Warrego Water Services

Thriving through drought

BUSINESS: Warrego Water Services
PRINCIPALS: Geoff Cole, Grant Colquhoun, John Masters
LOCATION: Toowoomba, Dalby and Warwick, QLD
WEBSITE: www.warregowater.com.au

Warrego Water Services is a business that is thriving through Australia’s challenging climate conditions. PEA reporter Kiera Taylor speaks with co-owner Geoff Cole about maintaining quality standards and even theme parks!

Geoff Cole’s approach to marketing Warrego Water Services, the business he co-owns with Grant Colquhoun and John Masters, is typically Australian.

“I always think a small amount of marketing in everyone’s area, or everyone’s backyard, is a good amount of marketing… it’s a bit like having a bet on the Melbourne cup. I like to bet on every horse and hope one gets up with the better odds to get a better return,” he said.

It’s a punt that has paid dividends and it would seem these gents have won the trifecta. There are three retail arms of Warrego Water Services located in Toowoomba, Dalby and Warwick in Queensland’s south east corner, where they service a broad customer base thanks to this marketing approach.

“The broader based the better. If it’s raining, no one wants irrigation, but we can go and do some work in the meat works or something like that.”

“We do everything from a supplying a couple of nuts and bolts over the counter to a full turnkey, couple of million dollar irrigation systems,” Geoff explained.

The retail arm of the business supplies rainwater tanks and pumps, bore and solar pumps, engine drive pumps, pressure cleaners, irrigation, fittings, filtration, and hard hose irrigators. They also supply lateral move and centre pivot irrigation to farms and supply equipment to the surrounding coal mines.

“And then we also have clients like Movie World and the theme parks… We supply pumps and different bits and pieces for rides. We do lots of fabrication around the movie world set, so we’re very broad based in that respect… If you go down a slide at Movie World it’ll be our pumps putting the water to it!”

“We do a lot of work at Sea World as well – all the life support systems for the animals and those sorts of things. But a lot of that is done through our sister company JAG, so it’s not directly Warrego Water,” Geoff said.

L-R: Graham Rackley, Stock Watering and Feedlot Sales; Grant Colquhoun, Pivot and Lateral Project Sales; Alister Colquhoun, Senior Project Sales; Geoff Cole, Toowoomba Sales Manager.

Based in Brisbane, JAG Poly Pty Ltd is an independent company that was formed in 2004 by Geoff, John and Alister as a spin off from their original business, Southwest Water Services Pty Ltd. JAG provides pipeline construction, pump station design and installation, maintenance and poly fabrication to the pipeline industry. Southwest Water Services was sold in 2007 before the gents regrouped again in 2012 to form Warrego Water Services.

Each of the men have an extensive background in the water and irrigation industry, with Geoff having worked at Grundfos Pumps and Alister previously working at what was Hardie Irrigation Services at the time.

“When we rebooted it [the business], we had Alister’s son, who had worked in our business, and he now runs the Dalby side of the operation for us. I look after Toowoomba, and we have a junior partner in Warwick who looks after the Warwick side, so we have three branches now. It’s grown from this little irrigation shop in Toowoomba, then Toowoomba-Dalby, to Toowoomba-Dalby-Warwick,” Geoff explained.

They employ 36 staff members across all the businesses, which service a large geographical area covering from the Queensland border to west of the Great Dividing Range, and to around 500km west of Toowoomba, Geoff reported.

“Normally we give what we call same day service. If [a customer is] a day away we say ‘next day service’, but we always try and stay within that day away. We have clients down at Menindee Lakes (NSW), at Kenley down in Victoria, Tooleybuc (NSW), and down through those districts, and we also have customers in Alice Springs. So those people we can’t get to today, but we’d be there tomorrow if they were in trouble,” he explained.

Striving for quality
One thing Geoff doesn’t take a punt on is the brands and products they choose to stock in the shops. He explained that the decision making process is focussed on quality and the supplier.

“Normally what we stock is what we think is a quality product for the market. We go down that quality line because we don’t want the product to come back.”

“You’ve got to sell good gear because these pumps go in on a creek bank or similar, and they do lots and lots of long hours and long days of pumping water, so it’s got to be reliable gear.”

“And then probably the second decision is we need a good partnership with our suppliers. If we have a good relationship with a supplier and they’ve got a good quality product, we normally put price or cost of that product third on the list. So it’s normally the quality and the reputation of the brand of that product and then who we buy them off, because you could have the best product in the world and be a hopeless mob of buggers to deal with,” he laughed.

“So we chase that good quality product and good people to deal with.”

Consequently, Geoff has developed a close relationship with Aussie Pumps over the years.

“We have a very good relationship with Aussie Pumps. Brad Ferrugia is our service contact there. We find their back up service is extraordinary,” he explained.

“They’ll have anything from an industrial pump to an engine drive pump to a pressure cleaner to a vacuum cleaner. So they have a good quality, broad range of products that we can source, and it covers a lot of the needs of our customers… Aussie is one of those companies. They’ve been around for a long time.”
Other pumps that have made the cut include Mono, Grundfos and Davey, with Yanmar being the preferred engine brand.

“Our major pipe brands are Vinidex, Iplex, Philmac and we have Valmont, or Valley, Irrigators centre pivots and lateral move irrigators,” Geoff explained.

Thriving through drought
Given Australia’s propensity for weather extremes, Warrego Water Services is right at the coalface of Australia’s drought conditions.

“Everyone says, ‘but you’re an irrigation store and you like the dry weather.’ But we need the farmer to have rain on a regular basis so he can water his crop, and become more efficient in watering his fields, to have the revenue flowing into his pocket so he can spend it with us. So we’re like the second people along in the food chain,” Geoff explained.

“If the farmers aren’t making money and they’re in survival mode surviving drought, they’re not spending money with us, so we do have some real concerns about global warming and the extended dry periods. We are in an arid country and we’re in the water game, so we’re right in the thick of it. We can be adversely affected or conversely affected by it. The first six months of a drought is fantastic for this business, the last six months of a drought is always devastating for us.”

But these gents are obviously doing something right to make their business not only survive the hard times, but grow. Given current challenges – rising temperatures and climate change, the Murray Darling Scheme and the water license buy backs – perhaps their next move will be their biggest punt yet.

“We’re looking at another two sites at the moment to expand our business in. The timeline on those sites is really dependent on whether we can have the correct staff in those sites,” Geoff said.

“It’s the culture of the business and the people within the business who make that culture, so there’s no point opening a branch and not having the right staff to run it,” he said.