A small company that focuses on the big parts of the job
Bowhill Engineering began as a modest farm equipment repair shop in the early 1970s, says Managing Director, Jeremy Hawkes. Still located in South Australia, just outside of the small town of Bowhill, the company still has the original building where that work was done on the property. The company was started by Brendon and Averil Hawkes, who themselves were farmers. The Hawkes had seen that the area was underserved for mechanical repairs and thought that they could fill that need. Since then they have developed the business and added capabilities, and passed it down to the next generation.
Jeremy Hawkes says that the real selling point for them is often having people come out to their facilities, this way they can see that Bowhill Engineering is a substantial business with real heft. “We are a family company, with a good brand and a great care factor; all of those things contribute to interest in us. People pick up their ears after hearing about us a few times,” says Hawkes. “Many people come out here and they think we are going to have a dirt floor or a dodgy old tin shed. We are able to turn that into making them impressed when they come out here and see our highly professional facilities,” he says. They have almost 30 employees that work directly for the company, and rely on subcontractors or third parties to provide specialised processing or associated services; preferring to keep as much of the critical fabrication and coating work in house in order to guarantee Bowhill’s reputation for quality.
Looking at the big stuff
Their main focus now is heavy and complex structural engineering, plate work, and steel fabrication. They provide these services to the mining, water, and commercial industries. “Our core focus is on larger components and complex fabrications,” says Hawkes. “We are not a big company, and we don’t go chasing big projects – but we are positioning ourselves to be the experts on larger components. We have the facilities, the abilities, and the core focus,” he says. With great lifting capacity, large facilities, and the ability to handle large components, Hawkes says Bowhill Engineering is filling a niche, a requirement that many are overlooking.
The approach they have taken puts them in a unique position to take advantage of projects that others might not be able to handle. “That’s our strategic approach, the specialisation in larger components and the work it involves – that is our uniqueness. We are not a general fabricator, we won’t do just anything, so we focus on that niche in the market,” he says.
A family business with real dedication and values
“I grew up around engineering and farming, and did my apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic. I came straight out of school into the family business, and that was 21 years ago,” says Hawkes. Now he is one of the four family directors of the company, which are made up of his wife Jodie, his mother and father. “I think this actually makes us a very strong board, which I think is a little bit unique for a family business,” laughs Hawkes. “We have been through the highs and the low, and we gel well together.” When he talks about the lows, he does not just mean the low points in the financial situation of the company, but the difficult times a family has to go through together. “I did have a brother who was in the business as well; he was the inspiration for much of the growth and change that is our current direction with the company. Unfortunately he was killed in a vehicle accident,” says Hawkes, with obvious pain. “He was my best mate, my business partner, and he was my brother.” He says that while he was grieving he had to step up and take a more active role in the business. They commemorated his life in a number of ways, and Hawkes said they tried to express their feelings for Simon and his contributions. “He was a pioneer for this company, so it was very hard,” he says.
A market in flux
“It’s been tough times, there have been dramatic fluctuations in the market,” Hawkes says that it has been increasingly hard to predict where the work will be coming from and how much there will be. “It is a ‘two speed economy’,” he says. The times have not been completely without out their upside, in the last few years Bowhill Engineering has garnered more than a fair share of awards. “We have been working hard at building, promoting and establishing our name,” says Hawkes. “You have to be willing to spend the time, and getting the right people on board in order to put the company forward,” he says. He says that the success they have had as a regionally based company is a true testament to their abilities.
Going forward and staying competitive
Staying at the cutting edge of the industry is one of the things that Hawkes wants for Bowhill. “I think that we can be competitive in this market if we stay smart, taking advantage of some of the great technological advances that are out there,” says Hawkes. “There is some great work being done out there in drafting software, which is synchronised to the NC processing equipment. You can get some great efficiencies this way and it is where we are going.” Looking at the companies capabilities and their output, Hawkes says that by going through the process of examining their Quality Assurance and environmental requirements that the company must meet, actually helps the company develop systems that will add to Bowhill’s overall abilities. “Naturally we want to improve in those areas, and we are doing it. Our new blasting and facility is just such an example,” he says. Here all the dust and by-products of the process are collected and filtered, and reduced from the outset. This means that they can do more with less, as well as reducing their impact on health, safety and the environment. They have also utilised a three-phase air compressor, which provides for fuel savings by avoiding the use of a diesel driven one. Bowhill also makes sure that each new welder that it purchases is a more efficient invertor welder which uses less power than the older transformer ones.
“It is not an easy market to be in, but it’s very rewarding,” Hawkes says. “As I said we have a very strong brand,” he says. Bowhill Engineering’s brand will be around for a while; it has earned its reputation through hard work, personal investment in every project, and the strength of dedicated family behind it.