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Housing : September 2008
HOUSING SEPTEMBER 2008 101 Cathy's designs and their success at HIA regional awards have certainly contributed to the growth of Smith's Designer Kitchens. 'We don't advertise; we don't have to,' says Cathy. 'We enter the awards because we enjoy it, but it's much more than that. When we win awards we use them as our marketing tool; anything that we are lucky enough to win we get back fourfold in business.' Cathy does admit that not everything has been easy, and finding qualified staff in North Queensland is a problem. While she is quick to clarify that the staff who work for her are 'wonderful, stable and reliable workers', the lucrative work available to labourers in Queensland mines is luring many of the states' tradesmen away from their trades. As a result Cathy and her husband have basically given up trying to hire cabinetmakers. 'We just keep losing them to the mines all the time. They can get paid over $85,000 up there to put bolts in the ceiling.' With a keen interest in preserving the trade, Cathy and her husband take the time to invest in their apprentices. 'The youth coming on are great,' she says. 'I find them to have a good work ethic, and if you put the time into them you get a very good return.' 'Our apprentices are Generation Y and so we are constantly thinking of ways to keep them happy and interested. Once we train them we don't want them to leave.' As well as designing, training staff and running a business, Cathy has been judging regional HIA K&B awards for around 15 years. She also maintains her professional network of people that she believes she couldn't survive in business without. It's little wonder that she admits to sometimes having difficulty balancing her family and business life and acknowledges a tendency to over-work. 'I tend to work too many hours and I get to a point where I know I'm doing it, so I make myself slow down a bit,' she says. 'You need to have a plan: if I'm getting overloaded I tell the staff to slow down the appointments and things like that.' Cathy's experience as a business partner in the housing industry has seen her realise the importance of keeping time outside of work for herself and her family, and it's good for the business too. 'Relaxing and having fun is imperative to keep your energy and creativity levels high,' she says. 'I've found you can do so much better in the business if you're not working in it too much, because you're more able to work on it.' 'I imagine losing sight of your direction or goals is a big thing with small businesses. If you don't stop to review your goals as you go, you can't re-assess and see what else you could be doing -- personal time is far more important than it's given credit for.' The skills shortage currently being felt in the housing industry is affecting many small businesses and Smith's Designer Kitchens is no exception. With a great number of North Queensland's qualified tradesmen leaving to earn big money in the mines, Cathy and her husband have accepted that if they want cabinetmakers, they'll have to train them themselves. And once they train them up, they obviously don't want them to leave, so they're constantly thinking of ways to keep them happy and interested. 'We have three boys who work out the back with Nigel,' says Cathy. 'The youth coming on are great; they seem to have a lot of initiative. I do find them to have a good work ethic and if you put the time in you get a very good return.' New kids on the block H In Cathy's first year in the business, their turn-over tripled and has continued to grow Left: Cathy Smith receiving her Business Partner of the Year award from Ashley McCulloch from HIAIS.