Siblings share load at thriving business


FAMILY BUSINESS: Michelle Thompson oversees the administration and finance side of Thompson Construction and Engineering, while (top inset) Quinn Anderson welds in the workshop, and (lower inset) Calvin Patrick works on visual designs in a building.

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Last updated 09:13 23/04/2012
© Fairfax NZ News

Keeping it in the family has been no challenge for the Thompsons, with the Washdyke family business giving them all a job. Emma Bailey talks to Michelle Thompson.

How did the business start?

Our father, Lyndon, started it in 1978. He was a farm manager but had done a bit of steel fabrication and building in South Otago. Mum convinced him to move to Timaru and start an engineering business. Back then it was mostly working on farm buildings. My brothers Craig and Vaughan both started working for Dad after they left school, apart from time doing their OE's. They took over from Dad in 2002. I came [to Thompsons] five years ago. I was working as an administrator for 14 years at Blairs in Geraldine, that was another expanding business. I did business studies as well. I used to do the paperwork for here [Thompsons] in the weekend, and doing both jobs just got too much. Now Craig is the production director and quality control, Vaughan is sales oriented and does the estimating and oversees the design, and I do the admin and financial control.

How many staff do you have?

When Dad retired [in 2002] there were six or seven staff, now there are 40 staff. The growth in the business has been across the board.

What sort of work does Thompson Construction and Engineering do?

Warehouses, freight depots, factories, office blocks, showrooms and kitsets; hangars, workshops, storage buildings. We construct the buildings with precast concrete. It starts with design and 3-D modelling the building with the client and then we process the consent through the council. Then the guys precast the concrete on heated pads so it dries quicker and it is transported on site and constructed. We used to pour the concrete on site but this slowed the process down so now now we have four construction teams going here and are doubling capacity.

How much work is the company expecting to do in Christchurch for the rebuild following the quakes?

It's starting to trickle down now and we are training with apprentices getting ready. We have formed an association with a construction company in Christchurch and we will supply them with precast concrete. We expect to go through significant growth again when that takes off. We have bought land in Rolleston for a workshop and to build commercial buildings for lease. We are working on a prototype at the moment actually. At our workshop in Rolleston we want to put in portable living spaces, which can be moved later on. So they will have a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and living area and basically slot into an existing building and then are able to be dismantled. We were thinking at the start for our staff then that could be moved later on and realised there will be quite a market for it.

What are some interesting projects the company has worked on recently?

We did the extension for the Warehouse and the Urban Cafe and built Agrifarm in Temuka. We provided the concrete panels for the Drummond and Etheridge building in Ashburton and they ... put underfloor heating in their workshop, which was pretty cool.

What has been the biggest challenge of the business?

Managing the growth is the hardest thing to do, trying to do it in a controlled manner. Everyone has to step up a notch.

What have been the high points?

I think Christchurch is going to be a high point. It is great opportunity for us to grow further.

What have been the low points?

The recession was a low point. We had to lay off four staff and I never want to do that again. It did teach us to diversify so hopefully we will never have to do it again.

Best business tip?

Have an honest approach, give good service and a good product. It is pretty simple really. Word of mouth is really important to us. We want to be the people that clients recommend to others.