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NZ Business interviews Brownie

NZB: What was your background prior to setting up NZ Trade Group? Why did you set up the business?
Andrewe: I started out as the owner-operator of an electrical contracting business, and we initially started the business in 2006 as a buying group for electrical supplies.

Before long, we had several members on board. I started getting asked for advice on pricing for commercial buildings, quoting and invoicing software; and business-focused topics which many trade business owners struggle with. A fantastic network emerged, and to this day, many members get huge value from talking to other trade business owners within NZTG about charges, referrals, and everyday business challenges.

I saw the opportunity to create a software platform made specifically for tradespeople to do more professional quotes and accurate invoicing. It turned out to be a very robust and intuitive system which several members were soon relying heavily on. We decided to bite the bullet and take the software to market in 2010. Within six months we had 50 members using the platform, and today we’ve over 100 member firms all over New Zealand.

NZB: What was your initial vision for NZTG, and has the reality matched it?
Andrewe: Our initial goal was to get better rates on electrical supplies, so to get where we are today has been a natural evolution built on demand from our members for software, services and support to help them run more professional, profitable and sustainable businesses. We let our members tell us what they needed and then tweaked our offering around their needs. That’s been a recipe for success.

Over the years, we’ve honed the software by adding functions to make things easier for members, and now many say they couldn’t operate without NZTG’s software, services and networking opportunities.

NZB: Describe what your services do for a typical tradie, and what results have you been getting for members?
Andrewe: Ask anyone; quoting jobs is the biggest point of pain for tradespeople. It can make or break a business; the true cost of a bad quote can take years to recover from.

Our software allows members to get more robust budgeting from a quote. It offers visual-based quoting, a great looking plan, and solid budgets.
The software feeds into our main wholesaler’s invoicing and ordering system, so it’s all seamless. We’ve integrated mobile timesheets, so members and their staff can log their times on the job. No more manual timesheets at the end of the week!

The results for members include staff growth, cost and time savings in administration, group discounts on materials and supplies, better conversion rates, and repeat business through our referral network and professional quotes. Most of all, for business owners, it’s about creating the space for them to grow the business and spend time with family.

NZB: What advice can you give tradies starting out in business to improve their chances of success?
Andrewe: Many are great at their skill or trade, but not so good with the books and understanding what kind of work’s profitable. The fact is, you won’t make money just because you have your own business. We help members learn the skills to get ahead faster.

My advice to a young tradesperson starting a business is go on a business course or join NZTG. It’s about business skills, understanding cost, mark-up, margin, and learning to make your business sustainable.

NZB: What have been the biggest challenges in growing NZTG? How have you overcome them?
Andrewe: The biggest challenge is that we don’t fit neatly into any bracket. We’re more than a buying group; we’re not a trade franchise; and it’s not just business mentoring, or a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) model. When people ask us about what we are and what we do, it’s hard to articulate. However, as soon as we show people what we do, and the results we generate, they get it – and they can’t sign up fast enough! 

Overcoming challenges is about surrounding yourself with people who’ve the specialist knowledge to help you, plugging any skills gaps, and hiring people better than you.
NZTG has a board of directors. For me it’s really useful to get different points of view on our direction. There’s a good amount of testing ideas and pressure, so at the end of each meeting I walk out with an idea or strategy that’s even better than what I walked in with. Currently our focus is on software investment and growth, rather than paying out huge dividends for the company. Having the board alongside that growth vision is paramount.

NZB: What still frustrates you about the way tradespeople operate their businesses in this country?
Andrewe: A key focus of ours is helping trade business owners operate more sustainably, and for the construction sector to embrace a more sustainable contracting environment.

At the heart of this is the issue of low prices through bad quotes. Low prices hurt everyone, because electricians giving dirt-cheap prices can’t invest in training and quality control, and the rest of the market has to reduce their prices and bend over backwards to win the work.

Price is inextricably linked to quoting; with the right quoting system, trade businesses should be able to simply identify the margins they need to make a job profitable and sustainable. Better quotes mean better staffing levels, resource, and quality material to do the job well.

Trade businesses operating in this manner will last, because they’re being run professionally and not looking for short-term wins at the expense of long-term gains and growth.

NZB: What are your long-term goals for NZTG?
Andrewe: My long-term focus is improving the health of the trade industry, because I’m an electrician and I care about the viability of this sector. Margins are being squeezed for trade businesses, and it’s not sustainable. When there’s no margin on jobs, people cut corners.

I’d like to see a trade sector that values professionalism, quality, training and camaraderie.

I liken my vision for NZTG to a guild model; people share their knowledge and advice, and you’re taught how to run your business by those who have walked the same path. We offer a model where there’s access to mentoring and red flags are raised if something’s going awry.

We’ll be partnering with a global platform provider to enhance the breadth, depth and robustness of our software solution, so we’ll always be ahead in terms of features the trade sector is seeking.