Good people, good processes, good planning
Paramount Airconditioning is an old company forging a new reputation. They have over 40 years of experience across Melbourne, and specialise in industrial and commercial air-conditioning installation, service and maintenance. Over the years, they have amassed a diverse profile which includes projects in retail centres, printing facilities, commercial and industrial office developments, multi-storey apartments, distribution centres, and specialised manufacturing plants. Despite the fact that they are an established and experienced company, they are not content to rest on their laurels. “We are always seeking to improve, challenge ourselves, and introduce new technology into the running of our projects,” says Dominik Ashe, the company’s Managing Director.
“We have good systems and processes in place, and great project managers,” Ashe says. “We go about things differently. Our job organisation and project planning – it’s unique. We’ve been here a long time, and I think that’s pretty rewarding in itself. The company’s been around for over 40 years and we’re in a stronger position now than we’ve ever been before, and we’re three times bigger than we ever were before, and we’re still going forward. We are combining our history in the industry with our modern enthusiasm to set us apart from our competitors to enable us be successful.”
The story of Paramount Airconditioning began in the 1960s, when the company had offices in Melbourne and Canberra and sold home heating to the residential market. From there, they moved to their current offices to Mulgrave, Victoria, where they started focusing on the commercial side of heating and air conditioning in 1977. Their first projects were small scale commercial ones, and they have grown on the back of those to where they are today.
Paramount was founded by Ashe’s step-father, and Ashe himself began his career at the company as a plumbing apprentice in 1989. After completing that apprenticeship, Ashe left to do some overseas travelling, before ultimately coming back and working in Paramount’s office, doing project management. At the turn of the millennium, there was a shift in management and Ashe took the business on himself. The following 10 years presented a bit of a learning curve, with Ashe focusing on achieving slow but solid growth. To do that, Ashe and Paramount Airconditioning spent the last decade concentrating on refining their procedures and processes, employing the right staff and skill bases, and in general building a solid foundation.
“Some of our competitors come through and all of a sudden go from nothing to wham-bam huge, and then to nothing again,” Ashe says. “But we’ve been here a long time and we are very proud of this. We’re one of the longer serving companies, and we’re just growing from strength to strength. Our turnover was around five million in 2000 when the company changed management, and this year we’re looking at probably turning over 20 million. We’ve accomplished this slowly over time, and we have set ourselves up so we can handle that sort of turnover quite easily now. We enjoy looking further and further ahead and keep growing because of it.”
Secrets to success
Paramount Airconditioning currently directly employs approximately 55 people across the board, and Ashe credits their contributions to the organisation’s ongoing success. “It comes down to your personnel, and I have got really good people with me,” he says. “This company’s not just driven by myself. I’ve got excellent support staff around me who are independent, they know what they’ve got to do, I can rely on them, and I can trust them. At the end of the day, this business cannot be set up and rely solely and wholly on me. There are a lot of people who rely on its success, and that’s why I’ve got great staff. We put a lot of responsibility and a lot of onus on them, and they are fully prepared to take it and run with it. So that’s where the success comes from.”
Ashe also credits the company’s success to their courage and commitment. “We stick by our product and we never walk away from anything. We’re there with our client all the way through, right to the end, including afterwards. Our clients know they can rely on us, and they trust us, and if we need to be there seven days a week, 24 hours a day to get the project done for them, then that’s what we will do – that’s sort of the attitude that we have, and they know that. We like to get that preferred contractor status, and we like to think we’re able to do that because of who we are, what we stand for, how we go about the job, and our quality.”
Yet another secret ingredient to Paramount’s success is planning ahead. “We heavily pre-plan, and that’s also where our success comes from,” Ashe says. “It’s the planning, the effort we put in upfront before the job starts. All our guys here do a lot of pre-planning on a project, on how we can pre-manufacture things off-site, pre-fabricate things, pre-order, et cetera, in order to iron out the problems. Everything gets sorted well before it’s started. That’s why our clients keep coming back, because they know the effort we put in. We spend a lot of money and a lot of time upfront, and we save a hell of a lot more at the back end because we don’t have those problems that come with poor planning.”
A preferred contractor
Paramount Airconditioning receives a large amount of repeat work, which is fantastic validation of their approach to customer service. “We have a lot of repeat customers,” Ashe says. “We have a lot of new ones too, but it’s always hard to get the first contract and get that first job. Once you get that first job, you must make it a good job, and show what we’ve got, then they come back for more. That’s the idea.”
Clients keep coming back not only because Paramount does a good job, but because of another key factor the company excels in: communication. “There’s an open line of communication between us and our clients as well all of us internally,” Ashe explains. “We have a great relationship between our office staff and our site staff. And the fact is I’m the Managing Director, but I’m on the front line. I help look after jobs, I talk to the plumbers, I order equipment, and I’m involved. The builders know if they can’t get any of my project managers, they can ring me. I’ll know about the job, because I do – I know about all the jobs. I like to be involved, and I think that goes a long way.”
Being a preferred contractor in Paramount’s industry is a very difficult task, because the competition is intense. “Your client has two contractors in mind, and he’s got your price, and he’s got the other guy’s price, and you’re both the same. You have to make him pick you every time,” Ashe explains. So how does a company accomplish that? In Paramount’s case, they do it by excelling in communication, helpfulness and pre-planning. “It’s just finding that little niche to keep successfully picking up the jobs. Every day is a challenge.”
Winning the race, slowly but steadily
The growth Paramount has experienced so far has been very deliberate, Ashe explains. “We’ve kept ourselves at a certain size, because by targeting a small number of jobs, with larger contract values, we can plan better and more productively.” This does not mean they have hit their growth cap, however. “Every year something different pops up. Every year a job comes along that we haven’t done before, and we seem to take up and smash it,” he says. “We keep setting the bar higher every year. I think we’re getting close to where we want to get to, but that’s dictated by the industry. Short term, we don’t have a ceiling; we just take it as it is. But we’re maintaining the same philosophy – building a strong foundation slowly and surely, and having good capital behind us. We’ll survive any storm because we set it up that way, and I think that’s the smart way to go.”
Above all, Ashe says he does not want to get to a point where Paramount is too big to be impressive, or has to take a step off the tremendously solid ground they currently enjoy. “You have to forge a name for yourself, and you have to show that you have the skills to do different things. You need people to talk about you, and people to say ‘These guys are great, and they came and they put in the effort, and the energy was good.’ That’s how you have to be,” he says. “We don’t want to be too big. I don’t want to hire and fire and need 100 people this month and get rid of 80 people that month, like the bigger companies.”
Maintaining a steady workforce is important to Ashe. This was evidenced during the GFC, when the business was tight, but Paramount managed to hold on to their personnel with initiatives like rotating annual leave, getting plumbers to work with their service department cleaning filters, and finding various jobs for their apprentices. “At the end of September last year we just finished renovating our offices for the first time since we built it, the place is magnificent,” Ashe says. “So we had our apprentices doing demolition work here. We looked after them.”
Looking forward, Ashe says he plans on sticking with the strategy that has successfully carried Paramount this far. “We just like to target great jobs,” he summarises. “Our guys love the jobs that we target – they are less competitive, and can be highly rewarding financially and rewarding skill-wise as well.” Because they only target a few substantial, high value jobs, they only need to win a few to stay on their feet. “I might not win another big one for months, but one will keep us going for that time, and in the meantime we work hard to pick up another good one,” Ashe explains. “We don’t price everything and anything under the sun. We try to target the ones that are a bit more unique.” Currently, they are working on a large Data Centre in Melbourne for a listed technology company, a 27- storey apartment tower next to Etihad Stadium in Melbourne and a distribution centre in Tasmania for a major retailer.. By earning more jobs like that, and sticking to their proven philosophy, Paramount will continue to enjoy success well into the next 40 years.