Spend just five minutes talking with Luke Geelan of Shore Hire and you’ll quickly understand that this is a man who knows his business back-to-front, upside-down and sideways.
Perhaps this is not that surprising, since he grew up in and around the temporary work solutions industry. Indeed, his father, Peter Geelan, recently celebrated his 50th year in business having started his original barricade hire venture back in 1969.
What is truly impressive, however, is taking a walk around a work site with any team member proudly wearing the Shore Hire logo and discovering that same level of passion, industry longevity and depth of expertise.
How does one shoring, propping and traffic temporary work solutions business amass over 500 years of collective experience? Luke puts it down to what they consider their greatest asset: a genuinely unique company culture.
“It’s a family run business and we care about our people. We know each individual by name, their interests, who they are and what they do. We spend a lot of time working on our culture to make sure that the people that work for us feel appreciated.”
Walking through the Shore Hire office, you’ll sense that ‘family’ feeling in the walls. Each member of staff has a voice and is clearly valued for the skills they bring to the table. It’s no doubt what motivated 16 team members from the Geelans’ previous businesses to re-join them as part of the Shore Hire team.
“We’re bringing the band back together,” laughs Luke. “We’re lucky enough to have brought a lot of people back into the fold that have worked for us in either the Shorco or Booths Hire days. For us it was about bringing a super experienced team back together.”
This exceptionally high level of experience is what sets Shore Hire apart in the marketplace. In an industry where most have clocked up an average of around two-and-a-half years on the job, the 45 employees that make up the Luke’s dream team boast a minimum of ten years’ working with temporary work solutions.
You could argue that while it’s one thing to attract great staff with a high level of industry experience, it’s another to harness and leverage it. That’s where another unique aspect of the Shore Hire culture comes into play; the easy flow of knowledge throughout every level of the business.
“Any new staff member goes through a month-long training program spending time in all parts of the business – from manufacturing to IT, to engineering, to sales and even in the yard,” Luke explains. “Then we actually do product training every single week with every employee, whether they be sales-focused or even accounting-focused. They become experts in what we do.”
The relentless dedication to knowledge-sharing doesn’t stop there. Biannual conferences and a policy of regularly sending senior management out on the road with the sales team are just a couple of the ways they ensure that everyone knows exactly whose expertise they can call upon when coming up with the tailored solutions to customer problems that Shore is so well known for.
While this knowledge sharing culture is no doubt great for staff, the ones who benefit the most are the customers. Luke can rattle off so many examples of times when the customer feedback they’ve gathered while out on the road has resulted in direct adjustments to the products or services they offer.
“We’re always asking ‘what can we do to make your job easier? What can we change within our business to better meet your needs?”, says Luke, who just this month was out visiting sites himself, when it came to his attention that one customer was experiencing problems with the way some of the equipment fit together. Luke was straight on the phone to make plans for working out how to fix the issue for him. “It’s that constant evolution of listening and doing, listening and doing, rather than just putting a product out there and letting the customer think ‘oh well, lump it or leave it,” says Luke.
Customers certainly seem to appreciate having an influence on what Shore Hire offers and how they deliver it. “We’ve had some amazingly good feedback from our customers when they know that something they’ve said has been listened to, rather than ‘yeah, yeah, mate – whatever.”
This responsive flexibility hints at Shore Hire’s other main advantage over their competitors in the hire space; their customers aren’t forced to choose from a fixed range of options. Shore Hire’s real offering is providing end-to-end tailored solutions to customer problems – even if that means building something new.
Their team of world class engineers give Shore Hire the capability to design and manufacture what are often bespoke solutions for emerging customer needs. In a testament to this, their original 8-page brochure has exploded into a 120-pages of what Luke calls the “Mercedes Benz of temporary work solutions”.
For a workplace full of rockstar individuals with such specialised skillsets, they take an impressively unified approach to their work. Luke emphasises that his vision for Shore Hire is to build “a champion team, not a team of champions”. This is a theme that runs strongly throughout the business; even their remuneration and bonus scheme is based on team outcomes, rather than on individual performance.
Luke says the real secret to their successful team is that they hire for attitude and train for skills. “if the people have got the right attitude to want to work and do the right thing, then they’ll fit into our team. We can train them in the necessary skills to allow them to do the job. It’s very hard to train someone to change their attitude.”
The overall feeling you get from Luke and the Shore team is one of a humble striving to do one thing: get their customers’ problems solved. “We’ve got a group of ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” he says. “We want to make sure we provide our customers with the wow factor every day of the week.”
Innovation based on customer need is a strong company value and an essential ingredient in their overall culture. Luke reinforces this by awarding a monthly ‘Peter Geelan wow-factor award’, to recognise team members who have brought extra value to their customers whether it be through product, sales, safety or innovation etc.
This focus on quality, continuous improvement and innovation is also no doubt what lies behind their exponential growth. Having started Shore Hire from a single depot in Sydney in 2010, they have now expanded into 5 depots across the eastern seaboard.
Even the placement of these depots and the products offered out of them are developed with the customers in mind. “The more places we are, the closer a salesperson is to help you out,” explains Luke. “It certainly increases the efficiency and speed of getting the gear to site.”
That said, the high quality and specialised nature of their equipment has seen them ship gear out to Western Australia, and even as far as Papua New Guinea. “We’re always looking at where the growth opportunities are in Australia for the future and making sure we’re positioned so that we are close to where the equipment is required,” Luke explains.
Shore Hire’s extraordinary success and growth has allowed Luke to re-invest heavily in product development, IT systems and reporting tools, ensuring that his team have the resources they need at every level of the business to feel that they are making a difference.
For many of the Shore Hire staff, that feeling of having a positive impact arises from a keen understanding that the gear they manufacture and deliver is creating safer workplaces. “It’s become even more obvious to me in the last couple of years as we are hearing a bit more from our customers about the examples where our equipment has actually saved lives,” says Luke. “They have been inside shoring boxes when there’s been collapses around or we’ve actually been on site and supported some minor disasters that have happened – crane collapses etc where we get involved in rectifying disasters at work.”
Luke feels that this sense of purpose accounts for the passion felt by staff at every level of the business. “It’s a nice space to operate in… the fact that we are helping people get home safely is a massive bonus to us.”
While most of their customers understand the value of their products in terms of safety, Luke says that Australia is a little behind the 8-ball when it comes to getting people like Shore Hire involved early on in a project. “Globally temporary work solutions, or temporary work engineers, are more commonly used terms… In the UK almost every major project has a temporary work engineer involved to make sure everything is going well.”
Shore Hire is leading the way in terms of filling that gap for their customers. “The earlier our involvement, the better the outcome can be for the customer, because we understand the parameters and plan for them ahead of time. Things such as access, timing, planning and drawings and engineering – the more time we have to do that, the less rushed the job is and the better the outcome will be.”
In fact, Shore Hire can often support their customers by offering critical information at the tender and quoting stage. “We can supply them with the technical data to make sure that at that stage they’re getting the right gear for the job, to make sure that they’re not going to lose out by under-scoping etc.”
In addition to the expertise of the Shore Hire engineers themselves, Luke explains that customers can also benefit from access to their internally developed engineering analysis tools. “We’ve actually built programs where you can punch in the details of what’s required on site and come up with quick answers for customers to ensure that what we’re specifying meets requirements of the site, in terms of the loading and capacity, without having to re-engineer every time.”
It’s this kind of forward thinking, planning and innovation that means Luke isn’t too phased by potential challenges that may have others in the hire industry quaking in their work boots. While the prospect of overseas competitors entering the Australian market, as well as aggregators and disruptors coming in to shake things up is a threat to the hire industry as a whole, Luke recognises that it would be difficult for these groups to replicate the value Shore Hire offers their customers. “We’re a little bit lucky in that we’re offering a solution and a service, so we believe we’ll always have the ability to do that.”
Constantly changing Australian Standards keep Luke and the team on their toes, as do the major changes in recent years to the way modern buildings are constructed. “Historically, I guess, people built things out of bricks and mortar, but now things are changing to be a lot more prefabricated,” explains Luke.
But moving with the times is not a new challenge for the Geelan family. “The best example of this is my father’s business he started in 1969 was those black and yellow traffic barricades. If we were still hiring only traffic barricades today, we wouldn’t have a business. It’s just making sure we stay ahead of the game in terms of what we offer and what customers need.”
As the conversation turns to community involvement, it’s obvious that giving back is an important company value; the whole Shore Hire team plays an active role far beyond passing a collection tin around the office. “We’re lucky to have a successful family business,” says Luke. “We have the opportunity to help, so we do what we can.”
Raising funds for the Red Cross and participating in the Illawarra Convoy and the MS Gong (the Shore Hire team raised $33,000 and were the 9th highest fundraising team for 2019) are just a few of the ways they get involved. Shore Hire also supports local sporting teams, including the Cronulla Sharks whom Luke jokes “need a lot of help”.
“It works well for us in two ways; one is we often come together as a team to do these things – which is fantastic. From my perspective all these great causes do need help – someone’s got to do it. We just try to do our bit and hope it helps the community.”
And doesn’t that just sum up the Geelans’ approach to business; by placing that desire to help their customers at the heart of everything they do, they’ve grown up into more than just a shoring, propping and traffic work solutions company; they’ve created a family.