Becoming the “Problem Solved” Business
Our business grew simply because our customers could rely on us to fix their problems. It almost seemed as though we were always the last company that was approached when a project was being constructed, but the first to be called when a problem occurred…. our job was to turn ‘problems’ in to ‘problem solved’ outcomes.
I didn’t mind what circumstances we were contacted by, because I knew we had a nous for problem solving, the acumen for the situation and the business DNA that delivered on its promises.
Our ‘break in’ opportunity with a new company
It was late one Winters afternoon when I received a strange phone call. The call was from the Chief Operations Officer for a significant Australian Oil & Gas Exploration (ASX listed) company. The problem was related to a Cultural Heritage (CH) Clearance campaign that was scheduled to begin in a couple of weeks.
Note: In Australia there are massive tracts of land that are virtually untouched or unseen by modern day civilisation. To preserve our counties heritage, it is a requirement before any site work can commence that an examination of the site for which the work will happen needs to be cleared for any Cultural Heritage sites of significance.
Because of the location, unless a camp was built to accommodate the CH team, the costs of daily travel from Innamincka to site would make the program expensive. For example, the team has ~30 CH monitors, multiplied by 4 hours travel a day = 120 hours of lost time/day. Over a period of 3-6 months, that lost time and productivity would put the CH clearance approximately 30-40% behind schedule and cost.
I was asked “We need to have a camp built, do you think that you could help us?”, to which I replied simply “shouldn’t be a problem……. when did you need it ready by?” – delivery was 14 business days
Finding the solution
The camp our customer needed wasn’t a normal camp, we needed an individual self contained ensuite accommodation complete with kitchen, diner, communications, office, water storage, sewerage treatment plant, site power generator with backup power generator and switchboard, fuel storage and refuelling station. It needed to be comfortable and well suited for the CH team to accommodate their best suited work needs.
I immediately searched the quickest and easiest options that I had in mind such as other camp rental companies. But to my amazement there was nothing available that suited our needs. There were obstacles every time I had to source a component for the camp:
- Sewerage Treatment Plant – Required to meet environmental conditions, needed to be portable and could not be positioned in the ground
- Accommodation Units – To be elevated to a maximum of 2 steps for safety reasons, no gravity sewer throughout the camp with building being located ~40m from treatment plant.
- Communications – The only option for the area was a satellite communications system, this is a vital component of the CH campaign
- Water Storage – The camp had to hold enough water for 10 days, but be sized appropriately to be efficient for water tanker transport.
- Fuel Storage – The fuel had to be located away from the services for safety, a solution needed to be portable and comply with hazardous area wiring requirements
- Kitchen – Be sized to suite the demand of the CH team.
Myself along with our procurement and logistics manager sourced the components – I truly admired the way our team made things happen when anybody else would simply give up.
To make it all possible, we had to improvise:
- Sewerage Treatment – we bought a treatment plant, built the skid frames for it to couple to and de-couple during transport
- Accommodation Units – only new units were available, we took on a long term hire agreement with the manufacturer on the ‘punt’ that this work would extend to another CH program for the same company.
- Communications – we had a satellite system that we had finished using, because of the location of the camp location @ ~142deg East, we were able to synchronise with the satellite that served it – any further east and another option was needed.
- Water Storage – we bought tanks, a potable ‘dual’ pumping system and pipework for servicing the camp
- Fuel Storage – we bought a 10Kl diesel fuel storage unit that was solar powered
- Kitchen – we need to expand the kitchen that we owned, we bought a 20′ refrigerated container and fitted it out with additional cold room space.
We had answered all the problems with the camp except how it was going to be built…..
The business work schedule was completely full with all our permanent staff on other projects. Anybody that would complete the site install needed to stay on site to get the camp ready in time (no daily travel). This meant no toilet, no shower, no power and sleeping under the stars for a few days until equipment began to arrive.
I did not expect anybody to accept to do what was needed so I decided to leave the office and get back on the tools to make this ‘problem solved’.
I was able to encourage my nephew and another local person to come with me to build the camp. I had arranged for our electrician (a good friend of mine) to arrive on site a few days afterwards. I knew that these guys could put up with the conditions, and they did.
Implementing the solution
I travelled to site, I always enjoyed being the first person on a project and watching ‘bare ground’ turn into a completed project. It is one of the most rewarding things a project manager/ construction manager gets to enjoy in their job.
I had the site cleared to a reasonable standard, such that rehabilitation of the site after the camp was removed would be simple, but cleared enough to prevent damage to equipment, vehicles and punctured tyres.
I marked out the location of the services and we began building the camp, marking out building locations with profiles, water lines, sewer lines, power supply, water storage and sewerage treatment locations.
We worked for the first couple of days when we received our first sign of what was to come…… the crane along with our first buildings began to arrive.
The kitchen was put into position, and we were able to camp inside out of the cold.
The camp was built over a period of the next few days, one by one the services were connected and hot water flowed out of the showers for our men to take full advantage of.
The camp was completed within the period required.
We had delivered to our promise – ‘problem solved’
Taking advantage of the ‘add-ons’
It may seem that we simply ‘built a camp’. But what happened afterwards is where we went from ‘problem solved’ to ‘yes we can’…..
We took complete advantage of the business relationship that had been forged by this new triumph. Not only did we build the camp, we became the supplier for all catering, services, delivery, logistics and all other CH Clearance project needs. The extent of supply included tyres, tyre fitting, UHF’s, safety equipment, water bottles, delivery of water, fuel, telecommunications services, camp catering and cleaning.
Not only did the CH program return as a complete success, we replicated the move for the next program and kept our relationship with the company for years until the day they merged.
The “shouldn’t be a problem……. when did you need it ready by” transformed our business and we were able to grow from strength to strength. The catering arm of the business grew and at one point we provided over 100,000 cooked meals in a year.
By having the “Problem Solved” approach, it is amazing what doors can open up for your business…..
Written by Geoff Pike, Entrepreneur, Speaker & Business Mentor
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Geoff founded a sole trader plumbing business in a remotely located and vastly underpopulated location in outback Australia. Starting business with only enough money to pay 4 weeks wages, Geoff persisted by growing the business into a multi-disciplined trade services company. Over a period of 12 years, the company Geoff established grew to employ a workforce of over 300 personnel covering an area almost half the size of Europe, receiving international award recognition with an annual revenue of over $30mil. Geoff knows what it takes to overcome adversity.