Construction cost consultants Kwanto didn’t cool their jets during the recession – and now they’re ramping up to take advantage of new opportunities. By implementing a robust business strategy, Bellingham Wallace helped New Zealand business Kwanto mark out its growth trajectory and provided the thrust to propel them along.
That addition to your house ended up costing you double? It’s not surprising, really. Building project budgets have a tendency to spiral out of control, especially when you keep making little changes.
This is where a good quantity surveyor can make a huge difference, says James White, who set up New Zealand business Kwanto in 2006 to raise the profile of the profession and put the spotlight on the vital role quantity surveyors play in building projects. Ironically, this means throwing out the ‘quantity surveyor’ label.
“The term ‘construction cost consultants’ more clearly describes what we do,” says White. “We don’t just count nails. Everything that happens on a construction site is cost-related.
“At Kwanto we think beyond the dots and digits to build strong relationships with the construction team, often acting as the agent between the client, the architect and the builder. We constantly look for ways to add value to the project team, by keeping things transparent and ensuring the clients’ resources are used to their best advantage. The profession has been muted for far too long. If we don’t blow our own trumpet, we risk being forgotten and we have a lot to add.”
White works closely with the New Zealand Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NZIQS), pioneering its rebranding to help raise the profession’s profile. Kwanto was launched, with no clients and a 65m² office, when he moved from Wellington to Auckland. Now the company has 12 staff and offices in Auckland, Tauranga and Wellington. It was scary initially, but a big project early on got him going and it’s grown from there.
“We’re all about combining innovation with the traditional face-to-face, relationship-building way of doing business. When you set out with those values, you soon get recognised as something different and you become busy. As we grow, it’s important that we retain that boutique, client-focused flavour.”
Another unique selling point for Kwanto is the type of jobs it specialises in. While other companies target the more lucrative commercial construction projects, Kwanto has focused on residential projects, remedial work and dispute resolution. Leaky building issues and events such as the Canterbury quakes have provided steady work in these niche areas.
“We’ve done around 4,500 remedial estimates over the past five years. We’ll soon be doing a large amount of remedial work in Christchurch and helping with the city’s rebuild.”
That said, much of Kwanto’s work is high-end residential new builds and renovations, where achieving time, quality and budget expectations is crucial and comes down to careful project management and transparency.
Specialising in the tricky areas of leaking building projects and dispute resolution has helped Kwanto through the recession. A large amount of White’s work involves giving expert evidence in New Zealand construction dispute cases.
“That type of work has been fairly constant, but when things started to cool off we didn’t sit back and mull over what could’ve been; we started to invest in the future, continued to grow the team and ramped up our marketing. When the industry comes out of recession, we want to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities that are waiting.”
It’s a business strategy accounting firm Bellingham Wallace strongly advocates. Around 18 months ago, the two companies began working together. White says Bellingham Wallace is an innovative company taking a fresh approach, similar to theirs.
“They’re looking at accounting from a business opportunity perspective. That’s where we get the most bang for our buck and derive the most benefit from working with senior business improvement manager Mike Atkinson.”
Atkinson has a lot of admiration for White and the company he and his wife, Maria, have created. “Kwanto has a great team of professionals who focus on developing great relationships. They have an edgy approach and are always looking for new opportunities – whether that’s growth or new markets.”
Bellingham Wallace began with a strategic planning session with Kwanto, which Atkinson likens to doing a jigsaw puzzle: get the frame in place so you have your sights set on what you need to do to complete the picture. It’s also helped Kwanto improve its taxation planning, develop a tactical marketing plan and reduce the business’s exposure to any financial risk. To propel Kwanto along its growth trajectory, Bellingham Wallace has also prepared cash flow forecasts, optimised the company structure and introduced KPI reporting to keep it on track.
Introducing a governance framework to the business, and regular development meetings, helps to monitor performance and keep them accountable and focused on the plan, says Atkinson. White values the meetings, which offer the chance to learn from the past and prepare for the future. Their conversations have been a valuable sounding board, and reassurance that he’s taking Kwanto in the right direction.