James Campbell, the owner of Southern Cross Fencing and Gates in Sydney, talks with The Fence magazine about his contractor business.
How did you get into the fencing industry?
I had a friend who was doing fencing part time. I was a carpenter by trade I wasn’t working in the industry; I was actually a police officer. I started putting fences up on my days off, and then it took over full time because it got too busy.
I started fencing in 1981 and went full time in ’83. I was in the police force for about 8 years. I found I was making a week’s pay in a day putting up a fence! So economically I had to go with the fencing.
What is most rewarding about your job; what makes it all worthwhile?
The flexible hours are good. I love that. It has enabled me to have free time while my children were growing up so that I have not missed any school activities, be it a violin performance or an interstate cricket game.
I have managed to get to everything they have ever done. That is probably the most rewarding thing.
What is the most interesting fencing job you have worked on?
I once did a fence for Australian Geographic’s Dick Smith.
That was about 500 metres of Colorbond fence around his property which also had to have a 300-400 mm deep trench with cement sheeting, placed in the trench, and back filled so that foxes could not dig their way in.
Inside he had a lot of little animals, ducks and native animals. This was the office of Australian Geographic – it was like a miniature farm in the bush of Terry Hills. The job took at least 3 weeks.
What is the one tool or product that you couldn’t do without in your work?
Battery powered tools – really they are so much easier than dragging leads and power tools around a fencing job. I couldn’t do without battery powered tools now.
What challenges do you face being a fencing contractor? How do you deal with those challenges?
You always like to find something you can do better and to make the job easier.
The problem with working on my own, I am not learning the skill sets of other contractors who could show you how to do something differently and quicker. You do the same thing in the same way.
Over the years I have probably tweaked it to the Nth degree. I don’t think I can do it any quicker than I am currently doing.
Keeping up with the paperwork is the biggest challenge. Paperwork is the worst of it in all its forms, where you’re dealing with government departments or licensing departments, car rego/insurance, paper work that has to be continually done and BAS statement and the like.
There is also invoicing which once you finish work, you get home, you’ve still got to make sure your paperwork is done.
You might have done a quote on the way home, so you have to write up the quote and send it or write up an invoice for the job just finished. There is always plenty of paperwork to do.
You might work on the tools from 7am till 3pm, there is usually a couple of hours paperwork on top of that.
The quotes are all handwritten and scanned then sent out by email.
Where do you see the fencing industry heading?
I don’t see a lot of changes in the actual fencing industry, as such. Every property needs a fence. There has probably been a slow-down in new pools being built, so there aren’t many new fences for pools but most of the old pools don’t comply with the new rules so that’s taking up a lot of my time at the moment.
Fencing these days is cheaper than 10 years ago. These days you can buy all the different sizes you need off the shelf. Any size you need.
I can’t see robotics or pre-fab conceivably working. You go to a backyard, you can’t just set a machine. There are too many variables involved. You have to dig a hole, there could be a pipe there, you may have to move things. There are too many variables on-site that you may not know about.
What’s your favourite funny story about yourself?
I arrived at a job site and it was a very steep site; all the materials including concrete bags had to be carried down to the bottom level.
Some landscapers had set up a chute which was curved, it was basically half a pipe, and they set that up on framework to carry sand and gravel to the bottom of the site.
We put our 40kg bags of concrete on the chute which was designed to only carry a shovel full at a time. But the 40 kgs bags of concrete built up a lot of speed and absolutely destroyed this thing. It just collapsed under the weight and speed of the bags.
When the landscapers arrived on site the next day, we had to deny all knowledge of what happened.
Who has been the most influential person in your work?
The Mrs! Without her here, I probably wouldn’t bother going out to do it. It’s the home life which keeps you going to do the work. She also does the BAS returns every quarter.
How do you relax outside of the job?
My daughter’s cricket takes up most of my spare time. She is at NSW State level under-15s and with under-18 training squad. Her best bowling figures are 5 for 8. She is bowling at 105 kph and the aim is 120 kph.
What’s the best thing about FENCiT?
The communication and feedback from FENCiT is good.
Coming up with new ideas, like the MasterClass.
I read all the newsletters and The Fence Magazine is good and informative.
FENCiT keeps you informed about what’s going on in the industry.