Family business powers ahead
DAVID Simpson reckons the best thing that ever happened to him was getting testicular cancer.
It was 25 years ago, but it triggered some life-changing decisions that are still being felt today.
After the diagnosis, he sold his stake in Nambour Gas Appliance Centre and went into business on his own.
For two decades he worked as a sole operator, forging relationships with builders and customers, before his son, Benjamin, joined him in the business five years ago.
Daughter Rebecca works in the office doing the books to complete the three-person family operation.
He said the cancer diagnosis sparked a reassessment of his life and his business on many levels.
"You learn a lot about yourself mentally," he said.
"When I started on my own I forgot a lot of the business principles from when I was in partnership.
"I thought, 'It's just me. I don't need to micromanage'.
"But I was working seven days a week and 17 hours a day. It was ridiculous.
"So I applied some of the principles of running a gas shop.
"I went through my list of customers, applying the 80-20 rule that 80% of your work comes from 20% of your customers.
"We were doing a lot more commercial work in places like restaurants, but they were our biggest non-payers and we were always on call on weekends.
"The domestic market, however, is easier to deal with and, on average, Mr and Mrs Brown will pay on the spot.
"So I made a list of difficult or slow-paying customers and slowly cut them out while at the same time building up the domestic side.
"Within 12 months I could work less hours and my overheads were less so my profit margin went up.
"I turned over $50,000 less but my profits went up $20,000.
"You kick yourself because you know this stuff, but you don't implement it."
Despite its size, Simpson's Gas Service won a Master Plumbers of Qld best domestic installation award for the third year running recently.
"We're just a very small company and this is a state-wide competition," Mr Simpson said. "The first time we won we thought it was really impressive."
The business does mostly domestic, higher-end installations of gas hot-water and cooking systems. Mr Simpson said work had reduced during the downturn.
But he said he was able to survive thanks to his reputation, commitment to customer service and his having taken jobs such as a 28-unit motel in Blackwater recently.
"One of our builders wanted a quote. Even though Blackwater is nine hours' drive away, we could still do it cheaper than the locals.
"Most of our jobs we get for simply turning up to do a quote. People are amazed that we turned up on time or that we'll take on small jobs.
"Customer service is the big thing, even when times are tough.
"People are looking for a cheap price but they still want that level of service."
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Mr Simpson's son, Benjamin, and daughter Rebecca work in the business.
"It's a double-edged sword. They're more inclined to be mindful of the fact that it is a family business. It also gives us greater flexibility. We were doing 13-hour days on this job in Blackwater and Ben never complained because he knew when he got back that he could ask for a day off.
"Both children come up with ideas to improve the business. I am old school when it comes to technology, but they are really good with computers. We have upgraded to Apple computers and we are getting iPads so we can go paperless with our job cards.
"Sometimes they might turn up a bit late, so there's a fine line between being a father and business owner. It's a constant juggling act.
"But to me, there are more advantages.
"You can trust your kids."
SECRETS: Communication, finding out what customer wants, good relationships with builders, having pride in your work, diversifying and constantly working on the business