Patric Levi, the owner of PLC Fencing in South Australia, talks with THE FENCE about his fencing contractor business.
How did you get into the fencing industry?
I did a traineeship as a mechanical engineer. I got sick of earning no money doing an apprenticeship. I went to work for a fencing contractor, then went on to run my own crew for that contractor. Then decided to go out on my own. I came into some money after selling my house, so I bought a tractor and the rest is history.
What is most rewarding about your job; what makes it all worthwhile?
Achieving the type of fencing that you never knew how to put up. Winning the jobs with certain types of clients, a government job or finally break into a company that you have been chasing. Building a relationship with the new client and we are the only guys who work for them. There’s a reason for that: we work hard and we do what we say. It is quite rewarding getting a bit of feedback basically telling you we want to use you because you do a good job and get it done.
What is the most interesting fencing job you have worked on?
Probably my first ever SA Water job. I randomly won a tender and bit off way too much more than I could chew. It was over in Whyalla around a wastewater treatment plant and it was on a low lying tidal area. We spent more time getting bogged than putting fences up because it was so soft. But we got it all done and since then we have become a member of the SA Water preferred supplier panel.
I went from an average size to fifteen times the size in one hit.
I had to juggle a lot of things; suppliers, labour and all that sort of thing, because obviously cashflow could not fund the whole job so it was quite interesting. The job ended up taking about 2 months. I basically charmed the suppliers, telling them I would not run away without paying.
What is the one tool or product that you couldn’t do without in your work?
Sunscreen. Definitely sunscreen and long sleeves policy. Long pants, steel-capped boots.
Kubota excavator 5½ tonne. I thought it might be the most useless tool I will ever buy. I thought you would never be able to drill a hole straight or swing around too much. But since I bought it we don’t use anything else.
What big jobs do you have coming up?
Just been awarded a job at Bungala solar farm at Port Augusta nearly 8 kilometres perimeter chain wire fencing which will take about 2 months.
The biggest one-off job is a whole region of fencing upgrades over a lot of jobs tied up into one project.
South Australia has put in 2 massive diesel generator plants we have just completed the security fencing around the substations as well as a big battery set up at Jamestown.
What are the new ideas you are bringing to fencing?
I am trying to develop a good supplier base who can supply good quality products at a cheaper price and value-add where we can. Make our own posts and gates and try to vertically integrate as much as we can. We build all our own jigs, so once you have taken two days to build the jig you can build ten gates in a day instead of three.
Where do you see the fencing industry heading?
The security side of things is growing. Physical security is going to get bigger and bigger because of terrorism and will be a never-ending pipeline.
Farm fencing will continually be there as prices for beef and other commodities are strong. The farmers used to do it themselves but what used to be ten farms is now one so they outsource.
Who has been the most influential person in your work?
A really good mate of mine Adrian, who was a competitor of mine. We actually met in the main street and he came over and said “Where are you going putting posts in?” We got chatting and we ended up now best mates. He stopped contracting and contracts to me for a few of his services such as his GPS that marks out all of our fences and he has specialised rock drilling machines. He is almost one of us, with the two of us are always trying to innovate something which is inspirational because he is always thinking outside the square and it’s good fun. Now in the process of trying to develop good rural gates heavy duty good quality. Target farmers who want top quality gates.
How do you relax outside of the job?
Fishing with Adrian, who has a professional license and we go out twice a month. We love to catch big tuna off Victor Harbour and Port MacDonnell. Generally, we leave the night before depending where we are heading and camp close to where we want to launch, then get up nice and early and be on the water by daybreak, spend the whole day out there with a carton and half of beer between us.
What’s your favourite funny story about a fencing job?
In Whyalla, the ground we were working on will be dry at lunch time to soaking wet by four in the afternoon because it’s tidal underneath. We had our cable location fellow come out to work out all our underground services. We told him whatever you do don’t go off this track, sure enough, what’d he do? A u-turn and he was bogged.
I got bogged trying to pull him out, the tractor got bogged trying to pull me out, the local earthmover who has come to help us, he got his backhoe bogged. We ended up having to get a 35-ton excavator to come and pull us all out the next night. We were out of action for a day and a half!
What’s the best thing about FENCiT?
FENCiT shines the spotlight on the industry. Fencing is not just the Joe Bloggs from down the road who has picked up a hammer and thinks he has become a contractor.
People are now taking fencing as a serious profession and FENCiT helps that. Gives it that serious feel. We have battled to be taken seriously.
We are the first people to get criticised on a site that they put a microscope on because they think that we might not be as professional as the electrician or the plumber. A proper fencing company is almost supplying an engineering service.
FENCiT helps show fencing as an industry.
This story was first published in The Fence magazine.