hello to annie brereton
restoring old buildings into new air bnb's
When you’ve worked a certain way your entire life with a steady job, regular hours and a reliable income, it can seem impossible to pursue a different way of living. We all get so used to the stability of our lives, but when we stop to think about what’s most important to us, often times it becomes clear that we need a little bit of a shake up.
For our guest, Annie Brereton a little shake up wasn’t quite enough. In 2017 Annie and her husband Shane quit their jobs and went searching for adventure. With a focus on treading more gently on the natural environment and repurposing what already exists, their business Salvage Merchants was born. With too many combined skills to mention, this dynamic duo create unique, authentic living spaces using salvaged materials. They value doing more with less, driving change through example, connection without competition and open hearted engagement with their clients and they don’t mind getting their hands dirty to create something truly beautiful for their clients.
The excitement and passion for what Annie and her husband, Shane are doing, is infections and we can’t wait to share this episode with you.
If you have a topic or question you’d like us to cover, contact us here.
SOME TOPICS THAT WE COVER:
Working with your husband/partner and the challenges this can bring
Bringing your own unique skills to the table and being open minded
The changing landscape in the building industry for female apprentices
How creativity manifests in different ways for different people
Turning your passion into a business
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Read the Full Podcast Transcript Below:
We're working on it...
Rebeka: Hi, I'm Rebeka.
Kribashini: I'm Kribashini.
Rebeka: Welcome to Building with BuildHer.
Kribashini: Our podcast, we believe that building is fun.
Rebeka: Super fun.
Kribashini: So much fun.
Rebeka: BuildHer Collective was created to help women with building and renovating. We believe that with the right tools, everyone can build. For us, it's all about encouraging women to take back control of the building process and really achieve their dreams.
Kribashini: We have women in the building industry, and as developers, builders and project managers, it's our passion to share everything we know with other women doing the same. That's why we've created this podcast for you.
Rebeka: If you love all things building.
Kribashini: You're into design.
Rebeka: Keen on the numbers.
Kribashini: About to renovate.
Rebeka: Thinking and dreaming of that forever home and what it would look like or even developing for profit, then you found your family.
Kribashini: Subscribe to our podcast and follow our journey over at buildhercollective.com.au.
Annie, welcome to our podcast Building with BuildHer.
Annie Brereton: Thank you so much for having me here. I'm very excited to be here.
Kribashini: I'm so excited that you accepted our invitation to chat to you because when I first saw your post, actually shout out to Emily Osmond, I thought, "Oh, my gosh, you are an amazing person. We really need to talk to you because what you're doing seems to be really exciting for you." Also, I think there's a real need for it in the market. We thought it'd be great to share that with our audience here in the podcast, and also in our DevelopHers Inner Circle.
Annie: Great, I hope I can add something to your audience.
Kribashini: Why don't you start off by telling us a little bit about your story? I think you have such an interesting background. I’d just love you to share that with everyone because I found it totally fascinating.
Annie: Sure. Fairly diverse background. I spent about 20 years in the music industry working for various record companies. I then ended up travelling the world with TeenArena for a period of three or four years before I had children. It was fairly intense but incredible some of--
Kribashini: Do you know what? I think that travelling around for work is actually the world's biggest con. [laughs]
Annie: It's completely the world's biggest con unless you're travelling with a superstar and then I have to admit sometimes pretty cool but I do agree. This was back in the '90s. There was no hooking into the internet, every hotel you went to easily. It was dialup and those, from the other side of the world. Yes, it was tough work. We'd be out all day then I’d try and catch up on work on the other side of the world. No regrets though, incredible experiences and then I went off and had children and decided that I didn't want to pursue that much travel in my life anymore.
I ended up working in administration roles but generally in building construction type businesses. I worked for a fairly large property developer and was doing office management there. Whilst I loved seeing and hearing about all the building things, my role was not really connected to that so I found that a little frustrating. Then I was called back we might say to the family business. My brother has a large glazing business and he had opened a new branch and was looking for someone that he trusted to run that for him.
I was at a time where I was looking for a change and I decided to take that on and did that for a couple of years and built up the business. Shane was actually working there at the time as well, great job--
Kribashini: Shane’s your current partner?
Annie: Shane is my husband, sorry, husband, business partner, partner in all things. Yes, I was working there, had enormous flexibility, was doing something I really quite enjoyed but was still searching for more. It got to the end of the year in 2017. Shane and I took a little bit of time, self-reflection over the summer holidays and decided that we had this unique skill set, what we consider to be unique anyway, and that we were going to have a crack at something together. What that was going to be we had no clue at the time.
Kribashini: How did that feel when you made that decision to just take a crack at something? Did you know it was going to be in the property market, or did you think it could be anything? How did you actually narrow down into, “We want to be developing?”
Annie: Sure. We definitely knew it would be in the building property space. Shane has a really broad range of skills in that building carpentry area so that was certainly something that we knew we'd end up in. What had happened was Shane and I had been together for three years and when he moved into my home, he brought with him a house full of tools and building materials and so on. We now had a shed full of materials sitting there.
Kribashini: You call them materials. I call them toys.
Annie: Toys, junk, whatever. Our first thought was actually how are we going to remove those things from our home and what could we do with them to build a business? Shane's a magpie scavenger from way back, so he had lots of awesome secondhand materials. We took a lease on a tiny little factory around the corner from our home. Initially, it was just to store them, have a look at what we had and go, "What can we do with that stuff to make money from it?” basically.
Kribashini: It's so exciting. Stepping away from what your business and your career that you were in, the family business must have been really challenging.
Annie: Yes. I'm a fairly risk-averse person. I had worked hard for everything that I had and was definitely concerned, still am concerned with losing that. I had lost my first husband a few years earlier and that had put a whole lot of things in perspective for me. Money certainly was nowhere near the top of that list. My family, my happiness, my joy was where I wanted to focus my attention. The money comes or the money goes, whatever. It really does, I can honestly say have pretty little impact on how I feel those days.
Kribashini: Well you can’t take with you, can you?
Annie: Absolutely, can’t take it with you. It's nice to have. Don't get me wrong, but it is certainly not the be-all and end-all.
Kribashini: It's so true. I think you've touched on so many things that we chat about in our DevelopHers Inner Circle, but also just what we hear a lot from the women that we talked to is that a really great partnership where you can both bring skills that complement each other to it, particularly in innovating for profit or developing is a relationship made in heaven.
Annie: Definitely and I think not all couples can do it. I absolutely can acknowledge that. I won't say that every day is easy. It's not. There are real challenges to working together with your partner some days but I guess also what I've saying that is it's actually been a really lovely learning experience for our relationship as well because we both have so much commitment to. We're really prepared to nut out, "Well, why didn't that work?” or, “Why did that really get me going that day. To come home and reflect on that and go, "Let's not do that again,” or, “Let's change this up a bit." That's really been the story of Salvage Merchants so far is that it is definitely an evolving business.
Kribashini: You have a shared interest. It's almost like having a shared hobby, but you've taken it a step further to being a business.
Kribashini: That means, you both have this area where you come together and your goal is the same, your vision is the same, how you get there might be different.
Kribashini: The other thing we also hear a lot is that you've had this pivotal moment in your life that’s made you want to change or made you want to jump or leap into something else. I think the fact that you've chosen building is super exciting.
Kribashini: For us, it's always been this amazing place where you get to be analytical, you get to be processed-driven, you get to be goal-oriented, but you also get to bring your creativity into it. I guess I wanted to ask the world's hardest question. What do you think for you, what do you bring to that process and what do you really get out of it?
Annie: Interestingly enough, I've never considered myself a creative person. When I think of creative people, I think of artists and musicians. I'd worked in that field for so long and I was like, "I can't do that." I don't have creativity. When we came into the business, we were really looking at I have a really strong admin background, organization background and that's my strength. The business initially started as a retail outlet of selling upcycled and repurposed homewares essentially.
Kribashini: Wow, what a journey.
Annie: Yes. That's where we started. We had a little retail space at the front of our workshop and it was fantastic. Shane is a great teacher and a really patient teacher and he got me very involved in doing things. What I did realize along the way was a lot of those ideas were things I was coming up with. I'd say, "We've got these pickets. Let's make Christmas trees out of pickets, out of fence pickets,” and he's like, "Oh, yes."
He's this amazing guy that I’d just go, “Do that,” and then next week, there we were at the market with Christmas picket trees. I went, “Maybe not everyone has those thoughts.” People were inspired by what we did and it's taken me, I won't tell you how many decades but quite a few to probably allow myself to say, "No, I am a creative being." It might not be in a traditional sense, but-
-it really fills me up. That designing, thinking, planning, conceptualizing is really what I love most about what I do.
Kribashini: It's so exciting. I think you'll find that a lot of women actually feel the same way. It's a really interesting thing. Until they tap into that creativity, they don’t realize how creative they are and then how much they actually enjoy it. We start into this process and in this world thinking, "This is our zone," but actually, it expands to be like, "We can actually do a little bit in all of these areas.” That is what it's all about, I think.
Kribashini: We often say jumping into where you want to be and then pulling out of things that you don't want to necessarily be involved in is a great way to manage your developments and manage your projects but also get the best out of the professionals that you're working with and the best out of yourself.
Annie: Definitely and that's what we've done with the business. As I was saying with the evolution, we've gone, "That's not really serving us," or, “That's not serving our customers. How are we going to modify that to make it work for all of us, our client base and ourselves? Which has been a really interesting journey and is definitely continuing.
Kribashini: I'm even more excited about your journey now knowing that you started off repurposing furniture. To see where you are now and to hear you speaking earlier about where you guys want to go and the things that are going to come up in your future, I'm super excited for you.
Going from this new music industry and this really very different world and then obviously, being a mom and looking after your daughter. Before, earlier we were just hearing some stories about raising children. I’ve obviously just had my little guy and he's been evicted to the other room with my husband and a dog. [laughs]
Annie: Very quietly, I might add.
Kribashini: About five minutes ago, I heard a little cry, I nearly jumped out of my seat and he was reassuring me, "Don't worry." [laughs]
Annie: My children are now 19 and 15 and that mother instinct does not leave us. It certainly changes but it does not leave us but it’s wonderful-- As I was saying earlier, my 19-year-old daughter is actually a first-year carpentry apprentice.
Annie: She's all of 4 foot 11. She's a tiny little dot and she’s just blazing a little trial. She's working for an excellent builder who has just been so encouraging. As I was saying, to watch your child develop into an adult and to go into an industry that excites you as well is just awesome.
Kribashini: I was just chatting to a builder the other day and he was saying that he's looking in the market for a young female apprentice because he finds or he was finding that some of the younger boys that are coming up through, they’re a little bit hard to manage. He was like, "Actually I think I'd like to work with a young female apprentice and see what that's like." Any young female out there, who's listening to our podcast who wants to become a carpenter, an apprentice, do it because the landscape is changing.
There always used to be a stigma or a bit of "Girls can't do that. You're not strong enough." I think actually to hear that from a builder himself changing it up a little bit, I was actually thinking that's pretty cool.
Annie: That's what I would encourage any listeners thinking about going into that as well. Her first employer was of a traditional mindset and, "You're not strong enough." She was doing framing. She would never be strong enough I’d heard but that's not the skill set she brings. She has partnered with this wonderful small business and he's actually commended her at Christmas time. He gave her a lovely card and a bonus and said, "The finesse and the detail that you bring to the job is something that potentially a male wouldn't bring," so he's loving that element. It's just about looking, as you say, at the landscape a little bit differently now.
Kribashini: It's teamwork as well. I think our best teams work fantastically when there's a great balance of male and females because we bring out the best in each other. We digress a little bit.
Kribashini: No, that's okay, because I'm super excited about that little chat. I wanted to also know I guess from where you've come from in your industry in the music background and course you've had the experience in the glazing company, what have been some of your revelations? Have you got any insights into what it's like to be on-site and to be on a site 24/7? Because one of the aspects that I find your business quite interesting is that you guys are actually doing that restoration work yourself so you're really hands-on and on the tools.
Annie: Yes, sure. Fortunately or unfortunately, most sites are just Shane and I, which is great most of the time and we love that. That's the only dynamic we have to deal with. What I will say is that it's bloody hard work. I'm 49 years old. I didn't expect to be on my hands and knees grouting tiles at 49. Honestly, it took me a week to get the black grout out of my fingernails. But did I love it? Absolutely.
I was sore for days but the satisfaction that I-- In fact, we went back to that job yesterday to do some more work. I walked in and went, "I did that. That was me." That's just overwhelming, that I can be involved in that level of transformation is really cool.
Kribashini: One of the things I always struggled with and I'm going to be brutally honest here is I did this job out in Debney Park and I was the site manager on the job. It was my first time being on the site. Previously to that, I was working as a contract admin and I was in the office doing a lot of the paperwork. This is my first step into site management when I was young. I was like I was in my early 20s. I got out there and at first, I loved it but I'm a very social person and I was the only site manager there, so it was only me in the trades. I found it quite isolating actually to start off with.
Then there was just this learning curve. One, the scariness of being alone, being the only person on-site running the job. The second, being lonely because I needed company. I know this sounds really prescient, so I'm going to like do a preparatory apology. I did not like the toilets and I [laughs] really missed the comforts of being in a nice office with a nice bathroom and a nice mirror. I was cold and I was dirty and I didn't like it. Okay, I was in my early 20s, but those are my feelings at the time. Satisfaction out of the job, loved it. Loved being part of it, loved being part of the decision-making process, loved actually learning about those technicalities on site.
I think thinking back on it now, what I really truly understood at that point in my career was levels. Up until that point, I'd been doing a lot of contract admin. Yes, I had an understanding of RLs and everything on the drawings but until you actually on-site building something and you realize that things don't line up. Things line up perfectly on drawings. It's all very pretty and it's all very easy. Until you're on-site, and you're working with the dirt, and you're levelling out your project, and you're benching it, and you're setting all your levels, it's very, very difficult.
I can imagine with you guys and your projects particularly your church conversion project, restoration project that we're going to talk about the DevelopHers Inner Circle. You're working in old buildings. By far, we know in the construction industry, restoration is extremely difficult as is renovation. When we're really digging in and opening up a building, we can open ourselves up to a multitude of issues. Have you guys come across anything? Have you had you found any little knacks for things? How has your experience been in that? Because it's challenging.
Annie: It's certainly challenging. In fact, just yesterday we were working on a property that's 150 years old. Somebody in their wisdom had decided to nail and silicon shut the original front door. Our client wanted to reopen that because it's going to be an Airbnb. Generally, you want people to be able to come in the door.
Kribashini: It's the small details.
Annie: Exactly. We managed to pull it out intact and that was fine. Of course, when we re-hung it, it's completely out of plumb.
Kribashini: It was silicon shut?
Annie: Yes and where do you start? Because the door's out of plumb, the frame's out of plumb, the wall's out of plumb. I think for us, we work very much on the principle of things are perfectly imperfect in our world. That's different in a new build obviously but we have incredible clients. We've only ever partnered with people that have this trust in us to go and allow us to make on-the-go decisions because that’s what needs to happen in that scenario. If we decide that the architrave no longer works, we'll go and find a secondhand new one to put in. That might not be exactly what they had but they're willing to compromise to retain that sense of salvaged materials and working with secondhand.
Yes, that's really hard. You uncover lots of imperfections. In fact, on our church project, we very early on decided that the imperfections were the beauty of the building. She has a lot of cracks none of which are going to mean it falls down. It stood strong for 150 years. We decided definitely from a financial perspective as well, we just couldn't afford to fix every crack. That was not what we set out to do anyway. We didn't want to make her perfect. I wake up in bed there in the mornings and to lie there and look at those cracks and think about the history, that's the experience we're creating for our guests.
Kribashini: That's beautiful. I'd like to thank you for being with us today. I'm really looking forward to diving more into your church conversion project in the DevelopHers Inner Circle. Thank you so much for chatting with us in our podcast.
Annie: Thank you I really appreciate the opportunity and I'm so thrilled to be here. Thanks.
Kribashini: Thanks for listening to Building with BuildHer. We'd love for you to spread the word. For show notes, links and downloads and other resources and freebies, head to buildhercollective.com.au. Don't forget, that's BuildHer with an H-E-R.
Rebeka: If you enjoyed this episode, it would mean so much to both of us if you could take a minute or two to leave a review.
Kribashini: Don't forget to subscribe so you can listen next time as we talk all things building and women making a mark in the building industry.