffic management and we are fortunate to have our own piloting service – something that Sandra is skilled in.
“But we are lucky in some respects, as unlike most regions around the country, there are very few motorways or bridges to negotiate in Marlborough/Nelson and with the exception of the Richmond, Bryant (Rai Valley) and Takaka Ranges, it’s all pretty flat.”
On promoting the business, they rely on word-of-mouth, so maintain good relationships with local builders and developers and don’t do any marketing or advertising, other than list in the Yellow Pages and on their website.
Gerard is a member of the NZ Heavy Haulage Association and supports the work they are doing to streamline the consenting and approvals process, lower compliance costs and negotiate with developers who do not allow relocatable homes onto their sub-divisions.
“These are just some of the issues that need to be resolved,” he says.
Looking to the future he says it is their ability to diversify that keeps their job book full and it is this, along with having good staff and cultivating working relationships with customers and local authorities that are the keys to their success.
“No job is too small, or too difficult and we aim to keep our customers happy by doing a good job for a fair price,” says Gerard.