YAdelaide Exclusives

Natasha Kearslake – South Vac is going from strength to strength!

Since 2016, South Vac Hydro Excavation and Wet/Dry Vacuuming (South Vac) in South Australia has offered specialist trenching and potholing services using hydro excavation while providing a safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly alternative to mechanical excavation.

Name
Natasha Kearslake
Business Name
South Vac

Natasha Kearslake – South Vac is going from strength to strength!

Since 2016, South Vac Hydro Excavation and Wet/Dry Vacuuming (South Vac) in South Australia has offered specialist trenching and potholing services using hydro excavation while providing a safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly alternative to mechanical excavation.

Natasha Kearslake – South Vac is going from strength to strength!

Since 2016, South Vac Hydro Excavation and Wet/Dry Vacuuming (South Vac) in South Australia has offered specialist trenching and potholing services using hydro excavation while providing a safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly alternative to mechanical excavation.

Share

The McLaren Flat firm uses an industrial strength vacuum that can collect liquid and dry waste such as tank and pond sludge, but not septic waste. Besides, South Vac can help address factory spills, viticulture waste, flooding emergencies and truck, tanker, or pollution trap cleaning.

“An unusual job we completed recently was vacuuming ash from a building structure involved in the Adelaide Hills fires for renovations” said Natasha Kearslake, Director, South Vac.

“The brainchild of director Michael Filkin, who had a dream to start his own business, the launch of South Vac recognised a growing need for environmentally sustainable options in the excavation industry,” said Natasha, who is also Michael’s life partner.

The couple’s son Will, who manages one of south Vac’s smaller vacuum trucks, rounds out the family management team.

Diverse client base and qualified expertise

South Vac’s clients include civil construction companies and plumbing firms, electricians, utilities, builders, fencing, and engineers. Natasha adds, “We also work with arborists, shade sail businesses and local government.”

“We also offer our services to the public for jobs such as cable or root trenching, footings, or cleaning sludge from large ponds. The list is endless!”

Customer care and quality work are central to South Vac’s point of difference.

This sounds really cliche, but we find quality work and a focus on customer care are frequently lacking, and as a small business, we have the time to concentrate on those aspects.” Natasha explained. “We also choose our suppliers based on their reputations for quality work and customer care because it means a good job is guaranteed.”

That Natasha and Will have certificates in underground utility location is another point of difference for South Vac.

“This means we are more likely to spot problems on-site before they occur and can practise precise, low-risk excavation around utilities.

“We have the credentials that enable our team to work on high-pressure gas mains and in confined spaces. I hold tertiary qualifications in Environmental Management, which means we have a strong focus on environmental sustainability supported with our expertise.

Broad role and taking on new challenges

As a director, Natasha has a diverse range of responsibilities to ensure South Vac keeps hoovering away. “I have a wide variety of experience in local, state and private sector positions that ensures I can perform multiple roles.

I manage finance, human resources, safety compliance, marketing, strategic planning, customer service, bookings and general administration.”

As for the major challenges that Natasha faces as a director, compliance is high on her list. “There is so much compliance required in our industry it is sometimes hard to keep up with new codes of conduct or laws.

“I subscribe to all relevant government and industry bodies and dedicate the time to read emails and social media advising of changes – it’s the only way to stay on top of it.”

Managing risk and business planning provided some cover in 2020

Initially, Natasha and Michael didn’t consider risk management regarding debtors. Natasha admitted “We learnt this lesson the hard way! Then we engaged a risk assessment advisor who has saved us so much time and money with how we engage with and recover money from debtors, which is a major issue with most SMEs.”

While South Vac had a business plan, not even the duo’s commercial foresight could anticipate a once in a century pandemic in its SWOT analysis. That said, as luck would have it, the South Vac owners expected in 2019 the possibility of a slight downturn in its markets in 2020 and had started to diversify its services and the customers/industries it serviced, “This move was pivotal in surviving 2020.” said Natasha Kearslake. “Our regular customers also remained very loyal to us during 2020, which enabled us to continue working.”

She continued, “Continual learning, diversifying, innovation and communicating with your team and customers are essential to overcoming challenges. Always stay open to new ideas and  practices – from your team, customers, and the industry – it could make or break your business.”

Other achievements

Apart from pivoting successfully through COVID, Natasha Kearslake says her company has won multiple awards. “However, we gauge success with small ongoing achievements.” she explained. “Learning and growing through our challenges and building resilience has enabled us to continue operating for five years and even through 2020!

“Having the foresight to see the benefits of market diversity and implement it through the services we offer has been a great achievement. We have a large family of repeat customers who have been with us for years, and we feel grateful to be continually supported by so many local and South Australian businesses.”

“Always stay open to new ideas and practices – from your team, customers and the industry – it could make or break your business.”

The appeal of being your own boss

Natasha says the ability to implement a healthy, positive work environment with open, honest communication where both employees and customers contribute to your learning and growth are significant aspects of business ownership.

“This aspect seemed to be lacking in previous work positions. I also like the freedom of implementing good practices and making changes regularly – and without obstacles such as outdated mindsets or practices that prevent change.

“Supporting local businesses is important to us, so l like the freedom of providing this support whenever we can rather than using preferred suppliers who are not necessarily local to SA.”

In January 2020 we became a Hino Hero! Hino celebrates hard-working small businesses Australia wide!

The value of mentoring

Small business independence can be a challenge for the uninitiated, which is why many successful owners such as Natasha Kearslake seek out mentors, Natasha explained, “We have had many amazing mentors, including Bek Paroz from Get Your Boots On and Emily Hilder from Human Brands.

“In 2019, I completed a Leadership Program with Bendigo Community Bank Fleurieu Future Leaders. I met so many inspiring local people and businesses and learnt so much from their stories about their challenges and successes.

It you are honestly open to learning and challenging yourself, then mentors can change your personal and professional life in ways you cannot imagine. You can truly reach for the stars with a mentor.”

Leadership and small business

The leadership of self is an essential aspect of steering a business, insisted Natasha Kearslake. Being open, honest, and taking responsibility for your actions and thoughts are crucial too. You are there to support, encourage and inspire your team.

“Supporting local businesses is important to us, so I like the freedom of providing this support whenever we can rather than using suppliers that are not local to SA.”

“You must also work out the best way to build trust and enable the team to develop their skills and challenge themselves. Creating an environment where people feel safe and can contribute to growth and change is also essential.”

Tips for those considering a small business

Natasha is adamant that those who consider a business venture don’t enter into the operation with rose coloured glasses.

Risk management and financial advice are other vital considerations, she warned.

“Get advice about how to reduce your risk with debtors – it will save you so much stress, time and money because it will happen to your business!”

She continued with the finance theme.

“Too many business owners bury their heads in the sand regarding their financial situations. Therefore, keep your bookkeeping updated so that you have a current picture of the financial health of your business.

“If you need help, ask for it, and do not be embarrassed. There is always an expert who can help.”

Seeking help is another business mantra for the South Australian business owner.

“Getting help early with any challenge will determine how much that challenge will affect the business’s operation and future.

“Be willing to learn from your challenges so you can grow the resilience of your business.”

Natasha is a firm believer that business success is linked to teamwork. ” Treat your team with respect and empower them! A happy, supported team can take your business to the next level, so encourage new ideas and change – and grow together!”

Name
Natasha Kearslake
Business Name
South Vac