COVID-19 and construction series: Australia

On the last episode of our COVID-19 series for “The Building Code,” Paul is chatting with returning guest Darren Brown of Decking Sydney in New South Wales, Australia, about his experience with managing his business amid the pandemic.

Listen to the full episode to hear more about the status of the construction industry in Australia and how they’re hoping to stay busy in 2021.

BUILDERS IN THE U.S. SAW A RISE IN PROJECTS AFTER THE INITIAL SLOWDOWN. DID YOU HAVE THE SAME EXPERIENCE?

“So, a lot of people who were planning on going overseas for the winter and escaping Australian winter and going overseas to Europe or to America for their summer, we did find that those people, obviously, I couldn’t leave the country, and they weren’t going to leave. So, they were getting their projects done with the money that they were going to go to overseas with. So, those people who were sitting at home looking around going, I’m going to be looking at this for another year or two years, or however long this is going to take. So, they decided to get their decks done or they get their outdoor living space done.”

HOW ARE THINGS LOOKING FOR 2021?

“It is getting busy. There’s always stuff on the news because the government is drawing back a lot of the benefits as of March. So, a lot of people have been saying that we’re going to fall off the cliff. So, it’s really unknown at the moment. We’ve got a lot of work booked up and the inquiries aren’t slowing down. So, I think we’ll be OK. Fingers crossed. It’s more the unknown, whether the vaccine rollout’s going to work. I think that’s a major thing as well. That’s a major thing. I think people have resigned to the fact here, too, they’re probably not going to be traveling in 2021.”

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TBC Sydney

Darren Brown | Decking Sydney

Paul Wurth:

You are listening to The Building Code, a podcast by Buildertrend, where we talk all things technology and construction. Be sure to stick around to the end of the episode, where you can find out how to be a part of the Building Code crew. Let’s get it.

Alright. Well, welcome to the show, Darren, from Decking Sydney. You’re joining us all the way from Australia. Really appreciate you making the time workout. How are you doing?

Darren Brown:

Happy to delve in. How are you, mate? Good. Good. Very good.

Paul Wurth:

I’m doing great. Thanks. It’s about 8:30 a.m. your time, about 3:30 p.m. our time. So again, I appreciate you starting your day with “The Building Code” podcast. You are going to represent Australia in our regional look back for 2020. So, no pressure.

Darren Brown:

Bit of pressure on there.

Paul Wurth:

No, but you, of course we’ve chatted with you previously. We know you run a great company down there, Decking Sydney. Why don’t we start there for people who have not heard about you and your story. Do you want to give people just a high level how’d you get into this and what your company looks like?

Darren Brown:

Yeah. So, basically we look after all decking in Decking Sydney. There’s quite a few decking companies around in Sydney. Been established for about 10 years there. I’ve been on board with a company for about four myself. I’m the project manager, run all the day-to-day operations on site. We’ve obviously got an office team. Sales team, stuff like that. So, my job basically, I look after social media and also do all the day-to-day operations on site with all the boys. So, scheduling, all that stuff.

Paul Wurth:

Okay, perfect. And how many team members do you guys have now?

Darren Brown:

We’re at 12 at the moment. So, we run five teams. Those teams can vary between two and three members each team. Obviously, building decks, we do have quite a high turnover in jobs in how quick we get them done. So, you might have a job that lasts three days. Might have a job that lasts three months. So, depending on what size of the job, that’s how we basically schedule our teams to go to.

Paul Wurth:

Got it. And you run social media. You can check out, I obviously follow them. It’s a great follow. @DeckingSydney, all one word on Instagram. Over 7,000 followers. You’re doing a good job.

Darren Brown:

Yeah, it seems to have grown the last few years. It seems to get a lot better once you start doing the stories. That’s where I found attraction come from. So yeah, we’re pretty active on the stories every day. So yeah, it’s not too bad.

Paul Wurth:

I watch those stories. Always makes me jealous because it just looks like it’s always beautiful there. No bad days.

Darren Brown:

Sometimes the social media can throw off a bit. I think sometimes you have bad days, and that doesn’t really get put on social media. And I have a couple of guys do it. I do appreciate the couple of guys who have the bad days and put it on there. Jason Russell, from Dr. Decks, he does it quite a bit. And it makes you realize that basically the industry is not perfect, and things do go wrong. And when they do, I suppose you can show people how to fix it.

Paul Wurth:

I think that’s good. Yeah. Speaking of bad days, the whole point of this series is looking back at 2020. So, in the states, at least, it was around March 15th when COVID-19 got real with everybody, things started shutting down. Is that the same timeline for Australia or can you just take me back to that time?

Darren Brown:

Yeah, it was … I think it was actually my wife’s birthday the week before. And that’s when it started to shut down over here, too. We didn’t go into a sense of a full lockdown, where basically the government said to us, essential service, man, you still got a job because I know a lot of people shut down. A lot of cafes that went to takeaway only. Restaurants went to takeaway only. So, a lot of people did lose their jobs.

The government did step in and did take quite a load off everyone’s shoulders. They did bring in a lot of support. I think we’re quite lucky because being an island nation, I think they could shut the borders down to an extent and they isolated us quite well. We still can’t leave the country unless we absolutely have to. A lot of people should be coming back in. So yeah, I think we’ve been pretty lucky on that side of things, to be honest. The building industry kept going. That was one thing that actually probably picked up more than any.

Paul Wurth:

Yeah. I don’t know how familiar you are with the U.S., but each state really had their own call here in the U.S. on whether construction was essential business. And one of the factors in making that is whether you work outside or inside. Was that a determining factor where you guys were at as well?

Darren Brown:

Yeah, it was because all of our work is basically outside. So, obviously, you’re a bit safe if you’re outside. We did take measures ourselves to make sure the boys were safe. But yeah, look, the government did … we were the same. Every state government had their own laws, but the New South Wales government where we are, they really just said construction just needs to keep going. We were worried that at stages they were going to shut everything down completely, which it did look like early on. But then it became more apparent that things were going to be here. I do watch a lot what goes on in America there. It seems to be quite taken hold there, where I think, like I said, being an island nation, we’re pretty isolated from everything. So, we’re quite lucky and very grateful to be where we are at the moment, to be honest.

Paul Wurth:

Yeah. Right after the March 15 timeframe, for a couple of months, you’ve heard on this regional series that things just paused, whether that was leads or things that were in design phase, even some construction pause for a couple months. And then there was a big need after that, a big rush to do projects because people felt a little comfortable. They were at home looking at all the things that they wanted to do. It was like, well, we might as well do it now or we’ll never do it, kind of thing, when it comes to big projects. Was that a similar experience for you in Australia or no?

Darren Brown:

Very. Very. From that April timeframe, there was about a month where we had a lot of jobs in the pipeline. So, we got them going, but the leads did dry up. But when you’re coming into April, May here in Sydney, in Australia, it’s going into winter. So, a lot of people who were planning on going overseas for the winter and escaping Australian winter and going overseas to Europe or to America for their summer, we did find that those people, obviously, I couldn’t leave the country, and they weren’t going to leave. So, they were getting their projects done with the money that they were going to go to overseas with.

Then we had an influx of jobs where we were struggling to keep up. Same thing. People standing around looking at their house saying, okay, working from home now, which that was a big thing. Everyone worked from home. We’re affected. My wife worked in office, her office shut down. She’s been working at home for nearly a year now. So, those people who were sitting at home looking around going, I’m going to be looking at this for another year or two years, or however long this is going to take. So, they decided to get their decks done or they get their outdoor living space done. So yeah, that was one thing I did notice between other years during winter. We were booked out constantly through there and into the following year as well.

Paul Wurth:

It’s good that there was a lot of similarities, but I’m also going to take a bit of a sidetrack just for people who aren’t familiar with Australia and New Zealand. And maybe have you help me solidify a few things. So, we’ve been pretty active in the Australia and New Zealand market for probably about six years now, selling our software down there. And I was one of the first people to do that at Buildertrend. So, I got familiar with it. Now, does the country shut down for four weeks for holiday? Is that accurate? Basically everybody takes a very long holiday in December.

Darren Brown:

Yeah. It used to be. It used to always be the Friday before Christmas. So, it would be the Friday before Christmas, then generally the second Monday of January, everyone comes back.

Paul Wurth:

So, three weeks.

Darren Brown:

Yeah, it’s roughly about three weeks. Three weeks at the moment. We took off three weeks ourselves.

Paul Wurth:

Everybody does it.

Darren Brown:

Not really, actually. It’s been quite weird. When I first come into this game, I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, I noticed when I was an apprentice and when I was also being a tradesman, a lot of the time you couldn’t get timber or anything from anywhere between Christmas and New Years. Now, I’m finding that the timber yards around are shutting down for the public holidays, that’s it. Which is Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. So, a lot of people are working through. I did notice that when I was off this year, a lot of people were working through, which was a little bit odd. It’s not something that I like to do because I’ve got the kids at home, so I want to make sure they’re looked after for Christmas break.

Paul Wurth:

I just always found that interesting, at least four or five years ago, it felt like every construction company did shut down for those three weeks. And you’re saying that that was a top-down effect because we couldn’t get deliveries because those companies were on holiday. Is that what you were saying?

Darren Brown:

Yeah, that was it. Yeah. It used to be that, like I said, the timber yards wouldn’t send trucks out. Now, between Christmas and New Year’s, we’ve got four days there. People have been working.

Paul Wurth:

That’s a poor trend. Tell them to stop that, go back to go back to the three weeks.

Darren Brown:

I know. It puts pressure on everyone else.

Paul Wurth:

I know, right? That’s no good. Everybody who’s listening to America is like, hey, we should get that three week holiday, spending time with our friends and family and go on vacation, man.

Darren Brown:

100%. You can’t get burnout. And especially the rush up to Christmas is quite hectic as well. So, everyone’s rushing to get everything done.

Paul Wurth:

Well, I needed to clarify that because I’ve always wondered and been very jealous of that. So, we’re into 2021, obviously. What does it look like for you and your business and the industry in general in Australia? Is it surging like it is here?

Darren Brown:

It is. Yeah. It is getting busy. There’s always stuff on the news because the government is drawing back a lot of the benefits as of March. So, a lot of people have been saying that we’re going to fall off the cliff. So, it’s really unknown at the moment. We’ve got a lot of work booked up and the inquiries aren’t slowing down. So, I think we’ll be okay. Fingers crossed. It’s more the unknown, whether the vaccine rollout’s going to work. I think that’s a major thing as well. That’s a major thing. I think people have resigned to the fact here, too, they’re probably not going to be traveling in 2021 as well.

So, I reckon it’s a very, very hard possibility we won’t be. So, I think that’s going to play on people’s cards too, when they’re doing renovations as well. The other thing what the government did do with us, they stepped in and did a, basically a grant, which I think it was up to $50,000 at one stage for renovation. So, the renovation had to be over certain amount of money, had to be renovation or a new build, and then they were going to chip in some money as well. So, that did pick up a lot of the business as well.

Paul Wurth:

You guys must have a really good construction lobby in Australia to get them to do that.

Darren Brown:

They do. They do.

Paul Wurth:

That’s good stuff.

Darren Brown:

Yeah, they do.

Paul Wurth:

Well, that’s amazing. Well, that’s really good to hear. So, I guess one thing you had mentioned is because the government so heavily subsidized individuals that might’ve been out of work or negatively affected by the COVID-19, you’re saying once those subsidies end, we’re back in a place where we’re not sure how we settle as a country.

Darren Brown:

Exactly, exactly. Yes. Yeah, yeah. That’s I think the concern a lot of people do share as well because there have been calls to extend the grants and the subsidies, but the government has been pretty firm on it saying that they can’t do it. There’s no blank check going around to the moment.

Paul Wurth:

No more blank check. Okay. Well, we’ll have to keep your eye on March for you guys, which is not too far away. Well, it’s really good that you have a good outlook for 2021. As far as trends you’re seeing within the industry, did you see people willing to spend a little bit more money on projects or have you seen anything that’s come from positive or that’s been positive from this?

Darren Brown:

Yeah, one thing I have noticed over probably the last year is we were heavily into, even a year or two ago, it used to be a 50/50 split between doing a composite deck and a timber deck. And now, I’m finding the split’s in the 80/20. Obviously, the cost of a composite deck is a lot more, but I’ve been noticing a lot of people are not going down the hardwood road, it’s number one with the maintenance issues and that. But also, they’re spending that little bit of extra money on the non-maintenance materials. We are getting a lot of stuff in from America with the Trex and TimberTech, which are two really good products. And a lot of people are starting to go towards them. They are willing to spend that little bit extra money and get their better product.

Paul Wurth:

How about you and the boys? Do you have a preference in which material you work with?

Darren Brown:

Oh, I do. Yeah. I much prefer the composite boards. I’ve always said I thought the American trends were about 10 years ahead of us. And we’re following it … I hardly see, watching you guys over there, I hardly see any timber decks getting done. It’s always a composite deck. And I reckon we’re starting to head down that path now. I don’t know whether it was coincidence that we were already heading down that path and COVID-19 struck, and they wanted to spend that extra money. I can’t put my finger on it, but we’re mainly doing composites at the moment. The deck I’m actually here at the moment doing with the boys is a hardwood deck, which is out of left field for us.

Paul Wurth:

Especially when it’s 80/20. Well, that’s good to hear. Ticket prices are going up. Project prices are going up, so that’s good.

Darren Brown:

Yeah, the material prices are going up too, as well. We’ve got a bit of a shortage on trade upon here at the moment. I think you guys had, from what I saw over there, you guys had a … which you guys call it pressure treated lumber. There’s a shortage on that at the moment. And I’m starting to see that filter down here as well. So, I was speaking to our timber supplier, and they said that it would take them about a year to catch up again.

Paul Wurth:

Oh wow. Yeah. It seems like the biggest negative out of COVID-19 for construction, and it sounds like it’s similar to where you are that is to here, is the material side of things. The cost is going up, the delays.

Darren Brown:

Yeah. I did notice that the first … I noticed that it because we’ve got a place here called Bunnings, and that’s where we get a lot of our fixing from and stuff like that. And I found when COVID struck people, panic bought. And they were buying all the fixings. So, you’d go in there to buy a box of doner bolts or a box of anchor screws or a box of screws, and you couldn’t get them.

And I think people started to panic buy, because even I was told, okay, let’s start stocking up on materials in case we can’t get any coming in. So, we were stock piling as well. And then it became evident that we weren’t going to have that issue, mainly with those suppliers, which they were fine. But it’s more the timber suppliers and decking supplies we are having issues with now that … probably actually feeling it more now than what we did toward the end of last year.

Paul Wurth:

That’s interesting.

Darren Brown:

It’s started this year.

Paul Wurth:

That’s the first we’ve heard in this series that contractors rushed to the store to buy things and stock up. One of the interesting phenomenons of COVID-19 in the states here is that individual people rushed the store and stocked up on toilet paper, which made no sense.

Darren Brown:

Yes, that happened here, too. That happened here, too.

Paul Wurth:

And nobody’s talking about how wild that was. You couldn’t find toilet paper for the first two months of COVID-19.

Darren Brown:

That seemed to be more of a pandemic than the virus itself, everyone buying the toilet paper. You just couldn’t get it anywhere.

Paul Wurth:

It’s so wild.

Darren Brown:

It was so weird. It was toilet paper, disinfectant and paper towels with us.

Paul Wurth:

That’s exactly right.

Darren Brown:

Even actually the hardware store, the methylated spirits. You could never buy that anywhere.

Paul Wurth:

There you go. Well hey, we have that in common. Darren, thank you so much for joining us and giving us your perspective of last year and your outlook into 2021. We obviously wish you the best.

Darren Brown:

Thanks, mate.

Paul Wurth:

You’re a recurring guest on our podcast. So, I want to let you get to your day. Thank you again very much for your time. You can find Darren, his crew on Instagram. It’s all one word, @DeckingSydney, right?

Darren Brown:

That’s it, mate. That’s it.

Paul Wurth:

Anywhere else they can find you? Website, things like that?

Darren Brown:

We do have a Facebook page as well. I’m not really in charge of the Facebook page. I basically do the stuff that’s on the side. I leave the Facebook page up to the girls in the office. So, they look out for that for us.

Paul Wurth:

Don’t follow Facebook. Support Darren, just Instagram. Just kidding. Alright. Well, you have great stories on there. I look forward to watching them all next year.

Darren Brown:

Awesome. Thanks, Paul.

Paul Wurth:

Thanks, Man.

Darren Brown:

Have a good day.

Paul Wurth:

Enjoy your day.

Darren Brown:

Stay safe.

Paul Wurth:

Alright. Bye bye.

Darren Brown:

Thanks, mate. Bye.

Paul Wurth:

Well, that’s a wrap on the construction and COVID-19 series we did for a look back on 2020. We obviously heard from a number of different construction professionals across the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand. I wanted to say thank you to everybody who participated and hopefully all you listeners out there learned something. I think that we all did. It was really great to look back and I, of course, look forward to 2021.

And we’ve got some news, so for you long-time listeners, you know that I’ve always been here as a host of “The Building Code.” For the first year and a half, that was with my amazing co-host, Hollywood Tom Houghton. And he actually moved on from Buildertrend and “The Building Code” a couple months back. It’s actually time for another announcement of that similar variety. I’m actually stepping away from the host of “The Building Code.” Had an amazing time over the last two years hosting this podcast, creating it, bringing on all the new guests and taking all your feedback. It’s much appreciated, but much like many things out there, it’s time for a new chapter. We’re really excited. We’re going to take a three-week break, so the next time you’re going to hear somebody is going to be April 1. We’ve got a treat for you there, so be on the lookout on our social media channels to see what’s coming.

I do want to say thank you to all the listeners out there. It’s been an amazing ride hosting “The Building Code” these last couple years, but more importantly it’s been an amazing 14 years here at Buildertrend. I’m not sure what’s next for myself, but I do know that Buildertrend has been an amazing company to start with as a first employee and grow with, and we’re just getting started. The sky’s truly the limit for this company, and I will absolutely be Buildertrend’s biggest fan on the sidelines. So, I want to thank you all so much for the years of being listeners. Continue to listen and support the show and Buildertrend. You’re going to get some great content here.

Thank you again for tuning into this episode of “The Building Code.” Make sure you subscribe and like wherever you listen to podcasts. Also head out to Facebook and join The Building Code Crew and finally, drop me a line podcast@buildertrend.com. We want to hear from you suggestions on guests or topics, anything. Thanks so much for joining and appreciate you.


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