Adapting to a new environment
BY KERRY ANDERSON
SMALL FAMILY BUSINESSES often end with the retirement of the key partners; or they can continue on as younger family members join in. Sometimes they can even evolve and grow if prepared to adapt to a new environment, and happily this seems to be the case of TMC Enviro in Birchip.
Chatting with TMC Enviro’s General Manager, Daniel McLoughlan, the pathway of his family’s small business becomes perfectly clear but was probably never anticipated by his parents Tom and Lois when they began their shearing and fencing contractor business in the 1980’s.
Casting his mind back to growing up in the small rural town of Birchip as one of six siblings, Daniel, admits that he always thought he’d end up in business in some capacity but it has been an interesting pathway to get there.
Without question it began at home when Daniel and his younger brother, Tom Junior, were encouraged by their parents to be entrepreneurial as young as 8 and 10 years of age. In addition to working for their father in the shearing shed on schools holidays, they also developed a substantial lawn-mowing business in town.
“We had quite the lawn mowing run,” Daniel recalls. “As it grew Tom went out and bought a ride-on mower and a rotary hoe. Mum and Dad paid our fuel on the provision that we mowed their lawns but I can assure you it was the last to get mowed, and usually ended up with foot high grass!” he laughs.
Each phase of Daniel’s subsequent working life in finance, mining and construction, has helped to build the skills he uses today at TMC Enviro.
After completing year 12 at Birchip P – 12 School, Daniel took a maternity leave position at the local branch of the Commonwealth Bank starting a career in finance. Six months later saw him transferred to Collins Street and ultimately to the head office in Bourke Street, Melbourne.
“I got into personal lending during the property rush, it was a good time to be there,” recalls Daniel.
However, after three years he got tired of the office environment and made the move to Western Australia where he joined two of his brothers in the mining industry. Then it was back to Melbourne where he worked nine years in construction. Each of these jobs was a step closer to his home town of Birchip, not that Daniel knew it at the time.
Back at home his parents had been transitioning into more of the fencing and rabbit ripping work as Tom senior sought an alternative to shearing which was taking a physical toll on his body.
“His idea was to work one man on one machine as a sort of semi-retirement,” explains Daniel, “but he’s not a guy who could ever retire. It just sort of ballooned from there.”
In 2011 Daniel was asked to come home to help set up the administration side of the business which was still being run from the family home. Younger brother Tom had started working hands-on in the business 12 months prior.
“I told my girlfriend, now wife, that I would be back in Melbourne in three months but I’m still here five years later” grins Daniel.
From working with one local Landcare group the business went to two, three, and is now working with up to 16 groups. Catchment Management Authorities are another big source of environmental work and, of late, the business has been branching out into major project work taking them more widely across Victoria.
It’s interesting to reflect on how much has changed over the past decade in the way the business operates. As is usually the case in a country town, it was a simple formula to begin with.
“Dad had a good reputation, the right machinery, and knew a lot of people.”
However, while a good reputation is still a strong selling point, Daniel points out that it is not always enough when it comes to seeking government contract work, particularly in more recent years.
“Just because you are competitively priced and did a good job on the last contract, you don’t necessarily get the next one,” he explains.
Another important reason why TMC Enviro has concentrated on diversifying its business is the fact that government funding is often diverted from budgets as will be the case with the recent announcement of drought funding.
“We had a hunch that this would happen with an awful dry spell last year and two average seasons before that,” says Daniel.
With this in mind they sought to supplement their local work with bigger projects by employing specialist staff and investing in new work premises, machinery, and an integrated management system.
Already it is paying off with a successful tender at the Werribee Open Range Zoo, where they have installed over three kilometres of 4.1 metre high chain mesh fencing around the grounds of the Zoo’s Lower Savannah Precinct. This area houses a number of the Zoo’s larger species in an open plain environment, along with holding and back of house facilities. Visitors experience this area of Werribee Open Range Zoo via the Safari Bus Trail, which runs on a regular basis each day.
“Eland look like deer on steroids,” Daniel clarifies before I have a chance to google. “The fence needs to be extremely high so they don’t jump out onto the Geelong freeway.”
I am impressed that a rural family business can compete against metropolitan companies.
Writing a tender submission is a real team effort says Daniel and reflects their specialist skills. While Tom senior and junior are familiar with the hours and techniques required to complete the work, Daniel is able to contribute his large scale project management experience.
Daniel’s wife, Melanie Wood, brings several years’ HR experience from Melbourne, including the development of policies and procedures, workplace health and safety and HR reporting and statistics, vital to any tender process.
Then there is the all-important environmental side of tendering, and indeed their business. On the same principal as a construction company requiring the services of an engineer, TMC Enviro has employed Jess Cook as their Environmental Projects Manager. Jess, who has a Bachelor of Applied Science (Environmental Science), joined the business in 2014.
According to Daniel, the Werribee Zoo project is one great example of how this can be a key factor for success. “Jess’s role was to take environmental considerations into account, including looking at minimising the vegetation clearance, and her environmental background came in very handy.”
While constructing a fence seems simple there were other issues to be managed. For instance the work couldn’t be visible when zoo tours were in progress and the crew had to be out of areas by a certain time for animal welfare reasons. TMC Enviro was able to deliver on all fronts.
“Without pumping our tyres up too much, it’s pretty cool that we are able to pitch ourselves as a one stop shop,” says Daniel.
Quality assurance is another important selling point according to Daniel especially as they have a transient workforce for their project work. Tom senior and Tom junior lead a competency training program to ensure that all staff are fully trained and compliant in their systems.
“Our reputation is so important and Dad literally drives the roads to check up on everything.”
While Daniel is now the voice of the business as General Manager, and his brother, Tom junior, is Operations Manager, it sounds like retirement is still a long way away for Tom senior. A recent addition to the family business has been Tom’s partner, Celeste Walsh, who has a Bachelor of Business. Celeste will head up the soon to be advertised domestic and commercial pest control arm of the business which has recently relocated into the old O'Connor site in Birchip's town centre.
Without a doubt, Tom and Lois McLoughlan can be credited with establishing the foundations of a successful rural business that, with the assistance of the next generation, continues to adapt to new environments.
CLICK HERE for more information about TMC Enviro
KERRY ANDERSON: A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia. She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.