Western Australia’s Mondo Exclusive Homes is a custom home builder based in Perth. The company offers full-service design and build, and boasts a wide range of experience in building high-quality single and double storey homes. Mondo Exclusive Homes’ goal is to not only help customers design and build their dream home, but to make the process easy and enjoyable. The Australian Business Executive recently interviewed Director Ray Kershaw to find out what really sets the company apart from its competitors.
“My father was a carpenter,” Mr Kershaw explains, “and I started my apprenticeship with him when I was sixteen years old, and went through with him for a long time doing that, and then basically from there started up a small renovations business.”
This business was focussed mainly on carpentry, and included undertaking roof extensions and small additions to properties. Mr Kershaw ran the business for two years before going on to work as a supervisor for a residential building company, aged just 21.
“For me, I’ve always been a very hands-on person, working from the tools. It was a bit different being so young, having to [manage] people that had obviously been in the industry for a lot longer than I had. I ultimately became their boss, and had to tell them what to do.”
These first steps into people management helped Mr Kershaw learn a lot about delegating work and even more about the administration process, including everything that is required to meet health and safety standards.
“It was a real big eye-opener in terms of all the other bits of legislation required as a builder,” he says, “and from there that made me pursue my building license a bit more, because it was quite interesting to me.”
After performing well in this supervisory role, Mr Kershaw was given the opportunity to move into the commercial sector as a site manager, working on a number of mixed-use apartments and commercial space, such as restaurants, cafes and office blocks.
“I had a GM that sat over the top of me, so the site manager is based onsite ten hours a day. I had people working under me, such as a contracts administrator, estimator, scheduler, so I would delegate to those guys and do all the stuff on site.”
The general manager’s job was to keep the site manager informed about budgetary requirements, and any other administration that needed to be tightly managed. Onsite, Mr Kershaw was in charge of the work of four or five employees.
“It was a pretty big change from the residential,” he says. “[On] the residential, I had a construction manager above me, I had the director, I had pretty much everyone above me and I was just the onsite guy dealing with tradesmen.”
This structure highlights the major differences between the two sectors. In residential, firms take on fairly straightforward, similar projects that tend to follow the same structure. In commercial, things can work a little differently.
“In the commercial arena, I suppose there was a lot more as far as health and safety, council requirements, working at night permits, hot works permits, excessive noise. We’re working in the city, so traffic permits. There was a lot more focus.”
These extra requirements mean onsite management is vital in order to keep all the moving parts working, revolving around daily site meetings where expected achievements for each day are discussed.
“I think the commercial sector is just a lot more organised. We had very strict schedules, we had time delays that would cost money. We’d be penalised if we were running late on schedules, and things like that. You don’t really get that in the residential market.”
The management structure in commercial is therefore focussed towards making sure things are delivered on time. This is made more important by the fact that the money involved is generally far greater than in residential.
“You’re talking a lot bigger numbers. You know, $25m projects as opposed to a $200k house, needs a lot more management and a lot more people getting involved and making sure that everything runs on track.”
In 2009, Mr Kershaw made the decision to branch out on his own, revisiting some of the skills he learned in his previous residential work, combined with those recently developed in commercial, to start Mondo Exclusive Homes.
“So basically I thought, from my residential experience and now my organisation skills that I’d developed in commercial, they paired up quite well as a residential builder, so I thought I could bring a boutique product to the residential sector.”
Mr Kershaw’s vision for this product would be enhanced by having a greater understanding of scheduling, estimating and organising onsite, including site safety and quality.
“I’d been working for a lot of architects in the commercial sector, and they’re not as prevalent in the residential, so I thought we could probably bring a product to the market that is highly organised [and] very good quality.”
With a new focus on health and safety, the team at Mondo Exclusive Homes has been able to schedule and estimate jobs to a very high standard, meaning the business is run more in line with commercial standards rather than residential.
“I thought there was a bit of a niche in the market for that,” Mr Kershaw explains, “and as soon as I jumped across I instantly had jobs on the go, so there probably was a hole in the market for it.”
All of the company’s homes are custom built, never built before or again, and Mr Kershaw admits that as a consequence, ideas that look like they will work on a plan don’t always work as well onsite, meaning innovative methods are needed to make sure the job gets done right.
“We’ve developed a lot of 3D graphing now, in order to try and spot some of these problems before they get to site. So, we’ve got 3D walk-throughs available for our site supervisor on iPad, which then go out to all the trades and clients.”
This allows the company to be more proactive, ensuring staff can walk through the home digitally before it is built, helping them to see around corners and identify potential problems before work commences.
“When you’re doing a project-scale house, a display home or something like that, you may build the same home 500 times, so you can really work out the problems and it becomes very profitable. Whereas in the custom home market, it’s the first time it’s ever been built.”
To ensure these one-off builds stay on budget and on time, a lot of work and supervision is required, and because of its nature there will always be problems along the way. “It’s not a cookie-cutter style home,” Mr Kershaw says. “It’s 100% custom.”
As a member of both the MBA (Master Builders Association) and the HIA (Housing Industry Association), Mr Kershaw receives plenty of industry support and opportunity, which benefits the work done at Mondo Exclusive Homes.
“I’m a higher member, activity-wise, in the MBA,” he explains. “For me, I sit on the housing council, I’m an elected counsellor for the housing council, and we attend meetings once a month and are looking at making decisions for the good of the industry.”
The council’s focus is not on individual gain for the companies of its members, but on working to develop government policies and other areas that will help the industrybig builders and small builders alike.
“It’s been a really good networking tool for me. I’ve met a lot of other builders, I’ve learnt a lot about things that are coming up in the industry, changes that the government’s making. I do judging for the MBA as well, and that’s been really beneficial.”
By being involved in judging MBA and HIA excellence awards, Mr Kershaw has found great benefit in seeing what the market is putting out, comparing his own company’s quality with those of its competitors.
Mr Kershaw has heard people say they don’t get anything out of these organisations, but admits that those who put the most in have the most to gain. By attending meetings and networking at seminars, the greatest benefit can be achieved for a business.
“It’s always meant that I’ve come away and thought we could do things better, and change our processes. I would highly recommend any start-up to join MBA and HIA, and you only get out what you put in.”
All of these benefits are added to what is an already impressive portfolio for Mondo Exclusive Homes, which despite the economic downturn that has been seen in Perth over the last few years has continued to grow as a business.
This is particularly impressive given the company’s modest size, employing just four members of staff and outsourcing to around 150 subcontractors to help deliver a steady flow of custom-made residential properties.
“We are continually looking to improve our processes, and clients have seen a lot of media attention about us as far as awards that we’ve won, both personally and as a company. Last year we won Australian Young Builder of the Year, which is a pretty big award.”
In addition, the company has had several homes as finalists and winners in a number of awards in the state for their excellence, all of which is extremely good for trade, showing clients that the company is doing the right things.
“They also see that I’m putting back,” Mr Kershaw goes on to say, “and an active member in some of these MBA and HIA organisations, so I think that goes a long way with a lot of clients.”
Lately, clients have seen the bigger project builders differently, recognising that they are unable to provide the same kind of service offered by Mondo Exclusive Homes in terms of weekly site meetings and constant client contact.
“We go from design, right through construction. We can help them with their selection of furniture and soft furnishings, right through to landscaping. We just have that all-inclusive package really for the clients.”
This process means clients can deal directly with the builder as opposed to a sales rep, not having to speak with a dozen staff in an office, but dealing with small team of staff, each of whom knows exactly what is happening with each job.
“I think the fact that both myself and my supervisor are both fully qualified carpenters [is helpful]. I’ve got a number of certificates in my diploma of building, cert 4s in construction managing, cert 4s in supervision, estimating, scheduling.”
These impressive qualifications ensure that clients know they are in safe hands, with knowledgeable, experienced staff taking care of their build. This has helped the company’s profitability, resulting in steady growth.
The company has worked on projects at costs ranging from $250k to $2m, occupying a particular place in the mid to higher end of the market. In 2015, Mondo achieved a high of 16 new homes, ensuring that the same house is never built twice.
“On the smaller contracts, we have to look at the risk vs reward I suppose, on quality over quantity. So, on the real big scale contracts there’s a lot that can go wrong on them, and there’s a lot more supervision required and a lot more planning.”
There is more flexibility in the smaller projects, which can get off the ground much quicker and more easily, with decisions able to be made along the way without being too detrimental to the cost.
“Whereas on a lot of the bigger stuff,” Mr Kershaw adds, “we have to have everything figured out beforehand, because a minor change can cost tens of thousands down the track once we get going with construction.”
In terms of supervision, the company runs the same quality insurance checklists on both small and large scale projects, as well as running the same scheduling and all office work and tradesmen being the same for both scales.
“I’d say on the bigger scale [it requires] just a lot more planning in the early stages to ensure that everything is 100% correct before we get to site. That said, we still do the same thing with the smaller stuff, it’s just a lot easier.”
One of the company’s recent projects in Gwelup had a slightly different feel. As a high-end single storey, the build was very architecturally designed, intended not to have any hallways, each room flowing seamlessly into the next.
“It was quite a clever design,” Mr Kershaw explains. “The master bedroom, for example, is actually a separate pod off the back of the house, and the theatre room is a separate pod off the front of the house.”
This design enabled the team to include garden areas all around, and hidden windows to make them visible from many vantage points. The interior showcases a soft industrial feel, boasting polished concrete and commercial besser blocks.
“It’s softened with a lot of American walnut timbers, on the cabinetry, and quite an expansive cabinetry, probably $200k on cabinetry on the project. It’s got a real resort feel inside, the gardens and the greenery really come into the house.”
As a result of these excellent features, the Gwelup house was awarded runner-up in the 2015 Master Builders Association awards, and is currently being judged for this year’s Housing Industry Association awards.
A Team Effort
To go alongside these awards and impressive projects, Mondo Exclusive Homes was recently approached by Channel 7 TV to run a segment on the show featuring Mr Kershaw, called ‘Ray Kershaw’s Building Tips’.
“I’d previously done a few segments with them, where I’d paid them to view some of our projects, and they went quite well and they said I came across quite well on camera. [They approached] last year, on the back of winning the 2015 Young Builder of the Year Award.”
The arrangement sees the company running a weekly, minute long segment, where Mr Kershaw highlights his best trades, suppliers and contacts in the industry, and gives viewers an insight into who to deal with to end up with the best possible product.
“So far it’s gone really well,” Mr Kershaw adds, “and we’ve gotten really good feedback on it, and Channel 7 are quite happy. I think we’re negotiating at the minute to possibly do another ten episodes, so that’s good.”
At the end of our interview, Mr Kershaw is keen to stress that although the focus often lands on himself, having won awards and been involved in projects, he owes a lot to the small team of staff that works with him.
“They’ve been there from day one, and really helped us to grow and they’ve brought so much to my company and to me, and improved me as a builder. And also, a lot of our trades have been with me since I met them when I was a carpenter, when I was 16.”
The journey Mr Kershaw has taken to create and sustain Mondo Exclusive Homes wouldn’t have been possible without these relationships, and he is well aware that he owes a great deal of his own success to the people who’ve worked with him over the years.
Find out more about Modo Exclusive Homes by visiting: www.mondoexclusivehomes.com.au
To read and download the full profile click on the cover image below. To view this editorial as it appeared originally in The Australian Business Executive magazine, click here.
Written by Nicholas Paul Griffin