Bought, Built, Sold.   Audio of these 2 transcripts.   From Bruce Cross and Neil Draper, available at Head Office.

Bruce Cross interview 11th Jan 2023

When did you start your SPA business?  Feb 2003

What work etc were you doing before then?  I was on workers compensation after a car accident. I got sick of laying on the lounge, so lied to the doctor, who cleared me to purchase a business. Before my accident I was a supervisor for a construction Company building bridges and dams across Australia.

Why did you want to leave that work?  Due to my car accident, I couldn’t go back to that job.

What other jobs or business did you look at before SPA?  Absolutely nothing. I just saw an ad in a paper, replied to it and spoke to Brian, then Chris. I still couldn’t go back to my old job so after about 6-8 months, decided to buy my Spray Pave business.

Why did you chose SPA over them?  I didn’t consider any others.

Was there any one main reason for joining SPA?  The work looked easy and I didn’t want to learn any hard skills.

Did you take the easy payment plan, or the full payment?  The Easy Payment Plan.

What equipment did you buy, if any from Head Office?  I bought the full starter pack.

Any feedback about the equipment? All the equipment did the job. I still use the pressure cleaner, after almost 20 years. We switched the electric compressor and blower for petrol ones. Although they are noisier, petrol was easier for us because no cords. Petrol blowers helped dry the jobs quicker.

Did you do any local marketing research before deciding to buy? No, not really. There was plenty of concrete around. After buying I found some cowboys around doing cheap rough jobs. I soon discovered I just had to get a good name and not lose that good name.

What marketing did you do after buying and later to find your customers? Small ads in a local paper, Yellow pages and Hi-Pages. Basically that was it. Then after a few years of getting my name out there, referrals came in from old customers and product suppliers. Suppliers used photos of my jobs for there marketing. Including my job in their manufacturing facility Luka Rd Wynong. (many of the Dulux Avista brochure photos, are jobs from Bruce)

What was the 3 day training like?  Up the shit! Ha Ha. It was good, however after that training, I worked a little different on my own. We started a different process for the cracks, but after a few years went back to what we were taught at the 3 day training.

Did you have the H/O 3 day follow up training? and how was it?  I was lucky, because I got extra follow-up training. Brad who was one of the trainers, came on my jobs and stayed with me for a long time afterwards. He worked off and on for over 2 years with me.

What were the H/O customer leads like?  There was an ad placed in the local paper, it all stemmed from there. I got about 50 odd leads in the first 3-4 weeks. It was quite daunting really! It was certainly a good learning experience. We lost a lot but we got a lot of good work. A steep learning curve.

What was your first job and how soon after training?  Geeze….OK,…Start with what I had for dinner last night, then work back. Actually my first job, I do remember it. His name was Grame Archer, he did the sewing for the horse blankets. It was even before I got the trailer and all the equipment. About 30 sq mts. A little entertaining area. It was just a French grey blanket job with a dark terrocatta interlocking diamond. I think it was about $900.  Strangely about 2 years later, I found myself living 2 doors up from him. He then wanted something different, so we actually ground it off. It took us 2 days to grind it off, that’s how good the product was. 

How did that job go? and what changes would you make now, if you did it again?  Brad gave me a hand on that job, so I probably wouldn’t make many changes.

If you could talk to your self before buying, what advise would you give to yourself?  Ahhh…Don’t do it!  Ha ha. That’s a hard one. Early in the business it was hard, but the more jobs I did, the easier it got.

What was your biggest obstacle in the early days? We had plenty of work from the head office advertising. When that advertising stopped, we went a long time without work. (H/O stop paid advertising, but still send free leads to active Licensees) Then for some reason, we done one or two jobs, then it just kicked off again. That’s when we started getting all the work from Parchem which was Concrete Technlogies. (Now Dulux, Avista) We done some work for a concreter, he recommended us to another supplier, it just skyrocketed from there.

What was the physical work like in the business. Early and later days?  Same…Same.  If I could pay someone, I would. Ha ha… So long as you keep working, your age doesn’t really matter. The spraying is easy, especially if you are shorter. The masking up can be harder but more important.

How long did it take to break even from your business deposit or full payment? Hard to say, because I made lot, then lost a lot, then made a lot.

What was the approximate business earnings on a seasonal or yearly basis. Ohh…Lets say shit…Do you want gross or net numbers?  Because you do the best you can for your tax, so lets say turnover gross.. Between 150k to 200k (Mostly 1 person plus 1 casual, 7-8 months per year)

What equipment changes have you made over the years? Done away with electric compressor and blowers for petrol. Guns are still the same. Pressure washer is still the same. I had 5 grinders of different sizes from 620mm to 250mm, including a sit and grind setup. Each machine had its own application.

Can you describe a) Your worst job. It was one of my first jobs, working on my own and didn’t use the contract.  A small job of $3,000. I fixed the cracks etc.  Customer was happy with everything except a minor change in the texture, which you could barely see anyway. He threatened to take legal action, unless I fixed or paid back the money. I just paid back the money and now always use a contract. 

b) Your best or highest paid job. All jobs are the best because we pride ourselves on doing high class work. We rarely took deposits, we told the customer, when you are happy, pay us. Because we had all this work. Highest paying job would have to be $55,000. School basketball courts. 1100 sq mts. We done a few single courts for about $35,000. We had to grind off the old lines, prepare all the concrete, than spray a blanket coat. The school arranged the line marking afterwards. Spotless and Transfield were the main contractor for the school maintenance, plus other building work. We gave them both the same price. So whoever the school chose, depending on any other work required, we got the work anyway. We would keep our school holidays open for school work.

c) Your average job. 60 sq mt driveways. 2-3 days tops depending on preparation?. $3,000 – $4,000

How has your business changed over the years? Early days was mainly Spray Paving, then over the years we started doing epoxy work,  flake floors,  metallic floors,  lately polished floors. We found that as polished was the dearest for them, we pushed them towards epoxy. Cheaper from them, easier for us.

What do you see for the industry in the next 3, 5, 10 years?  About the same. I can’t really see the spray-on side of it going back to stencil.  Customers like the blanket coats with fleck and its easier to apply. So we charge a higher price for stencil. They still have the option.

When and why did you sell your business? Sold it 2 months ago. The main reason was after 17 years in the same rental house, the owner wanted to renovate so turfed me out. To find another suitable house was too hard and too expensive. I already owned a house in Broken Hill, so decided it’s time to sell the business and retire. My subcontractor was keen to buy as he could see the profits, so I sold to him.

What price and terms did you sell your business for?  I just sold it for the price of equipment at $72,000 which also included over $45,000 of signed contracts, including with builders. My accountant told me it was worth over $100,000 plus equipment. The reason I sold it so cheap was that he worked for me for about 12 years. We had become good friends and I made a lot of money with him.

What advise would you give to somebody asking you about the business?  (long Pause)…… Honestly I don’t care, but what I’d tell them is if you work hard it can be a good business. If you’re not prepared to work, go work in a factory. It’s not just the hands-on work, it’s also the work you need to do after you’ve knocked off work. Running the business paperwork, marketing in the early days, quoting, etc.  You will see the extra income for the extra work.

What are your future life and business plans now? Well, I’m bored, so I’m going back to work. Otherwise I’ll end up drinking myself to death. I’ve got the house, I want to do some renovations. I also just want to do something. Even though dealing with the general public can be a real prick, it is also very rewarding. It gets you out there, you are meeting people. They see you in the street and stop and want to talk to you. There is another Spray Pave guy in town, so I’ll probably do some work for him. Just enough to keep me out of trouble.

Neil Draper interview 22nd January 2023


When did you start your SPA business?  Long time ago? August 15-16 years ago (August 2007)
 
What work etc were you doing before then?  I was in the motor trade, plus doing house renovations. Having fun.

Why did you want to leave that work?  Lifestyle change.

What other jobs or business did you look at before SPANone. I was doing house renovations, just needed something else to keep my mind active.

Why did you choose SPA over them? Didn’t look at any other business.

Was there any one main reason for joining SPA? I was attracted by everything that I could do. The application services plus build a retail arm of selling tools and equipment.

Did you take the easy payment plan, or the full paymentFull payment.

What equipment did you buy if any from Head Office?  I purchased everything. Trailer, the full package

Any feedback about the equipment?
  No, it was good, except I had a fault with the trailer suspension. I rang the builder direct and had it fixed.

What was the 3 day training like?  Ha ha. What can I say. It was very professional. We had the Industrial Chemist working then (Barry Web) We had Blake as the trainer. We did it during winter, bloody cold and wet. But yes, it was all really good.

Did you have the H/O 3 day follow up training? And how was it?  No, there was no follow-up training at that time. We had good Head Office phone contact and support from Grame, another local Licensee.

Any feedback from the follow up training?  Didn’t have any.

What were the H/O customer leads like? I got over 20 customer leads very soon. The distance was a problem with some of them being too far away, so they were onforwarded.  Quite a few were close to home, the biggest was Bairnsdale RSL. Also 2 kindergartens and one primary school. This helped me get in the door of the Education Department

Did you do any local marketing research before deciding to buy?  I spoke to a couple of local concreters that I knew. I looked on the net to see what was about. I found a local guy doing it and a couple of cowboy, fisherman doing it. They’d come off the fishing trawlers for a week and try some spray paving. There was no quality work or warranties. I saw the opportunity then went for it.  

    What marketing did you do after buying? How did you find customers?  My customer base come from a lot of the concreters. They were lazy and didn’t want to do stencil work. They could do more work just laying concrete and not do the stencilling. Plus it was too hard for them to work with stencil, on slabs that weren’t square. Some press advertising, including my custom made postcard letter box drop,(view at Licensees secrets) not a huge amount. It was mostly word of mouth. The Bairnsdale RSL and jobs at my local cricket and tennis clubs got a lot of attention. I had my signs on the fence. I did a 1600 sq mt Spray job at Yarram aged care hospital, that then led to lots of work with NDIS due to the Non-Slip requirements for Oc health and safety.  An 1800 sq mt spray job at Bairnsdale IGA supermarket, where everybody could see it. Getting a square tap and go reader was one of the best things I did.  (Accepts customer credit cards) 

What was your first job and how soon after training? A Primary school in Morwell. 3 lots of toilet blocks and all outside areas. About 250 sq mts, which could only be done in school holidays.

How did that job go? and what changes would you make now, if you did it again? 
We masked up the entire area before spraying. That was too large, so the routine and system was all wrong. We should have broken job into smaller sections.

If you could talk to your self before buying, what advise would you give to yourself?  Stick to my 5 year plan ha ha. I had a 5 year plan to get it up and running then sell. I did get it up and running in under 5 years, but unfortunately moved onto selling tools and equipment, plus kept on spray paving. So 15 and half years later I’m still going.   

What was your biggest obstacle in the early days? Probably just remembering the ratios of mixing, then mainly just getting product. Being in a country region, local agents weren’t interested in supplying me what they thought would be smaller quantities. In the end I just ordered large quantities by the pallet load directly from Melbourne, at times I collected the full pallets in my own little car, which struggled with the weight   

What was the physical work like in the business? Physical side didn’t worry me. The later couple of years my own health issues became a worry. Years ago, every 2nd job was stencil, now days they’re much easier. 

How long did it take to break even from your business deposit or full payment?  In well under 12 months, we had more than all business and equipment costs repaid.

What was the approximate business earnings on a seasonal or yearly basis.  Early days we were charging about $20 sq mt, so yearly average was about $65,000. We finished up grossing $195,000 to $200,000. (On record) As a one-man operation, very occasionally I would get an off-sider when needed. I only worked for about 7 months of the year.  

Any comments regarding the business lifestyle?  We could take holidays when we wanted holidays. Be there for my kids when they were growing up at that time. And yea, basically make myself a lifestyle as opposed to being told I have to go to work.

Any comments regarding the business security? No problems there. I had some other income which I could fall back onto, but was never needed.

What equipment changes have you made over the years?
  Updated the pressure washer a couple of times. Many hopper guns. I did buy grinders and vacuums etc, for my grinding and polishing side of the business.

Can you describe a) Your worst job . Yes it was a camouflage / shading job. Customer liked it but I hated the look of it. I look the other way when driving past it now. It was my worst job, due to my own personal view of it.  

b) Your best or highest paid job.  Colour sealing for shires (local councils). They were throwing us 6500 sqs to 7000sq mt jobs at a time. We worked on lower sq mt rate. I was buying products at wholesale prices so it was costing me about 15% for expenses. We had about 9 different shires. They have since tightened their budgets in that year, so might not be the same now. 

c) Your average job.  All different. Some were 4 hours masking with 30 mins spraying. $3,000 to $4,000 were the average. Although I did a few $300 to $400 jobs close to home. Just a few steps for pensioners, carers and so forth. That lead to other bigger jobs, flow on benefits.

How has your business changed over the years?  It’s got a lot bigger. I’m a lot more pickier on the quality of the work. I don’t drive as far, so stay closer to home.

What do you see for the industry in the next 3, 5, 10 years? It follows the trends. New concrete prices keep going up. Spray paving will always be strong due to the competitive prices of it as opposed to renewing concrete. The renovation market is strong, the street appeal is strong. We’re following the trends of the states (USA) going back to stencils. Developers more than anything are promoting it. I know lots of Melbourne areas going back to stencil. We had a big run on exposed aggregate, but that has a lot of problems. Polished concrete will always be here for the top end of the market. Also the quality of the concreters is going down. Less people learning it and young guys getting it wrong. So grinding off their mistakes to a polished finish looks much better.   

What advise would you give to somebody asking you about the business?  Look at all your avenues to start with. Walk around your local area and have a look what’s about. A lot of new areas have council covenants on their driveways (no plain concrete allowed) have a look at older areas being bought out for new developments.  

When and why did you sell your business? The time had come, I’d spent 15 to 16 years on it. Unfortunately I felt my health issues were the biggest thing for me. I kept working after my first operation against doctors orders. But after my third lot of major surgery I had to change things.   

What price and terms did you sell your business for?
I sold it as a “walk in, walk out package” $75,000 including all equipment and products. Grinders and vacuum were 6 to 7 years old. Washer and most other gear were 3 to 4 years old. Included I had $60,000 of signed contracts, which could be completed in 2 to 3 months with about $20,000 expenses. My buyer included a 2 year, 200 kilometre moratorium on my commencing a new business.

What are your future life and business plans now?  Don’t want to alter my lifestyle, got to hang on to that. I might go into the tools and equipment retail side of the business again. Just a mobile salesman in a van selling to tradies on site. Unfortunately for concreters their machines break or don’t have a machine they want. They look at a new tool/toy and want them ASAP. I can offer a quick supply and deliver service undercutting retail shop front businesses. I would do some small part-time work for cash. I still need to keep my mind active and body busy so I don’t get fat and lazy.