Angus St Clair, Optimus Hydronics

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This month FOCUS introduces Angus St Clair of Optimus Hydronics, formerly AJSC Plumbing. Optimus Hydronics is yet another hidden business gem located in our region. Angus works across NSW on domestic and commercial hydronic heating and cooling installations. 

Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in Sydney, but my parents moved up here in the early 2000s. We had family near Guyra and I had spent lots of holidays up here and had fantastic memories of the great people I’d met and the superb environment. I met my wife, Nevanka, here in Armidale. We have two beautiful young children.

And professionally? 

I started my plumbing apprenticeship in Sydney in 1998, and moved to Black Mountain around 2001. I finished my apprenticeship with Steve Fittler Plumbing in Armidale. I then spent four and a half years in London and furthered my training to become a Corgi Gas and Hydronic Heater Installer. I returned home late 2009 and set up my own business, as AJSC Plumbing. Most recently, I changed focus from general plumbing to specialising in hydronic heating and commercial hot water.

Why the switch to hydronics?

In Europe, the technology and products I was working with were the cutting edge of development and technology. They were far better equipped than in Australia at that time. I wanted to install systems here that represented best practice, systems that were not only environmentally friendly, but would deliver huge savings on their running costs when installed in line with European standards. Frankly, the product I was seeing, and still see, in Australia uses out-of-date technology, and while it is cheap to install, it is generally very expensive to run – especially LPG. I saw a huge gap in the market where people were being underserved, so Optimus Hydronics was born.

What is hydronics?

Many people will have heard of hydronic heating, but cooling is also available. Heating is our primary focus here in the New England and cooling can be a by-product of the technology we use. Hydronic heating is the delivery of heat through water. It is very flexible and can be installed in floors, or through radiators and through wall panels and ducted air. 

We can even design a hydronic heating system ideal for house renovations. If you are renovating an older building, you can marry two systems into one with an in-floor system in the new area and a ducted air system in the old, all using the one energy source. And of course, new builds are more straightforward.

What are the challenges of specialising in hydronics?

My biggest challenge initially was finding a supplier who had the systems that met my requirements. Then I had to understand the running costs (not just the cost of installing) of the systems being installed, not only our systems, but our competitors’. Hydronics is a high-end product, so my clients need to understand their return on investment.

What’s your secret for success?

I want my clients to be happy with the actual installation of the product of course, but what is it they are going to remember after we are gone? Having the transparency in what we do, to be able to give the customers the decision of what product will suit the building and their requirements. My product is not cheap; it’s a high-end product designed to last and offer long term savings on running costs. But, there is a big discrepancy between what is good and what is not so good in this industry.

I always give as much information as possible to the client, so they know what kind of system they are going to get, providing future running costs and a fair and accurate cost of installation, so they can make informed decisions. 

What advice would you give a business just starting out? 

Be prepared and be organised. Have your systems in place from day one, from the physical implementation of the task through to the invoicing. And back it up with good records and filing systems. Having a strong support network for your business is also important – people who can mentor you who have been in business before. They don’t necessarily have to be in your line of business. This can help you begin on the right foot. You can even join a business networking group in the local community.

What’s next for Optimus Hydronics?

I’m currently looking at energy efficient commercial hot water solutions. The idea is to replace expensive electric hot water and LPG gas commercial systems with cleaner and more efficient alternatives. I have heat pumps that can operate in low temperature environments while delivering hot water up to 90 degrees Celsius and in large volumes each day. We can replace old boilers with super efficient, exciting technology. 

What inspires you?

My family inspire me to get up and try to do my best every day. Professionally I am motivated by delivering high-end quality products that will stand the test of time and are efficient to run for high customer satisfaction. Also, finding new technologies that can help benefit the customer; that’s what gets me excited.

Thanks Angus.

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