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Productivity performance grows for plumbing specialists

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Dale Cowie


TurfreyForty years ago, Turfrey was the name synonymous with a plumber and his van in Waipukurau.  Today, Turfrey is still a family-owned and operated business but employs 40+ staff and is sought after for specialist plumbing, drainage, gasfitting, roofing, heating and related contracts, big and small, domestic and commercial, throughout the central North Island. 

Under the leadership of Brad Turfrey, who succeeded his father Bruce at the helm of the business two years ago, there are plans to grow even further and make Turfrey number one across the region, with an undisputed reputation for quality work and professional service.

This passion and desire took Brad to the Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce last year to seek out available business advice and assistance. That inquiry led to Brad entering the High Performance Work initiative offered by Business Hawke’s Bay and for the past nine months, working with business improvement specialist, Glenn Manahi of Smarter, Better, Faster.

Initially their focus was on addressing organisational structure and inventory control, which had been struggling to keep pace as the workload of the business grew.  Then as those aspects came under better control, Brad and Glenn began to consider strategic issues.

“We had grown from a team of 20 to 40 in 18 months so a lot of our systems and processes weren’t coping and we weren’t always living up to our aim of totally satisfied customers,” Brad says.  “We’ve still got more work to do but it’s much better; we’re steering in the right direction with longer term plans in place to scale up even further.”

The results of the intensive work undertaken in recent months include more robust stock control, more effective workshop organisation and operation, and tighter coordination of the various specialist teams.  In addition, a new showroom and office has opened in Havelock North, and the range of retail products sold locally and online continues to grow.

“We have 25 vans on the road, potentially all working on different jobs in different locations, some of them quite remote.  Coordinating the logistics is a pretty big job, it’s full time in fact, and now we have someone dedicated to that role and we’re utilising technology to improve productivity,” says Brad.

Turfrey has moved to the Cloud with software employed to track all vans, record the time spent on the job, note stock used, and synchronise this into the invoicing system.  The use of tablets by the field team has significantly decreased the need for multiple trips to a job – any issues can be snapped and immediately viewed back at the workshop with assistance provided on-the-spot.  It also means field staff are accountable for their work, with photos sent back for final sign off.  “We’re still doing the quality control but it’s a far more productive use of time,” says Brad.

To achieve these productivity gains has required a culture shift, explains Glenn Manahi.  “Turfrey was previously highly operational and slightly strategic but it’s now highly strategic.” This has meant delegation and rearrangement of roles, which in turn has led to internal promotions and for some, a new career path into operational management.

Working on the strategic side of the business with Glenn has provided Brad with insights that now form part of a 10 year business plan, “although we’re now wondering if 10 years is enough, but it’s a good start,” says Brad.  “We have a guarantee that our quoted price is the price you pay but we have since realised we’d taken it for granted the people knew that. Now that’s what we live by and everyone needs to be thinking hard about how they quote and how they deliver on that quote.”

The contribution of the “passionate” Turfrey team is acknowledged as critical to the growth of the business and Brad and Glenn are currently working on a programme to share the now articulated core values with the team.

“There’s a lot of pride within our team and if we’re all on the same page then the business will be really strong.  We want the best people with strong specialist skills and the right attitude, a quality ethos.”

As yet the financial return on the investment into Higher Performance Work is yet to be measured, but Brad is convinced of the benefits.  “Having our structure, systems, processes and people sorted and focused so everything hums is our competitive advantage.  It means our leadership team can have a real and ongoing conversation about growth and we can drive scale effectively.”