The company, which was estimated with revenue of $3 million, has used a deliberate strategy of employing mature aged workers to expand and now has a network of 250 employees around Australia. Williams, who featured on SmartCompany's Top Female Entrepreneurs list talks to us about riding Australia's property boom and the art of building a business model that can scale up and down.
Moving is the most annoying thing in the world. Is that where this opportunity came from, solving one of people's big problems?
Yes. I wasn't from this type of industry. When I came back from overseas I needed to get a job and the job that I was doing was working as a moving consultant for one of the large removal companies. I was finding that in those days the industry only offered packing and moving - basically they would pack everything up, they'd put it in the truck and then they would put all the boxes and the furniture in the house, but they would just leave it at that point. It was like taking a car to the motor mechanics and they pull it all apart and then they give it back to you in pieces. And so from there that's where it was about helping these people get their lives back together, because everyone's got so much stuff these days. Now the average house is over 100 cartons. It's massive and if they've got children, it's not unusual to have 200 cartons when you pop everything into boxes.
So you're working for the moving company, you see this opportunity. Did you have to make a decision whether you chased that opportunity through the company you were working for or went out on your own?
Prior to that I used to work for Bob Ansett and he was a very innovative person. Basically what happened is when I first started and within the first two jobs I booked, I went to the manager and said "the customers aren't happy. I phone them to see how the service was and they tell me that they are totally out of control because they're disorganised and they can't find anything."
So I actually went to that company and I suggested that we would need women to come in and unpack. They thought it was a really good idea but they weren't really interested in managing that part of the business and so that's when I said to them, "well look, I would feel really comfortable if I was able to offer that service to my clients, how would you feel if I organised people to do that?" And they were, luckily, happy for me to do that.
I guess that gave you a sort of source of leads as well?
Of course. That gave me two to three years to practice the business, to work out what clients needed, how many hours it would take, how many boxes we could unpack in that amount of time and it was fantastic actually. We were able to give impeccable service because I used to use my mother and my sisters to actually do the unpacks. And also I used to promise the clients everything because I thought that's what they wanted, which they did, but a lot of things are not really practical from different types of resources. Like hanging curtains and hanging paintings, those types of things you really need a handyman type person.
Because what we needed to do was to get a business model that would be consistent, that what you offered the clients you could actually do in Melbourne or Sydney or on a national basis.
So how did you expand, given that you had so much personal insight into the business?
For this type of business model you need to have a lot of customers, and all the big customers are all national companies. So basically what I had to do is have training processes, hiring procedures and systems for the way we would do things in-house. We set up all these different programs so that if you did it Melbourne, you could do it in Kalgoorlie or Darwin or Tasmania. We also set up a computer system, an online booking system and an online training system for all our staff. So everybody gets to see the same information, everybody goes online. For all the women that work for us, we of course hire mature aged ladies and 99% of them have computers, and they all go online and they bid for work. So they're able to see the job, they're able to see where it is, how many hours, what needs to be done on that job and they print it out and that's their working sheet.
So it's like a network of contractors?
Yes, but they are all PAYE, they're all hired, they're all trained, they're all managed by the Finishing Touch. Instead of going to an office and then going to the job, they all just go from home.
That's quite a unique business model.
It is. It's hard to find the right type of people but when you find the right type of people they stay. We've been going for 15 years, so we have 250 regular workers and more than half have been with us for more than five years. And I'd say probably up to 15% have been with us up to 10 years.
That's a very impressive turnover rate.
Yes, and I think it's because the type of work that we're doing, you get a lot of kudos for it, you know you're helping people so that the client is so happy that we've been able to help. Also the girls pick and choose what days they work, so it's not like a regular job where you work at say, Myer and you have to work every Thursday, Friday night and Saturday mornings. This is a job that every week you go online and say, I don't want to work Thursday this week or I'm going away for the weekend. So you can mark yourself in or you can mark yourself out. And if you want to take a holiday for six weeks you just mark yourself out. When you come back your job is still there.