Tri-Star Construction. A formidable force in the construction Industry.

Keeping one eye on the economic situation in South Africa, Tri-Star Construction is enjoying ongoing success, working on impressive projects and developing a quality workforce from within. This is one construction company for which the future looks particularly bright…

Just 12 months ago, in mid-2015, the Financial Mail described SA’s construction sector as being in a ‘parlous state’. Unrest from employees in the sector, slowdowns on major national projects, falling stock prices for the major players, energy related problems and worries over the economy have all contributed to a rather drab outlook. But nevertheless, the construction sector has rolled on, and the demand for quality work has continued. In fact, at the BAUMA 2015 CONEXPO AFRICA, despite the situation in the industry, Gauteng MEC for Economic Development, Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development, Lebogang Maile said that the construction sector was a ‘treasure trove’. So which is it? Should our construction firms be worried? Or are they in a sector that will always hold the key to development? Enterprise Africa asked Frans Maartens from Tri-Star Construction and he explains that while there is certainly an element of slow growth in the sector, if you position yourself correctly and create a sustainable and effective business plan, you can certainly achieve success.

“The market is tight and it can be challenging to fill our books. Our bread and butter is large construction projects and they are very dependant on the economic outlook,” he says. “Picking up work on a open tender basis is becoming more challenging but we are fortunate to have a decent amount of work on our books. We have a lot of partners who prefer working with us and that helps. “We are not a listed company so we are not in the market to undertake big mining or industrial works but as a contractor we can do work up to R1 billion. Recently, we’ve done work ranging from R10 million to R800 million so we operate across a large spectrum and this benefits us as it means we are a little more diverse in our skills. The big players won’t take on smaller jobs but those smaller jobs can carry you in tough times so I think we’re in a good space. We can mix with the big boys if needed but we can also scale down to take the smaller work when necessary. It’s a better space to be in rather than just depending on massive projects or small projects.”

A Decorated Company

Tri-Star has a long and illustrious history. Its roots go back to Gauteng in the 70’s when it was established as a small painting and decorating concern.

“The company started back in 1979. Billy McNeil and Derek Wheals, were involved in that company as employees. The company existed as a very small operation from 1979 until 1997 when Billy saw an opportunity and bought the company with Derek. This was when the company got the spark that turned it into what it is today,” explains Maartens.

Today, Tri-Star has four divisions providing a strong portfolio of services to the construction industry.

“In 1998, the housing division was initiated. In 2005, we opened the plant and equipment division. In 2006, the holdings company was created. In 2007, the company was opened up to management having shareholdings and in 2012, we partnered with a BBBE company – Ba-Akhi Construction – which is a 100% black-owned company and they acquired 26% of our group.

“Today, we have the painting and renovation division, the construction division, the housing division and also a Plant and Equipment division. Directly employed by the company, we probably have around 300 people,” Maartens says.

Building Success

While Tri-Star has a long list of successful projects, completed with positive feedback from clients, one of the major successes of the last year has been the growth of the business in the aforementioned unpredictable climate. Then there’s the PPS headquarters in Centurion which achieved a Five Start Green Star Office v1 Design rating certification from the GBCSA.

“The biggest success in the last 12 months is our growth,” says Maartens “we’ve almost doubled in size in that time. We have a big list of jobs that we’ve completed in the last year and the flagship project is probably Centurion Square which is the large PPS office building in Pretoria. It’s seven levels high and is a green building and that is a major accomplishment.

“It took around 18 months and we’ve had 100% positive feedback. It’s been a major success in the local area – it’s a magnificent building. The architects have achieved awards for their work.”

Importantly, the company has also recognised that with strong growth comes the need for updates to technology and a careful approach to finance control and because of this has invested in relevant software to ensure quality.

“Because we’ve grown so much in the last few years and have growth forecasts for the next two to three years that show considerable growth, we’re moving from a medium to a large construction company and with that we are focusing heavily on construction software, Candy and BuildSmart, and we’re focusing on developing our Quantity Surveyors and implementing a fully integrated commercial management system to take care of every Cent that moves around our company,” says Maartens.

Greatest Asset = People

Tri-Star says that it aspires to have happy stakeholders, and 300 of these stakeholders – the company’s loyal workforce – are among Tri-Star’s most valuable assets. In order to keep its people happy, the company boasts an open and transparent hierarchy. Led by the Directorate, the company has deployed a structure where anyone in the business can contact management and build a clear communication channel to resolve issues and further their own development. “Our culture and structure is that our directors and shareholders lead the teams. Most of the directors have been with the company for 10-15 years or more and they run all of the jobs,” explains Maartens. “The directors have teams that they have worked with for a long time and they develop their people; everyone from labourer to chargehand, foreman and contracts manager.”

Clients and suppliers are also aware that the flat management structure makes for quick and easy communication and it’s something that Tri-Star actively pushes.

“It’s one of the reasons that we have success; our people stick with us. Ultimately, each of our directors develops their people in-house and they take pride in that. Development of people is essential and anyone from our company, including labour on site, can phone the MD. Our lines of hierarchy are open and transparent and that is a real contributor to success.” In an industry that is almost 100% reliant on people, in a country where some skills can be difficult to come by, Tri-Star is proud of its reputation as an employer and a contributor. “Our company is so much more than just chasing profits. We have 300 employees and their families who rely on the ongoing success of the business. We are proud of our family environment and we take pride in being able to support our people. We are also proud to be part of the South African economy and the development and construction of the country, not only in infrastructure but also in economic terms,” says Maartens.

Constructing a solid future

Moving forward, and building on its track record of quality, value and excellence, Tri-Star has its eyes on further growth. Having already secured a number of prestigious projects to keep the company busy over the next few months, Maartens explains that Tri-Star will remain on the lookout for opportunities. “We are still tendering and we are hoping to pick up some more projects in the next few months. “We have a number of highrise building projects on our books right now,” he says. “One of them is a student accommodation building in Pretoria. We have the headquarters of PERI Formwork which is an interesting complex job with warehousing, showrooms, hardstands, etc. We also have a number of residential developments that we’re busy with, one being a big high-rise apartment block on a golf course in Johannesburg. We’re also looking at low cost housing which is trending at the moment in South Africa. We also have hosing jobs starting soon in Cosmo City in Jo’burg and Featherwood in Pretoria.”

So the future looks extremely bright for this construction specialist that has come such a long way in the past 37 years. With the government pumping a reported R865.4 billion into infrastructure over the next three years and with a continued drive to encourage FDI into South African infrastructure projects, there will undoubtedly be opportunities as the money filters through to the private sector. Tri-Star is a business that takes a ‘view on tomorrow’ and likes to develop long-term relationships with clients, and thanks to this approach the company is known as formidable force in the construction industry. This is without doubt a company to watch as we move through 2016 and beyond.

Published: Enterprise – / Issue no.44