Richard Burke talks about the earthmoving industry in QLD.
Now that summer has come to an end, we saw this as a perfect opportunity to make to trip to the Sunshine Coast, a few hours north of Brisbane, QLD. It really wouldn't matter what season we are in as you don't need much of an excuse to be tempted to this fantastic part of the country.
As well as the sunshine, picturesque mountains and warm water there is also a huge amount of work happening as well as a plethora of fantastic operators in the area. We met up with a seasoned industry pro, Richard Burke, owner of Diggerman, in Coolum.
Everyone has their own interesting and unique story and we find it fascinating how people get involved in this industry.
It is always interesting too, seeing how different career paths link to one another.
Richard’s foray into earthmoving happened over time.
The father-of-four previously worked as a teacher and deputy principal in Doomagee, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland.
"I used to work in a small Aboriginal community up in the sticks," he says.
"It was such a terrific part of my life but, as is such the life of a teacher, a transfer came along."
It was then that Richard moved back to Buderim on the Sunshine Coast.
With a new job at Buddina State School and a love for the new location, it was time to put down roots and plan the family’s future in the area.
While Richard still had a love of teaching, he was also questioning if that was the only thing he wanted to do with his future.
So in 2002, he decided to build some spec homes as an additional source of income.
"I soon finished up teaching to focus solely on building homes," he said. "And it was during one particular project, when
cleanup and landscaping were being done, that I couldn’t stop looking at the little Posi-track (Positraction) running around the site.
"I remember thinking, ‘Wow, these machines are fantastic’."
The seed was planted and it wasn’t long before Richard was in possession of a machine.
"Pretty soon after that I was behind the controls doing some work for Coral Homes," he explained.
In August 2004, Diggerman was born.
Richard’s son, Lachie, who was aged about two at the time named the company. "Whenever we saw any earthmoving equipment he would point and say ‘Diggerman’," Richard says, laughing.
Richard believes his previous teaching experience proved to be invaluable. "Finding good operators is often the hardest part, so if you have the ability to teach them, and teach
them well, it is just a massive advantage," he says.
From the very start, he knew the machines for their business were going to be Posi-tracks. "I had seen them working well for other contractors on job sites," he says.
"They just looked like really good versatile machines, and a major consideration was the constant wet conditions on the tropical region of the Sunshine Coast."
Richard liked the fact that there would be minimal downtime with a tracked machine.
"I knew with these machines I could offer the builders a reliable service, working in most conditions with a low impact footprint," he says.
"And with only two controls, unlike the usual four that the skid-steers had, they were simply easier to use."
Richard says at the time there weren’t many people
using the Posi-tracks.
"It gave us a massive edge over everyone else struggling over sandy soil or wet ground with their standard skid steers," he explained.
"We basically got in at the right time, just as a lot of clients were also starting to recognise the benefits of having the tracked machines on their sites."
This was also right at the beginning of the housing boom on the Sunshine Coast - all of the stars were aligning for Diggerman.
Just a few years into the business, the government brought in new legislation that required licensing to be issued by an RTO (registered training organization).
"Since we were already training our own staff and doing a pretty good job of it, the new legislation actually opened up another opportunity for us," Richard says.
Six years ago the Diggerman RTO was added to their existing earthmoving division.
Richard’s father, Gordon Burke, was a huge help at this time.
"His background is in workplace safety so we dragged him out of retirement to help establish that arm of the business," Richard says, laughing.
With the new legislation requiring everybody to be certified, the training facility saw many of the operators in the area coming through.
"Finding good, new operators for the construction side of the business was now even easier as we were able to hand pick any one that really shone in the classes and offer them a job straight away," Richard says.
It also offered other construction companies a first-class, professional, specific training facility that they knew would be beneficial for their own operators.
"Site managers knew that our operators would be properly trained, highly competent and work safely on the site," Richard says
It may appear that everything has just fallen into Richard’s lap, but it is his willingness to have a go and ability to act on an opportunity that has allowed the company to achieve this growth.
There is no question that Richard’s desire to be the best has also been a large contributor.
He says the combination of having the best machines and operators always has a natural flow on effect.
"We are always looking to further develop the company and in 2007 we extended our services to include a sand blasting division," Richard says.
"We started out removing line work on roads and general sand blasting that had to be carried out on site, such as beams and bus shelters, which were to be repainted."
They now offer more specialised sand blasting that includes stenciling and the blasting of patterns into feature walls.
"Stocklands has been using this service quite a bit recently and are thrilled with the end result," he says. We have done specialised stencil work on Stockland walls and footpaths.
Consequently, after learning about line removal with the sand blasting division, the newest arm of Diggerman is line marking.
Those three main divisions within the business now employ more than twenty five staff and have a considerable fleet of machinery, including the ten Posi-tracks.
"We have the largest fleet of Posi-tracks in Australia," Richard says.
"Grant from ASV has always offered exceptional back-up on service of our Posi-tracks.
"Having strong backup service from your dealer is imperative and it is almost a partnership.
"Richard says the business relationship is a two-way street built on mutual trust, and that ASV has a good understanding of the Diggerman business
"We also have 8 Kubota excavators, a roller, profiling equipment and a dozen trucks," he says.
Having the top of the line equipment portrays a good image for the business and Richard ensures that everything is kept up to date.
"We generally turn over our machines after about 3000 hours or three years," he says.
"All of our machines are serviced regularly and we have an in-house mechanic."
They have almost every attachment under the sun for their machines including 1 metre profilers, line removal poly planers, rock hammers, compaction vibe plates, compaction wheels, slashers, forks, rippers, augers, brooms, mulchers, rotary hoes, and many different buckets.
All of their buckets are from Norm Engineering and Richard says that all of them are tilt buckets.
"A skid-steer on its own is pretty useless without anything attached to the front of it," Richard says.
"So you want to make sure you have the best bucket doing the work."
Richard says the Norm buckets are strong and reliable.
"Their tilt feature is just awesome," he says.
"They have been around for a long while so they are well proven, and they offer great backup service."
Richard says one of the things that they really pride themselves on at Diggerman is their client focus and their impeccable presentation.
Subsequently, the business now has several franchisees.
Richard says he also take a lot of the legwork out of the equation for his clients.
"They don’t really have the time to do a lot of calling around, so through Diggerman they know that they can just make the one call and have most of their needs met," he says.
Most of their work comes via word of mouth although they do have a website
www.diggerman.net.au and social media in place.
Like the services that they offer, their clientele is very diverse and includes councils, larger civil companies and landscapers. But Richard knows "you’re only as good as your last job".
"Attitude is just as important as skill level," Richard says. "If you have the right attitude and great oporating skills the clients will keep asking you back onto their jobsites." He re-emphasises that any success the business has had is largely due the great staff. "We have a wonderful crew and an excellent bunch of operators, great admin staff and some awesome trainers," he says.
As they approach their ten-year anniversary, Richard says it is a good time to focus on the future of the company and look to what the next decade will bring.Richard hopes to have more franchises and be reaching more regional areas in Queensland. This year, training will begin in New South Wales. "I envision the company will grow organically like it has," Richard says.
"I can see that some of our operators will become Diggerman franchises."
Outside of work, Richard has four kids with his fantastic wife Cathy, so any spare time that he does have he wants to be with them.
His eldest is nineteen-year-old Jake, who is currently studying law but also helps out with IT in the business. His daughter Maddie is now very busy studying as she completes her final year of high school. Lachie is in year six and Lily, who is a "real live wire", is the three-year-old that keeps Richard and his wife on their toes.
"She puts a smile on my dial when I get home and reminds me what life is all about," he says.
At Australian Earthmoving we loved meeting such remarkable dude in a great part of the country.
We can’t thank Richard enough for chatting to us and sharing some of his heart-felt wisdom.
Congratulations Diggerman on an amazing 10 years, we hope the next 10 are just as successful