We love chatting with like-minded business folk who are smashing it in their field and always find it super inspiring and intriguing to listen to what they have to say about where they started, what floats their boat and what their average day looks like. We sat down with Susie – one half of the Aaron Martin Constructions brand – to chat all things business and life. Read on as we chat about the humble beginnings of Aaron Martin Constructions, the number one spot to visit in South Australia and the power that comes with a rebrand and how it allowed their company to move into its next stage of growth.
You’re chatting with Susie Martin and while my official title is ‘General Manager’, I’m also the co-founder of Aaron Martin Construction and wife of our other co-founder (and builder) Aaron Martin.
Aaron and I officially launched Aaron Martin Construction in late 2014, at the time he had a 15 year history in the building industry, working as a carpenter, then qualifying as a builder and I was a Physiotherapist in a large metropolitan hospital. We had always had a passion for building, which included designing and building our own forever home in 2010.
In 2013 when I was on my first block of maternity leave we combined forces again and built our first spec home (our own design and build to then sell on completion). Alongside this we took on a couple of larger private projects – a new home and a couple of small renovations. Prior to this, Aaron’s work had focused more on pergolas and decks and subcontracting as a 1st fix carpenter. This was I guess when it became clear to both of us, that as a team we might be able to turn our passion into a sustainable business. Fast forward 5 years and 3 kids later, I never returned to Physiotherapy and we now run Aaron Martin Construction together on a daily basis. We would describe our business as a boutique building company specialising in building ‘forever’ homes for our clients. We limit the number of builds we take on per year to around 8-10 (sometimes less if some of the projects are larger) so that we can both be extremely involved in every step of the project from concept to completion.
Well I’m a little bias on this one because I was born and raised on Kangaroo Island – a beautiful island situated approx. 100 km’s south west of Adelaide. It’s well known for its pristine beaches, stunning coastlines and abundance of wildlife. It’s quite feasible on ‘KI’ to be the only person present on an absolutely pristine beach on a warm day. Aaron jokes that I’ve been ruined because I never feel like any other beach really cuts the mustard, even in other parts of the world I don’t think I’ve come across anything quite like KI.
With a population of only around 5000 people, it was an awesome place to grow up, so much time was spent outdoors and playing sport, it’s an extremely safe environment where everyone knows everyone and it is still one of my most favourite places to visit.
Back on the ‘mainland’ though we would tell an out-of-towner that they must venture up into the Adelaide Hills, which is much closer to our home base. It is home to some of the best wineries that South Australia has to offer and also has an abundance of fabulous places to eat and gorgeous little homewares shops.
We are primarily a ‘design and construct’ builder which means we are in our element when our first client interaction happens before pen has even hit paper on a design. That way we can work with the client every step of the way from design, through the approvals process and onto building and then handing over their forever home. We find that we can streamline the process for the client by working this way and ultimately get a better outcome. There’s nothing worse than having a beautiful house designed that seems to tick all of the boxes, then taking that design to a builder to quote and finding out that you’ll never be able to afford it. By involving a builder like AMC in the design phase of the project, we can be thinking about budget and economy of construction from the outset, ensuring the client can achieve the best possible result for their spend.
In terms of pulling together our house designs – we work hand in hand with a very talented draftsman who sits down with both myself and with our clients to design one off bespoke homes. This is a very collaborative process where we really try to get inside the client’s head to gain a true understanding of not only what it is that they want to achieve, but also what is going to work well for them and/or their family in their day to day lives. We also place a lot of emphasis on ensuring the design of the home is right for the site (factoring in things such as orientation, views and the lay of the land).
While the final decisions on interior design are ultimately up to our clients – they are certainly not left to do this in isolation. We have built an incredible team of suppliers and tradespeople around us, who work with our clients to pull different aspects of the home together. It’s also not uncommon for me to attend selection appointments with our clients to assist them to ensure the overall interior design is well resolved.
And it doesn’t stop there – once building is underway, we encourage our clients to be an active part of this process. So we will often arrange to have them onsite to give the final tick of approval on exactly how something is going to be installed (i.e. tile layouts) and/or if we think something can be done in a slightly better way, we’ll bring them onsite to run through this with them.
Every step of the way, it’s about ensuring we can get the best possible result.
While the overall look and feel of our client’s homes are very much driven by them, Aaron and I have also built 5 spec homes under the Aaron Martin Construction banner and we are currently in the process of renovating an office space. So the creative process is getting more and more refined as time goes on.
For me, the process always begins in my head (usually late at night or very early in the morning) – mentally pulling together images of things I’ve seen and would love to try to incorporate. The next step is to get it down on paper by creating a mood board – this does 2 things – it helps me to communicate my message to others (the draftsman, cabinet maker, stylist etc) about what it is I’m trying to achieve, but also helps me to work out whether or not what I think will work together actually does.
My greatest resources are both Instagram and Pinterest. On Instagram in particular my feed is full of both designers and builders in the industry whose work I love. So I would say daily I’m taking mental snapshots of things that I would love to try (or also think will work well for one of my clients). Inspiration for house and interior design can really come from anywhere though I think – places you travel to, trends in fashion, the environment and more standard places like print and social media.
This is a great question because this is something that is really important to us. While we love to ensure that every home we design and build is different and sometimes even quite unique – it’s ultimately important to us that we’re creating a ‘home’ – which for us is a space that evokes feelings of warmth, comfort and joy. When you walk into one of our homes we want you to immediately start imagining you and your family living in that space, cooking in the kitchen, chatting at the dining table, contemplating in the outdoor space etc.
We also really encourage our clients to inject their own personality into their homes. Because our clients are designing their ‘forever’ homes – we don’t want them thinking about what might be best for re-sale. We want them to think about what it is they would love to see, look at, touch and feel on a daily basis.
And finally we want people to feel like this home is a one off custom design where the level of thought and planning that has gone into every step of the design and build process is immediately evident.
The stand out project for us this year would have to be the completion of our fifth spec home – which following a lot of interest on social media was coined the ‘modern barn’
Our fifth spec home also became my own Mum’s forever home. My Mum had been living with us up until this time (in a converted part of our shed), and when we purchased a small corner block in a great location in Strath (in a quiet cul-de-sac, looking out over the tops of 100-year old gum trees lining the River Angas walkway), it also presented as the perfect location to build a home that could become my Mum’s own ‘forever’ home.
We had a lot of fun with this project and tried to push the envelope a little, while still having to be very mindful of budget. What we created was a pavilion style home that would more commonly be seen on acreage than a small 600m2 residential block. One of the stand out features was a 6m high double sided recycled brick chimney/fireplace that can be seen from the front aspect of the house. We also managed to work in a loft above the kitchen, where Mum can sit and take in those tree top views which will never be built out.
Another really enjoyable aspect of this project was that because we knew it would be a single female residing in the house we were able to work in a lot of feminine colours into the interior – like blush pink concrete basins in the bathrooms and a blush pink tiled rangehood in the kitchen.
The element I love working with the most actually comes down to our clients and their personalities. A client who comes to you with an open mind, and who is keen to collaborate is the ultimate for us because it means we know that we’re going to be able to achieve an optimal result and one where we will be encouraged to try new things that we perhaps haven’t done or used before. Every person, every parcel of land and every budget comes with its own set of challenges, but being able to partner with a client to work through these challenges and still achieve an amazing outcome is the best feeling.
This question is kind of funny because I actually didn’t come to Smack Bang for a brand overhaul I just came for a brand spanking new website. And it took until the website was nearly complete for me to realise that we needed more than that – Drou and the team had gently been pushing me towards this realisation, but it just took me a little while to get there, so I’m sure it was happy days when I finally acknowledged they were right 🙂
From there we looked at redeveloping our logo and also introducing an icon (which is probably now one of my favourite aspects of the overall brand refresh). There were also some subtle changes like making the colour of ‘our blue’ a fraction darker which was a much better fit for our brand.
I think the timing of me first approaching Smack Bang also coincided with our business starting to hit a slightly higher market. So since that time we’ve worked really hard together to ensure brand consistency across all of our touchpoints (website, marketing brochures, site signage, e-mail signatures, letterheads, e-newsletters etc) and this work is ongoing.
I think it’s our commitment to remaining boutique and constantly striving to deliver an exceptional client experience. It’s very easy in this industry to start focusing purely on numbers, but we feel that as soon as this shift takes place the heart and soul drops out of the business. While our super hands on approach and involvement in every aspect of the business does limit our potential for growth, it’s something we’re happy to compromise on because what gives us the greatest joy is achieving an exceptional result for our clients. We’d take that over the numbers any day of the week.
We’d had 3 new websites in 3 years before I approached Smack Bang and each time they’d never really hit the mark. One of the biggest issues I had was the disconnect between web design and web development and then ongoing maintenance. And in hindsight, there was probably never enough time spent on truly trying to understand who we were as a business and what it was that we needed the site to do for us. So I was determined to find a slightly larger business that obviously delivered beautiful sites, but in addition to this were also very process focused, had high levels of communication and could ensure my needs were going to be met. I had done a fair bit of research before settling on Smack Bang, and one of the things that really got me over the line was actually Tess and her blog posts. I felt like I had found a like minded business (now I can see that was also exceptional marketing on Smack Bang’s behalf – well played you guys!! ☺)
And I have to say the thing I have enjoyed the most about working with the team at Smack Bang aside from the obvious in the amazing creative design – is the high level of communication. I always get a response within 24 hours and if timeframes are given they are always met. I know at times I was pretty pedantic with some of my requests, but I was never made to feel like I was being difficult.
The rebrand has actually given Aaron and I the confidence to grow. It’s almost like a suit of armour having all of this beautiful marketing material surrounding you that truly reflects who you are and what it is that you’re trying to achieve. When a client comes to you and you know they’ve been on your beautiful website and you can then hand them a custom designed marketing brochure that is equally as beautiful, it makes you feel more confident in who you are and what it is that you do. Sometimes I stand and look at one of our site signs and think – WOW – is that really us???! These guys look amazing!
At the end of the day we are a pretty small business, but I feel like with the assistance of Smack Bang we have created a number of marketing strategies that are consistent and speaking directly to our target market. This adds 10 layers of professionalism to our business and allows us to punch well above our weight.
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