Q&A: Developing a watertight business model

This week we chat to Tom Martin, Founder of Water Tight Canberra, 2019’s Telstra Australian Small and Succeeding Business of the Year. Tom has always been most passionate about the fact that his business is not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about doing a great job and doing it properly and building trust with clients.

ISB: What inspired you to make the shift from being a tradie working on the tools to becoming an entrepreneur and running a business yourself?

TM: I grew up very closely with my best friend’s family who always ran a plumbing business and my father who always wished he completed a trade. The two of them rubbed off on me to the point where it just felt like the best step forward for me. After completing my six-year apprenticeship and trade license, I wanted to continue my education and business school was a natural way forward. I completed a Cert IV in small business, Cert IV in business and a Cert III in accounting in preparation. I was lucky enough to realise early on that few, if any, make better money doing it themselves when everything is taken into consideration and knew that I wanted to be a business owner/entrepreneur and worked hard to get there.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the enterprise off the ground?

TM: Having completed business courses and purchasing good-quality tools and stock while working for someone else, I knew that I was ready to go out on my own but taking the jump from safe full-time employment into the unknown world of working for myself was my biggest challenge. I finally made the jump when bathroom-renovation opportunity in a shopping centre arose that my existing employer did not want to take on. I don’t think we have been quiet ever since.

ISB: Please tell us a little about your ethos of doing a great job rather than “reinventing the wheel” that so many businesses attempt to do?

TM: Having a reputation for high-quality workmanship has been a vital key to our growth and is what sets us apart. Challenges come up all the time, whether it is a new staff member that is still learning, an existing staff member that is distracted due to life’s challenges or a customer putting pressure on us to cut costs. We have always controlled our quality by ensuring we have easy-to-follow operating procedures for all tasks in the business and a

detailed follow-up procedure when issues are identified.

ISB: What impact has winning the 2019 Telstra Small Business Award had on your business?

TM: Since winning the award we have had exceptional growth. I put this down to my entire team being extremely proud of what the business has achieved and that it was recognised at the most prestigious business awards level. Our business has moved into a commercial premises, employed a full-time operations manager to help control our growth while ensuring we don’t lose sight of what is truly important to us, and we have invested a significant amount of money into world-class German technology and training that allows us to repair pipework without the need for excavating using a method called Inversion Relining.

ISB: How do you envisage the business developing in the next couple of years?

TM: We will continue to focus on quality and staff education. We are highly focused on very specific areas of our business and our internal teams are focused and prepared for growth. Our Strata Building Maintenance team are passionate about saving complex’s money and inconvenience, and we expect to continue to double our buildings on maintenance plans each year for the next three years. Our Drain Relining Team have completed training at the two most prestigious relining schools in Australia. And our Home Maintenance and Hot Water Division are completely focused on servicing the homeowners of Canberra with high-quality, honest and reliable service.

ISB: And, finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business?

TM: Karma is real. I am not religious or even that spiritual, but I am certain that there is some controlling being that ensures what goes around, comes around. Always act in an honest and ethical manner and only offer services to your customers that you would also offer to your mum. We do this in many ways such as signing up as an accredited ACT recycling business, having our team donate blood on a regular basis and donating our skills and time to people less fortunate.

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