The future is never easy to predict, especially after the tumultuous year that was 2020. The construction and trade industries experienced enormous disruptions and changes last year, so what’s on the horizon for the new year and how can businesses look to get ahead? We sat down with our GM of Sales & Marketing, Gary Richardson to chat about the top trends and changes to prepare for in 2021.
The impacts of the global Covid-19 pandemic continue to stay top of mind as we look to 2021. “There is definitely still a strong awareness of covid within the construction industry and the disruption that it could cause if community transmission was to occur in NZ.”
Adhering to site safety protocols and tracking movements using the Covid-19 app may at times impact on productivity, but Gary strongly believes businesses need to keep the big picture in mind and consider how much worse the impacts of another lockdown would be.
Forward planning is what will keep business moving, according to Gary.
“Business in construction should be thinking about how their days and weeks go from start to finish, not just on-site. How do your guys get to work? If they ride-share with their workmates, what would that mean if alert levels changed and social distancing rules were enforced? Do you need to look at split shifts? How will you handle deliveries to site? Do your suppliers have systems ready to go?” Thinking about how your business will react to changes in alert levels and follow government guidelines will be key to minimising project delays and keeping your crews safe.
Getting businesses online was an important pivot for many in 2020 and is set to be even more essential to accommodate customers online in 2021.
Gary speaks from experience when he says “The onset of covid forced us to accelerate a few parts of our own digital roadmap, and taught us a few lessons. When you need to, you can turn things around really quickly. Like all businesses, we are challenged by change, especially when you have been around for over 65 years like Hirepool. We were transitioning to a digital hire experience - moving from paper-based transactions and then to blue-screen desktops, and now to cloud-based tablets and full online. Some of our, shall we say ‘more experienced’ employees were holding back, but once covid-19 protocols forced us all to go contactless and digital, they saw the benefits of the new processes.” He’s quick to acknowledge that in some ways, the pandemic helped Hirepool to accelerate our transition away from the old.
It’s no secret that for businesses of all sizes, being visible and accessible to customers online should be a key priority for 2021 and beyond.
Aligning your online presence to the needs of your customers is a must. For Hirepool, a key business focus has been to not only improve the website and online booking experience for customers but to also ensure that customers can easily find Hirepool and the gear they need.
Gary is quick to recognise that to see measurable results you may need to look to the experts. “It is not an easy or overnight fix - we had a couple of false starts before we found the right online expertise and partners to help us, and have got good processes, monthly check-ins, planning meetings and an overall strategy which keeps us on track, and have been working away for a couple of years. Because of that, we’ve achieved some phenomenal results like a whopping 74% increase in search traffic year on year and a 31% lift in all website traffic which clearly translates to the bottom line. It’s like a snowball, and we are starting to get some real momentum up now.
Getting your business online in some form is important no matter what size or scale of your business. Gary believes that even if you are just a small sole trader - you should think about your online presence. “There are so many tools and resources around now to help you get established, there are no excuses for not having a basic website and some social media presence at a minimum.”
With consumer trends changing and more and more customers discovering, researching and purchasing online than ever before, failing to get online could cost your business. Gary goes so far as to say “if potential customers cannot find a half-decent online presence for you, they may not even bother to call.”
One trend that isn’t new (who else remembers Buy NZ Made campaigns of old?) but is regaining impetus is support for local businesses and organisations over large international conglomerates. While the root motivation for ‘supporting local ’ may have started as economical, Gary notes that it continues to be important both socially and environmentally in 2021.
“At Hirepool we’re seeing clients start to include requirements for local businesses to be part of their build teams as ‘subbies’, which is great. What we really need is a balance though - don’t forget that a large company still employs a lot of locals!”
“We still see ourselves as a local business at Hirepool - we’ve been around 65 years, and we recognise that our local branch teams are part of the local communities. You’ll see that as well as supporting a couple of large national charities, we help out a lot locally, from school galas to local beach cleans.”
With much of the trade and construction industries operating on recommendations and word of mouth, there’s never been a better time to work on your visibility within your local community. Not only is it be a great way to market yourself and your business, but it builds connections you may need to call on when the going gets tough.
Technology has come a long way in the past few years and continues to change the landscape of many industries including construction and trade.
Gary reckons it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on emerging technologies for all businesses. “If you don’t know a bit about virtual reality, augmented reality, AI and especially BIM (building information modelling) then it pays to do some research.”
While it’s tempting to be an early adopter of the latest innovations, Gary notes it’s important to pick your time to invest. “If you get in too early, you might end up locked into the wrong platform (remember VHS vs BETA anyone?) which has long term implications.” He recommends talking to your clients and business partners to learn what their tech roadmaps look like and what they may be investing in.
He also recommends staying connected through industry associations, as they are a good source of info on what tech is gaining a foothold. NZIOB for construction and CCNZ for infrastructure are good places to start.
With the Tertiary Education Commission introducing the Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund to support the next generation of learners in a range of training and apprenticeship programmes, the construction industry can look forward to fresh talent entering the sector.
Gary believes that there will be a shortage of good staff, so apprenticeships are a good place to start growing your own people. He encourages businesses who are able to take on and invest in training apprentices. “Some people worry that they will invest in training and then these people will leave, but what if you don’t invest in training and then they stay? You’ll end up with same old, same old.”
Low-interest rates and extra cash in hand for kiwis who couldn’t travel, paired with skilled and available tradies saw a boom in home improvement spending in 2020, and look set to continue for 2021.
Gary sees this ‘Reno boom’ carrying on for at least another twelve months, adding that “The government has been making changes to make it easier to get small building work done, so really there has never been a better time to get into home improvement”.
In this instance, it is an excellent time to be operating in the residential space. With news reports of tradies in short supply due to increased demand, it’s never been more critical to make sure your jobs are quoted correctly and quickly to take advantage of this boom.
Gary notes that “while there is plenty of work that people can DIY, there is always a need for specialist trade work that is restricted, and also, a lot of kiwis will be busy rebuilding their own businesses after covid, so will want tradies to do the work for them”.
Getting professional-grade gear you need to complete your projects in time and on budget will be important - we can help with that. Learn more about how to grow your business with hire gear and check out our Tradie Hub to hear from our customers who benefit from a trade partnership with Hirepool.
Looking ahead to new build projects, Gary reckons there are mixed reports on residential build volumes, but with so many kiwis returning home, thinks it will stay reasonably strong for a while longer yet.
In these rapidly changing times, it will be businesses that can plan ahead and adjust to changes quickly that will stand to win in 2021. Hirepool is proud to have worked with tradies and industry leaders for over 60 years and are here to help your business succeed this year and beyond.
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