Behind the Brand - Miles Construction

Introducing Alastair Miles, Miles Construction

Alistair MilesTell us about your company, Miles Construction.

I have been in the construction industry since leaving school and over that time have gained a wealth of experience. I worked my way to becoming a partner in a Chartered Surveyor practice firm in London after living there for eight years, before deciding to take my young family back to New Zealand. It was not long after that I decided to form Miles Construction. I started off on my own and the business grew from there. Ten years on and we now have staff in excess of 40 with similar numbers employed through agencies or contract builders.

What's the secret of taking a great idea and turning it into a sustainable business?

I think the hardest thing about starting a business is havingthe confidence to make the jump, but once you overcome that you can really do anything. I have never thought of myself as a salesperson – I still don’t – and I don’t look at my job as “selling” a service, I just help people to deliver their projects by giving them good, honest advice. You really need your clients to trust you, and I look at each job from the client’s perspective. I’m a big believer in making sure that you provide the client with added value. Any company can build a building, so you need to stand out. Trust and integrity are important and the client needs to know that you have a good understanding of what it is they are looking for. You should be prepared to go above and beyond.

What were some of the early challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

When I first started Miles Construction I was in partnership with a developer and while that was beneficial early on, in terms of regular work, it became a liability when the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) hit. The developer was negatively affected and as a result, owed us money which was a tricky obstacle to overcome that early on. We were lucky during the GFC because we were consistently busy. I think it’s because when we first set up the business we didn’t pigeon hole ourselves in one area of construction - we did commercial, hospitality and residential (from small to executive homes), multi-units, renovations, office fit-outs and dairy sheds - you name it we did it. We had the opportunity to specialise and we didn't, whihc was probably one of the reasons we are successful today. We are also adaptable and able to take on many challenging projects.

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What is the key to the success of Miles Construction?

At Miles Construction we really do value our relationships with our clients – it always comes back to that – and we work hard to ensure every project is successful. You also need to have an understanding of not only what your client wants but also what they need and their drivers. We are very open with our clients and happy to be transparent about everything from costings to the build period. You have also got to enjoy your work too. Construction for me is a very rewarding, there is a lot of satisfaction in standing back and looking at a building you have just finished or walking past it five or 10 years down the track, knowing that you made it happen.

How has the business changed since it was established in 2006? How have you responded to local and global trends within your industry?

Our philosophy has always remained the same, since day one – we want to provide our clients with a service that is second to none. Over the last 10 years we have managed to grow our client base and on the back of that, we have increased our turnover. We tend to hold onto clients and that’s our number one goal. Our focus is very much about getting 100% positive feedback from each job. During the earthquake construction boom we focused on quality not quantity, it was very tempting to take on as much work as possible but turnover is not the key to business success. Our focus was to consistently deliver quality projects and build key clients. We would rather do fewer jobs really well and build a solid reputation than try and do everything and fail. This philosophy, together with our expertise in tackling most forms of construction, ensures construction cycles have less of an impact.

How has the rebuild affected or impacted your business?

The rebuild has enabled us to grow directly and indirectly following the events of February 2011. We are process focused so we developed processes and systems in order to manage our workload. We also have a renewed focus on keeping key personnel – like most companies we experienced people moving on. You had to be careful who you employed as there was a lot of inexperienced people in the market. Our commercial side has definitely strengthened through the rebuild and now we are seen as one of the main commercial builders. This has created a challenge for us of letting people know that we also have a lot of residential experience. We actually do more residential projects than commercial.

Miles construction2You have been an integral part in the establishment of The Chamber's new premises - how did that relationship come about?

Our approach – as with many of our clients – was to take control of the design and ensure that the Chamber had a building that would match their budget through cost planning at the early stage and as the design developed. They really were great people to work for. Many of the decisions were made by the Chamber team so we had to make sure we gave everyone ample time to make decisions and we also provided advice and costs options to ensure the final design met their needs and budget. We’re really happy with how the building turned out – it’s very cool.

What is your vision for the future of Miles Construction?

We want to be the most professional, mid-sized construction company in New Zealand. We want to be seen as professional in everything that we do and we want to ensure every client has a positive experience. Our goal is to maintain our current turnover, so, while we are a Christchurch-based company we plan to continue working on projects throughout New Zealand - some of which have even taken us as far away as the Chatham Islands - and eventually we will expand further and set up in Auckland.

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs looking to develop and launch a new business?

In business you are always learning – particularly in construction, i.e. new tips and tricks, new materials – you name it. I think the most important thing though, is to be realistic about your company’s potential and look to grow the company organically rather than through rapid expansion without the correct structures and processes in place. You also need to have a point of difference, something that separates you from your competition so your clients have no reason to look elsewhere, and every reason to work with you. If you can't add value to the relationship then you don't give them any reason to stay, or to come back to you. Give them more than what the competition offers and be adaptable. 

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