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Pluim Group

Pluim Group

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65 Years of construction done right

Pluim Group was founded in 1946 just after the Second World War by Dutch Navy sailor Bill Pluim who left his home in Europe after seeing Australia while on duty. Bill Pluim started the company with two partners and friends of Pluim; Hank Brendel and Wim DeJong. “All the members were able to do a multitude of activities from the start, from carpentry to bricklaying, you name it they could do it,” says Graham Allen, Pluim Group’s present Managing Director. “Back then you could pick up a plan from an architect and go out to the countryside and do the job. They did everything except electrical, come back and ask them to take a look at it.” Graham says that at the time those involved in the building industry knew more about building and materials than most architects did, and Pluim became known for their qualities and abilities.

“We did a lot of work for the Commonwealth Bank back then, so we basically started as a commercial builder. We did do a few homes but the commercial side of it required that you really needed to know your stuff, and know the industry,” says Graham. “Bill worked out that if you put yourself between Newcastle and Sydney you could cover both cities, and that’s how we ended up in the Central Coast. I also think that has worked out quite well for us.”

Bill Pluim eventually bought out the other partners’ shares in 1954. In 1958, he brought on Graham Allen as an apprentice. Graham was the son of Perc Allen, Pluim’s accountant who passed away, and whose wife Win Allen became the office manager – staying there for 35 years. In 1978 Bill Pluim decided to retire and sold the company to Graham Allen. During that time the Pluim group played an important role in developing many of the commercial buildings on the Central Coast, and have in a very concrete way left their mark on the commercial and residential landscape.

In the late 1990s, Graham’s son Scott joined the crew of Pluim and he took over the managing of the construction side, while Graham still administers the full breadth of the entire group. It seems a most fitting development for the genesis of the company, passed to one family to the next- but still holding on proudly to its roots. Scott, now the Managing Director of Pluim Construction, is expected to take over the reins of the management of the group and shares the same enthusiasm and expertise his father has. Graham Allen remains the Group Managing Director, and sees each employee of the company as an extended family member.

Pluim today

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the founding of the company, and Graham jokes that since they celebrated their 50th, they will not be doing anything too special until their 100th. “If you don’t mind you can get back to us in another 35 years and we can talk about it then,” Graham jokes.

Pluim has continued to focus on commercial construction, but they have also done a few specialised homes, says Graham. “These projects are always interesting for builders, one of the builds we did was an 1850 design for Charles Lloyd Jones up in Dooralong,” he says. He also says that this type of build requires a specific skill set that many builders do not have.

Over the years Pluim has grown and expanded it capabilities, taking on some niche market jobs and becoming very successful at it. “At one time we were considered the builder of choice for abattoirs, which doesn’t sound like a very exciting thing but it shows our role as a smallish company who is able to do big commercial work. But what this also means is that the client can talk directly to those that own the company and that’s one of our biggest selling points – you are not talking through project managers or midlevel managers, you are talking to the principle of the company,” he says that communication is often the most challenging thing in the construction industry, but with this arrangement they have been able to maintain a flat organisational structure. The “Group” functions as a unified whole, with all sections working together.

Experience is their speciality

“What is interesting, and is something that we like to wave our flag about, is that we have been around for so long in the commercial construction sector that we can do anything that is possible,” says Scott Allen speaking to Pluim’s experience. “We do anything from medical diagnostic centres to bulk retail and multi-level high-rises. It’s funny because this sometimes comes across as a weakness, everyone wants to specialise, or be a specialist in something – like a specialist builder in the medical sector, or a specialist builder in the education sector. What makes us laugh sometimes is that we have done 10 or 20 times the amount of projects in each of these sectors that people claiming to be specialists have done.”

Scott also says that the advantage of working across sectors is that they can often pick up systems and skills that can be applied to other sectors, and this leads to innovation in their applications. “Things like materials handling, where we have experience with both big open spaces and technical vertical & horizontal lifting requirements to small space ones. We can apply what we have learned to get a 20 tonne MRI machine into a little tiny room. We have found that with good site operation and project planning that there is a lot of cross correlation between sectors.”

“In the Central Coast, one of the sectors that has been booming is the direct health industry. This can be anything from diagnostic centres to private hospitals, and this market has been growing for the last 18 months or two years,” says Scott. “The other one is education, and between the two we have gotten our majority of work lately. This has been more of a reflection of the current market as the majority of that work had federal funding in at as a component. However, we are starting to see a lot more private business spending coming back into our market, which is encouraging for future growth”

Members of the Group, part of the family

Another secret to their success is that the company is very scalable. When large projects come up they can increase their size to take on the job, and quickly get back to an operational sustainable size after its completion. “It’s just one of our many advantages, and it is something that we have found works very well for us,” says Scott. Pluim has also built up a sizable number of trusted sub-contractors, which Graham says of them “one or two of them have been with us since the beginning or near our start.” Maintaining these relationships is also important, and both Graham and Scott laugh that the best way to keep good contractors is simply making sure you pay them on time – every time. “We have always been fair, and we always pay on time, it is as simple as that and it engenders a lot of loyalty to our company.”

Driving forces

Graham is a bit modest when asked about their charitable work. “Well I guess it is because we are a Christian family, and also I have been in Rotary for 30 years, and it makes you a bit more community minded. Because we are builders we do fly and builds in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Kenya and Cambodia,” Graham says that once you have been over to these places and seen the poverty and seen how much the people appreciate what you do, “It gives you more of a buzz than it does for them most times.” They still continue to be involved in this, and Graham finds it is also a great bonding activity for the employees.

Of their employees, both Graham and Scott cannot praise them enough, repeatedly referring to them as “the backbone of this business”. They take special pride in having people who work for them their entire career, and they give some examples.

“Keith Murray was a foreman who worked for us for 42 years, and we had a truck driver and plant operator by the name of Barry Payne for over 40 years, Vicki Perich, the current office manager, has been here 26 years. Holding on to people like that really gives us a competitive edge when it comes to experience,” says Graham.

It is experience that has made Pluim Group both a service provider and employer of choice in the Central Coast, and it is a legacy that they intend to continue. The work will never been done for Pluim, and Pluim will never be done with the work.

Short URL: http://www.businessworld-magazine.com/?p=893

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