Tony Pritchett, CEO of Plunkett Homes, talked to us about his company’s experience with COLORBOND® steel since the birth of the brand in 1966. Tony joined Plunkett Homes 30 years ago on arriving from the UK, and has been running the Plunkett Homes business for 16 years.
“Starting out with Plunkett Homes was pure chance and the luckiest break I’ve ever had”, he said, “apart from meeting my wife”.
How did the Plunkett family get into the building business?
Tom Plunkett (Snr) was a carpenter from NSW who came over to WA in 1903 to take on the ‘opportunities of the West’. He was an entrepreneurial man, creating one of the first fully integrated building companies in WA. Even in the early days they produced a lot of their own materials; they did cabinetry, there was a timber works, a brick factory and so on. Of course, back in those days they were using corrugated iron, not COLORBOND® steel; it wasn’t even invented!
What are some of the key milestones in Plunkett Homes’ history?
Tom Plunkett (Snr)’s entrepreneurial spirit has lived and breathed through the company as successive generations have run the business; first Charles and then Tom (Jnr). Under their stewardship, Plunkett Homes was one of the first building companies to use concrete slabs, one of the first to put in gas appliances and, of course, one of the first to trial steel roofs.
Plunkett Homes has also remained very active in the community and our taking on the role as principal sponsor and underwriter of the Variety Club Housing Lottery was a big milestone for us, in addition to our work with numerous football clubs and charitable organisations across the State.
Being in the building business for such a long time, we’ve also enjoyed some very long term relationships with particular families. Several years ago we completed the thirteenth Plunkett Homes home for a family in the Bunbury area; building for three different generations of the one family! That’s quite a milestone – for us and for them!
How did you celebrate your 100th Anniversary back in 2003?
We had a cocktail party in the Plunkett House; the place that Tom built in 1903 is still looking beautiful.
Is there anything particularly different and or challenging about building homes in WA?
One of the hardest things about building in WA is the geographic spread; we build from Kalbarri down to Albany! We’ve got more Display Villages than anywhere else in Australia and it’s a real challenge to service people who are so widely spread. That said, on the plus side, we generally build on sand, which is a lot easier than on clay or rock, like you find in the other states. And of course, we typically build in double brick, which is a lot more labour intensive, and means we often work with large and complex roof structures. This is where COLORBOND® steel comes in, as it lends itself to this kind of roofing: It’s lightweight and therefore easy to transport and install.
What do you think has been the most significant trend in new homes’ design and construction in recent years?
Lots are getting smaller and smaller; the average is now under 400sqm, which creates challenges not just with the design, but also the building process itself. It can be a real challenge to get light and heat into the home. Also we’re finding people much more attuned to home fashion and design than they used to be. For example, they’re now looking for multiple, tactile finishes around the home – particularly to give interest to elevations.
What do you think will be coming next?
Housing has become like fashion in general – having one big trend is hard to pick because there are so many niches. That said, I’ve no doubt that we’ll continue to see increase in the size of kitchens and living areas. A scullery is normal. An outdoor kitchen is normal. As are kitchen upgrades – with ever higher quality fit-outs.
What three pieces of advice would you give to someone building a new home for the first time?
- Make sure you’ve done the homework…and then do it again on what you can borrow; making mistakes with finance and repayments is a real trip-up point. Make really sure that you can handle the weekly payments.
- Think carefully about the balance of fitout and home size; don’t spend too much inside – especially on electrical fixtures and fittings. (We sometimes get people who want to spend more on electrical items, but it doesn’t add value to house.)
- Be aware of getting good quality fixtures and fittings and make sure the prices you’re paying are good value.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about having a career in the New Homes building industry?
Have a go! It’s a dynamic industry, combining fashion and technical expertise; it is super customer-focused (it’s the biggest thing people buy); and it’s always subject to changing regulations. So, it’s always moving….and it doesn’t suffer fools gladly. If you’re nimble, can think on your feet – it’s a great industry and one in which you are never going to get bored!
What do you look for in contractors to, and employees of, Plunkett Homes?
Above all they have got to understand the customer – and that everything impacts the customer; how they dress, how they talk etc. They have to understand how the customer is feeling. Understanding deadlines and the effect of deadlines on the customer is really important, and our industry is poor at this. It’s a huge challenge because there is always lots of variation because this is a hand-built product, but we have to do it well because it has such a significant impact on our customers’ lives.
Plunkett Homes uses a lot of COLORBOND® steel – why is this?
In addition to it being light and strong, so easy to work with as I said earlier, one of the other things COLORBOND® steel has done really well is the colours. Aesthetically, they’ve done a lot of hard work over the years on the colour ranges and they do seem to hit the target when it comes to what people want. Also, we experience extremes of weather here in WA such as intense heat, heavy rain and high winds, and COLORBOND® steel can be a great asset for a home in these types of conditions.
On a personal level, I can remember when I came to Perth in ‘85, ZINCALUME® steel roofs were a real trend – for country-look homes and in old parts of Perth. And then in the early 90s, COLORBOND® steel had a real push with colours that other roofing products couldn’t get close to and all of a sudden COLORBOND® steel took off. It went from 5% to 50% of our roofs and is now probably two thirds of all the roofs we do.
As a result, Plunkett Homes is totally set up for working with COLORBOND® steel now – we install it ourselves and there are no contractors. It’s really reliable and we get very little in the way of call back issues. Just what you need as a builder and a homeowner!
Thanks again, Tony, for taking time to talk to us. And congratulations to Plunkett Homes on 113 years in the business!
Image of original Plunkett home on 'cover' supplied by State Heritge Office, WA
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