This month FOCUS introduces Todd Lewis of TL Plastering. At only 28 years of age, Todd has run his own business for ten years. He relocated from the coast in 2014, and now he and his family proudly call Armidale home.
What does TL Plastering do?
We do a variety of internal and external linings for multi residential, residential, commercial and small odd-jobs. We install plasterboard, insulation, external cladding and lightweight construction.
What led you to start your own business?
I started my apprenticeship when I was 15 with my dad, in Brisbane at first, and then Yamba. When I finished my time as an apprentice at 18, Dad pushed me to broaden my experience, so I went to work for a plasterer in Grafton. I ended up running a lot of his business, including the quoting, so after six months I thought perhaps I should just work for myself, and by 20 I had my own business and had employed my first apprentice.
At the time I was a gyprocker working as a sub-contractor, operating from Evans Head to Macksville and all the way out to Boggabri. I did that for about three years and then started to do my own contract work, and that just took off. I then operated independently for a couple of years.
What led you to relocate to Armidale?
I had a guy call me who had a couple of jobs in Armidale, so I drove back and forth for a year. The amount of work was crazy. At the start, it was one house a week, and then it became two or three. After a year of driving back and forth, I moved out here permanently with my wife.
How are you finding Armidale?
I’ve just had my fourth winter in Armidale, and my little girl, who is almost two, was born here. Armidale is now home.
We love the Armidale environment; we’ve found it very friendly and supportive. We’re in the process of buying a block of land and will start building this year, so we are here to stay.
From a business perspective, Armidale Building Supplies made our entry into a new market really easy, and they are a great bunch of people to deal with.
How is business in Armidale?
When we moved to Armidale, my Dad and I teamed up again. He was still doing his own thing, so I brought him over and trained him in some of the new skills that I had learnt. He’s now back in Yamba taking care of all our work on the coast.
Armidale has proven to be a great headquarters for us; it’s very central. We operate between 15 to 20 staff across Tamworth, Gunnedah, Moree, Inverell, Glen Innes, Grafton, Yamba and Lismore. And, it is a family affair. My brother is the operations manager, Dad covers the work at the coast, and my mother-in-law is the bookkeeper. We all work together really well.
You started in business at a very young age; what were some of the challenges you faced?
Being young, it was hard to convince people that I was capable and it made getting started hard, as I wasn’t always given the same opportunity as the older/more experienced tradespeople. Unfortunately, in the building and construction industry you don’t always get paid on time, so you need to have systems in place to manage your cash flow. Running your own business is hard work, but I wouldn’t change anything.
What’s next for TL Plastering?
Now I’m focusing on the structure of the business, training staff and focusing on systems and efficiencies. Up until last year, I worked 70 hours a week, six days a week – since I was 15.
This year my goal is to be off the tools. I’m still working long hours, but I also want to enjoy life, pick up my daughter after day care and spend time with my family.
I’ve started working with a business coach to help me take the business to the next level. Recently I joined a networking group in Armidale, BNI All Seasons, where fellow business owners meet weekly. I wanted to help my own professional development and get exposure to new ideas. It’s been good so far.
If someone was starting a business, what advice would you give them?
Just get started – get going. You can adjust as you go along; you’re never going to know unless you have a go. Get a great accountant and ask questions. Maybe even do a short business course if possible.
What inspires you?
I enjoy hearing about other people’s successes and learning from their experiences. Seeing the end product of a job that we have worked on and our happy customers is definitely inspiring to keep doing what we do.