Prime Pumps is a key supplier for the commercial, fire protection, industrial and civil mining sectors. The company, which is Australian owned and operated – and proud of that fact – can design, build, deliver, install and commission anywhere across Australia. Their sales and service personnel are based in New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia. They can provide customers with quality support and information throughout the many phases of procuring a pumpset – from the selection, design and manufacture all the way to the installation and ongoing maintenance.
Prime Pumps’ history of professional and timely service began in 1985, when the company was founded by Bill Lee. At the time, Lee was in the fire brigade, and was also a mechanic. “When he was going to fire callouts, he was finding a lot of poorly or not-at-all-maintained fire pumps,” recounts Bill Davis, National Sales Manager for Prime Pumps. “He realized there was an opportunity there.”
Since Lee was in the fire brigade, he only did shift work, usually four days a week. In his free time, he set up a business to maintain and repair fire pumps on the side. Prime Pumps evolved from there.
Davis himself got involved in the business 13 years ago. He says he was attracted to it because it was a smaller company, and because they were specialists. “We’re a company that specializes in the area that we deal in – building services pumps,” he says. “Most of the other pump companies are companies that do that ‘also’. They do industrial or mining or something else primarily. With us, there’s a lot more focus.”
It is that focus that sets Prime Pumps apart in the marketplace. “It’s a focus on the building industry – fire protection and plumbing pumps in buildings,” Davis explains.
Prime Pumps is also differentiated by being Australian-owned and operated, and by sticking faithfully to their codes. Both Davis and Lee sit on the Australian Standards Committee for Fire Pumps. “We really do work with them,” Davis says. “We both follow and drive the codes.”
Service and repair is an important function of Prime Pumps. Davis estimates that today, it accounts for 20 per cent of their business – with sales accounting for the other 80. “It’s an important part for us. It allows an ongoing relationship to the customers after we’ve sold to them,” he says. “Having a service department helps the sales department react to warranties or site issues. It also keeps us in the face of the customers.”
Prime Pumps employs approximately 45 people between their divisions, and Davis says the corporate culture is very strong. “You get the feeling that people actually care about what they’re doing, and you can actually make a difference,” he says. Issues may arise, but they have an enterprise bargain agreement done in consultation with the employees, and they also maintain close contact with them. “We do have meetings all the time, and employer meetings to keep everyone up to date with what’s going on.”
“We want to do not just the right thing for Prime Pumps, but also for the buildings,” he adds. “We have a service department and we want to look after the equipment after it’s sold and run out of its warranty period. We don’t want to see poor quality equipment in the field with Prime Pumps on it. If something fails, it looks poorly on the company that’s supplied it as well as the company that’s there to repair it and we like to be both. So there’s a culture of getting the job done right.”
When hiring, Davis says they look for people who will fit that culture, which means people with a broad knowledge. “There are a lot of people in the pump industry that we wouldn’t employ,” he says. “They have very specific knowledge of particular pumps, but not necessarily controls or how the actual systems go together. When we’re looking for someone in the workshop or even in the office, we actually look for people who like playing with their cars, and do handymen stuff at home. We’re looking for grassroots people who actually understand how things work.”
The main challenge posed to Prime Pumps currently is non-compliant pumps, and pumps that aren’t up to par with Australian standards and specifications. “It’s a mixture of each,” Davis says. When competitors offer equipment that is of a lower quality, they can often outprice Prime Pumps superior quality equipment. That challenge, however, is also how Prime Pumps stands apart.
“We differentiate ourselves from our competitors by using higher quality equipment,” Davis explains. Whereas a lot of their competitors use cheap, easily available material that has a service life of five to seven years, Prime Pumps equipment has a service life of 15 to 20 years. Quite often, they offer that product for very little increase in pricing. It is an increase, however, and getting the message out that their product is superior requires some effort – especially since they are usually not selling to the end-user.
“Our big challenge is to sell to customers who are often selling to another customer who are selling to another customer who are selling to somebody else who actually finally uses it,” Davis says. “If you’re selling to the end user, who takes ownership, they can see the value in having high quality equipment.” Companies who are selling to a builder or a developer, who are themselves selling to a building occupant – they may not take as long a view.
Prime Pumps has been successful despite those challenges, however. Less than a year ago they moved into Western Australia, where business has been flourishing due to work generated by the mines. “That’s really taking off for us,” Davis says. “Our next challenge is to increase sales over there.” In six months, they have gone from zero to three service employees in the region, and are aiming to further expand that number moving forward.
As far as a long term vision goes, Davis says the goal is to be a major national player in Australia. “We’re currently a very major player in New South Wales,” he says. “We’re getting there in Queensland, we’re a reasonable sized player there. We’re very small in WA, but getting bigger, and we’d like to continue the expansion into other states.”