An interview with Ryan Martin from A Grade Living

Bowens caught up with Ryan Martin from A Grade Living. Having started out as a Landscaper, Ryan switched to a carpentry apprenticeship. By the age of 25, he was running his own business. Ryan (now aged 31) leads a team of 19 full-time carpenters, managing high-end builds from Brighton Bay down to the Peninsula.

How did you get into the trade?

After I completed school, I did landscaping for two years with my exgirlfriends brother. Work dried up so I took a job as a general labourer. After a couple of months, my boss offered me an apprenticeship and ever since I have worked as a chippie.

I was 25 years old when I first started my business, which started off by doing a few small jobs with my dad. He helped me out a lot in the beginning and over time, the business grew. I will always cherish the early days when he helped me get my business off the ground. He still lends a hand from time to time, and it is always good fun.

What advice would you have for a young builder looking to start their own business?

Make sure you find the right person to talk to and find out exactly what the job entails. Running a company isn’t for everyone, it requires a lot of time and effort, which can mean time spent away from family and friends.

Scott Fawke, Employee of the Year

“Make sure you find the right person to talk to and find out exactly what the job entails. Running a company isn’t for everyone, it requires a lot of time and effort, which can mean time spent away from family and friends.”

Do you think there is enough support for young business owners in the field?

Not at a reasonable cost. You need to pay a lot to get the right help, hence a lot of people don’t do it. At the end of the day, the carpentry side of things is the easy bit. The difficult stuff is the business administration. Say you pay your employee an hourly rate, you need to factor in tax, base pay, super and annual leave, but people don’t understand that part. 

You also need to be prepared to put in the work because if you don’t, you won’t get there. Early on, I didn’t put in the time, and I struggled as a result. I am fortunate enough to have a best mate who I speak to about improving the business. He always provides an honest opinion, and I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without his help.

You have a big crew of carpenters. What’s the secret to a building a good team?

Your employees are everything in business. If you treat them right and respect them, you will build a tight team. I have nineteen full-time carpenters with an additional seven full-time subcontractors and most of us hang out on weekends together.

We went through a stage where once a month we would have a Friday off, go play golf and have some beers together. It was perfect as a team bonding session. Everyone became closer as a result.

But if we didn’t earn it, we didn’t get it (TJ). So, we actually worked harder as a result.

But if we didn’t earn it, we didn’t get it (TJ). So, we actually worked harder as a result.

There was also a period where we worked away as a team. Honestly, I think that is what made us such a close group. We were doing work down in Horsham, building schools and living in apartments locally. We ended up staying away for twelve months during covid and the boys loved it.

How do you think the building industry could improve?

Providing support for running a business. Even if something came up now, I’d still take weekend classes to become better at my job. I would also make the guys who are qualified come with me. Even if they don’t want to run a business, they would see what I deal with on a day-today basis.

I’m meeting someone tomorrow that just started their own business. They contacted me through Instagram asking for some help because they had nowhere else to go.

I’m more than happy to offer advice, but it would also be good to have services that people can access at a reasonable cost.

How do you think social media plays a role for your business?

I originally had no interest in getting Instagram but one of my best mates and I were having drinks one night and he said I had to get it, even though I didn’t want to. I ended up getting Instagram and it has been massive for us. I would say 60% of my work comes from people messaging me through the platform. We currently have twelve jobs and nine of those were a result of Instagram.

I think a big element of that has been having someone assist me with social media and photography. We work with a digital agency and they have helped us gain more exposure on the platform.

What about talent acquisition? Do you get folks wanting to work for you?

Honestly, I probably get six people a week message me. A lot of them are carpenters who strictly do framing. They message us because they want to learn other aspects of carpentry. It’s good to see a lot of people wanting to better themselves.

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