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Success is a journey

Simon Kennedy launched Smart Fabrication because he believed that he had something to bring to the industry. His plan was simple: “To do quality work while building relationships with customers and offering a service that is going to make them very happy.”

The strategy worked. “We have grown at an incredible rate ever since,” he reports. “And here we are, 15 years later, with 60 plus people on the books.” Today, Smart Fabrication plans, designs, constructs, and installs a wide range of metal fabrication products. The company’s capabilities include heavy and light engineering, tank fabrication, structural steelwork, pipe work, stainless steel, and aluminium work. The team works with a variety of industries including water, defence, mining, and oil and gas.

Smart Fabrication has been expanding rapidly in recent months. “We had 300 per cent growth last year in a declining market,” Mr Kennedy reports. This growth is particularly focused on the oil and gas industry; after the team wrapped up a long and lucrative job for the water industry about six months ago, they decided that it was time to diversify. “At the end of that contract we had to regroup and refocus and work out a new strategic direction for the company,” Mr Kennedy recalls. His background was in oil and gas, so it was a natural direction to take.

More importantly, the oil and gas industry was eager to work with Smart Fabrication. “Normally companies would try and enter this arena and then build their reputation,” Mr Kennedy explains. “But we have been invited into the oil and gas industry by several companies because we have a reputation throughout industry of being a high quality company. Our quality was already at the level that the oil and gas industry was expecting. We hit the ground running.”

Indeed, Smart Fabrication has already had remarkable success with the strategic move. “Several companies have been very quick to get us on board and offer us tenders,” Mr Kennedy reports. “We are also receiving requests for quotations from very large companies and a few of the big players in the LNG industry to undertake some much larger oil and gas work and pipe welding.”

The company’s growth has also been supported by a strategic move two years ago in which Mr Kennedy and his wife bought Adelaide Ship Construction International. Now, all of Mr Kennedy’s business ventures are based in the ship building business’ 30,000 square metre site in Port Adelaide – and there is still room there to support more growth.

The secret to even greater expansion, he insists, will be to continue the strategy that has already brought the team this far. And Mr Kennedy has come far; he created the Smart Group of Companies – which includes Smart Fabrication – out of almost nothing. In fact, the odds were stacked against him from the start. “I am a high school dropout,” he admits. Today, he gives motivational speeches all across Australia to inspire others to reach above their circumstances. “It doesn’t matter where you started, it is where you aim,” he says. “I struggled all through school. Now I preside over multiple companies in the Smart Group of companies.”

A key aspect of Mr Kennedy’s strategy has been to consistently provide the highest quality solution possible, and to do so, he has stacked his company with the best and the brightest. “Part of our strategic plan is to find some of the best people in the industry in all aspects of the job,” he explains. As a result, everyone from welders and pipe fitters to engineers and sales staff are at the top of their game. But Smart Fabrication also looks for employees with value beyond their specific work related skills. “We employ good people, not just people who are good at their job.”

Mr Kennedy also insists on maintaining a family atmosphere throughout the company. “We have a real family feel to the business,” he says. Of course, this is only natural in a business that includes Mr Kennedy’s wife and their three children. But the team works hard to ensure that everyone – from employees to customers to suppliers – feels like family too. “Treat everyone like family and look to solve their problems in a way that will win for both of you,” Mr Kennedy advises.

Building strong relationships with employees, customers, and colleagues is also paramount. “The secret to success is building great relationships with great people and making those people feel part of the success,” he says. “Success is a journey of many people – not just myself.” Building these relationships takes time and care, but the process really boils down to one key thing – building trust. “Once you’ve built faith and trust you’ve built a customer for life,” Mr Kennedy insists. “You build the relationship and the business will follow.”

Actions speak louder than words, so much of this trust-building relies on consistently delivering top notch service. “We make sure that the customer has a good and fair price, a great product, and a great experience at the same time.” Smart Fabrication also stays in close contact with customers to ensure that the company is meeting their needs. Indeed, the team doesn’t hesitate to ask what the company can do to improve customer satisfaction –and then to follow through on that advice. “We work very closely with the customer to ensure that they get not only what they want, but that we improve things along the way.”

Another key to success, Mr Kennedy says, is to maintain a healthy work/life balance. “I often say that the secret of success is to make sure life is well balanced with a good, even spread of social [activity], family and business,” he explains. And family must always be a priority, he adds. “You need to recognise and reward them often, because they are the ones who quite often fall behind the scenes when you are building a business, yet they are the glue that holds it all together.” Mr Kennedy asserts that having a life outside of his business helps to keep him grounded and more productive at work. For example, for many years Mr Kennedy and his wife have spent several nights a week training in, and teaching, martial arts. “It kept my mind active,” he explains. “I wasn’t just stuck in a rut.” Martial Arts, recreational activities, and plenty of quality time with family, friends, and colleagues have kept the Smart Fabrication team refreshed and ready for whatever the future holds.

For now, it appears that the future will bring even more growth. Mr Kennedy is currently in negotiations to buy an expansive tract of land in Port Adelaide on which he plans to build a state of the art 4,000 square metre workshop that will support Smart Fabrication’s oil and gas industry work. “Our plan is to set up a specially designed workshop to make sure that the flow of the work is very lean – so that we not only do a good quality job, but so that we also reduce our costs and therefore, our price to our customers.”

This workshop will include facilities for blasting and paint coating, x-raying, and heat treating. “To my knowledge, there is no one in the state with that at the moment,” Mr Kennedy reports. “In a nut shell, we want to be a one stop supply shop for the oil and gas industry, which is what our customers are telling us they would really like.” The workshop should be up and running within 12 to 24 months, he adds.

The team is also considering joining forces with other skilled specialists to offer a more complete service from the Port Adelaide location. “We are actually looking for other key companies to come and join the Smart Group to make this very large site a one stop supply shop,” Mr Kennedy explains. The key to the future, he believes, is to really focus on providing customers with this complete, one stop solution. “We are trying to give our customers what they want because we don’t believe that it is out there in the market yet.”

Article taken from Resource in Focus

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