In an industry that’s renowned for its fancy marketing campaigns, flashy display homes and sneaky sales agents who have a habit of over-promising and under-delivering, there’s one home builder in Canberra who’s doing things a little differently—Achieve Homes.
While most new home builders’ primary focus is to get you to sign on the dotted line before worrying about whether they can feasibly deliver on their promises, this home builder prefers to adopt a more ‘real’ approach. Openly acknowledging that ‘things don’t always go to plan’, they know exactly how bad things can get if you don’t maintain good relationships with your customers because Achieve Homes’ Director, Firas Zakout, has experienced it first-hand.
Born in Kuwait in the early 1980s with Palestinian heritage, the commencement of the Gulf War was the inspiration behind his families’ migration to Canada in the early 1990s. While there, he shared a four-bedroom home with twelve of his extended family members for a year while having to quickly learn French to be able to get by.
Soon after, the family emigrated to Australia, initially settling in Melbourne before making the move to Canberra—which to this day they call home. Growing up in Tuggeranong as the oldest of four children, sport was the main theme of his upbringing – an avid soccer, rugby and basketball player, also representing Australia in karate during his teenage years.
Initially unsure of what he wanted to do after school, Firas initially completed a Business Development Diploma and an electrical apprenticeship, before realising construction was where his passion laid—something which was inspired by a horrid experience his father had when he employed a construction firm to do an extensive renovation on their family home.
Basically, the builder took the money, didn’t complete the work, then left Firas’s family to remove all the defective work and start from the beginning.
Having already drawn a loan equivalent to what the house was worth, they couldn’t afford to pay another builder to complete the renovation so took it upon themselves to finish the job, having to learn how to do all the work themselves while living on the construction site. The three-year ordeal took its toll on the family both financially and physiologically, with his father suffering multiple heart attacks during the period.
While they had to face a wide range of challenges, Firas believes it ultimately made the family stronger. It was also what inspired him to get into the construction industry, going on to complete a Bachelor of Construction Management while working full-time, studying at night and enrolling in summer classes to graduate as quickly as possible.
Getting his Building License was a monumental moment in his career, as it gave him the control to set his own destiny and start the business that would become Achieve Homes.
Today, Achieve Homes has grown to become a team of 11 full-time staff, including site supervisors, construction administrators and home consultants who pride themselves on the relationships they build with their customers.
“One thing we’ve learnt over the years is the importance of listening to our clients—especially on how we can improve”, Firas said.
“We made a lot of mistakes early on which weren’t great, but they did teach us a lot. We’d have clients say to us, ‘Guys the home was fantastic, you are great people, but your communication stinks and it needs to improve’. It was comments like this that made us realise that if we wanted to continue to build a successful business, we needed to start doing things a little differently.
“We’ve since made a very conscious effort to take the feedback from our customers on board to start doing things better, particularly in the way we communicate. We don’t pretend it’s all fairy floss and lollypops. We’re upfront with our customers.
“We remove all the ‘fluffy marketing’ out of our discussions with them, we don’t use industry jargon and we try to explain things in terms our customers will understand. And most importantly, we never ignore an issue or dismiss a concern because we’ve seen what can happen if you don’t take what may seem like even a minor concern seriously.
“At one stage, we were relying quite heavily on email and technology to communicate with our customers in the name of efficiency, but it simply didn’t work. Today, we’re big believers in picking up the phone and calling or meeting face-to-face to discuss or resolve any issues, so we can make sure we’re on the same page as our customers and save a lot of headaches for everyone.
This ethos has largely evolved from Firas’s personal motto that you should always ‘treat people how you want to be treated’. “It’s important to me to make sure I show respect and tolerance to everyone I meet in my life. It’s something that’s been instilled in me and my siblings from my parents.”
The approach has filtered through the entire business, with staff employing the same mindset. “When we ask our staff what they like most about their job, the answer resoundingly relates to how much satisfaction they get from seeing the reactions of their customers when they see what they’ve helped them achieve”, Firas said.
“Every project is special, unique and exciting for us because of who we are building it for. It’s about the family—it’s the mum, dad, kids and pets. We really love helping families achieve their home ownership goals.”
The decision to specialise exclusively in building new homes (and do it well), has also contributed to the success of the business. They reinvest their profits back into the business to improve the customer experience, home designs, building techniques and their business systems and software to position themselves at the forefront of the industry.
As the only Canberra-based home building company that has been accepted in all current and upcoming display villages in ACT and Googong, Achieve Homes is continuing to go from strength to strength, evident by the raft of award nominations and wins they’ve enjoyed in recent years as well as the launch of Achieve Property Developments;, an arm of the business which specialises in townhouse property developments.
With strong leadership, great home designs, quality building practices, superior finishes and a refreshing business ethos that’s truly centred around customer service, it’s likely we’re going to see a lot more of Achieve Homes in the future.
Andrew Sykes is a partner at RSM in Canberra. He is passionate about using his knowledge and expertise to help small businesses in Canberra prosper. All opinions expressed in this article are his own.