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Always about homes for kiwis

G.J. Gardner Homes has been operating in the Coromandel since 1999. It is independently owned and operated by Glenn and Kelly Sonntag and Tania and Russell Orr of Paradise Construction Ltd. Glenn is very much the face of this well-loved business and is responsible for its’ operations on the Coromandel. The Informer spent time talking with Glenn about his work and G.J. Gardner Homes.
 |  Pauline Stewart  | 

Glenn Sonntag – the face of Coromandel region G.J. Gardner.

Glenn remembers always wanting to build things. “I built my first boat when I was a kid. I was born in New Zealand but grew up in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. My father was a mechanical engineer who could fix anything. I was always building things out of whatever we could find. My friends were nearly all on-European.

“I became a qualified builder and worked in Hamilton. Kelly and I always had a love for the Coromandel and felt it would be an amazing place to bring up our future children. I was lucky enough secure a labour only building job with a local Whangamata builder who specialised in high end homes. Peter helped me elevate my building experience to the next level. However, 5 years later I contracted a shoulder injury which set me thinking, ‘where should I be? ‘ I knew I needed to ‘get off the tools’ at least for a period until my shoulder healed. Jeff de Leeuw, was the G. J. Gardiner Construction Franchise owner for the Coromandel. I was lucky enough to be successful in my application for the site supervisors role Jeff had listed. Four years later Jeff decided to move back to Hamilton and offered Kelly and I a shareholding in G J Gardner Coromandel Franchise

“It was a fantastic first few years. I was in the role of Manager of the team and learned early that you had to be a ‘jack of all trades’ – builder, files keeper, sales consultant, builders labourer. We pretty much learned the hard way with everything. We worked hard at success and have weathered the highs and lows in the building industry and in the general economy. We went through the Global Financial Crisis of 2007 and that didn’t seem to ever want to end.

“What I have learned is to keep on the front foot of what is happening, follow every single lead and look after every single client.”

Glenn is proud that G.J.Gardner Homes is the second longest operating housing company in the Coromandel region which includes the Hauraki Plains, to the northern side of Western Bay of Plenty and the Coromandel Peninsula.

“G.J. Gardner Homes are known as NZ’s most trusted home builder, and I am part of that – more than 23,000 in 25 years. I’m in boots and all. It’s the journey. We haven’t sought to be number one; that will be a natural progression. The support network provided by the GJ Gardiner company is a big part of that journey. On the Coromandel, we build everything from the $1.5m home to small apartments and the variety keeps us agile with the different requests from people looking for what is right for them as their home for that particular time of their lives.

The best:

“My team is what I love about my job. The team knows and experiences the two favourite things about what we do. The first is signing a contract with a client The second but number one is handing the house over and knowing we have been part of our clients dream of building a new home. I have been lucky enough to experienced that over 550 times and I can pretty much remember everyone.”

Changes in the industry:

Reflecting on that question, Glenn is clear that building is still building – delivering quality, that hasn’t changed. However, regulatory controls have multiplied and pushed up the price and made purchasing that family home unaffordable for some. He related how G.J Gardner Homes creates competitive tension by always having two suppliers. Sourcing materials and getting the supply process as efficient is very key to client satisfaction. Insulation is now an important factor in building a home and people also consider solar to reduce their outgoings in their new home. “We help with all these decisions,” said Glenn.

“New building products are not cheaper, just another part of the increased choice. What hasn’t changed is the durability of brick and tile. It is incredibly low maintenance and would be 50 percent of our market.” With GJ Gardner Homes there is everything to offer from the standard GJ Gardner design to a plan initiated by the client. “In every build we can add flair to the most basic design or change the floor plans to accommodate the site,” says Glenn.

Basic questions we ask:

“When someone comes to us and says,’We are planning on building,’ our first response is –

• Do you have a site currently?

• Do you have an idea in hand of what you would like?

• Do you have a budget?

• If you don’t have any idea, then we can help you with one or all of these.”

Glenn is aware that people go and see a lot of houses, but they don’t realise they could actually build one.

“People love what they are looking at but don’t realise they can have that house! With Leigh Hopper and Hopper developments who are a very big part of housing development and town planning in this region, they do not have any one builder as their priority and that is good for us and everyone. Our clients choose their piece of land and their builder. Our responsibility is to not let anyone down.”

Glenn and Kelly, his wife, are very much a team. “Kelly does the dressing up of a home and is a fantastic support in the partnership. Baylee, our oldest son, 23, has been building with me for long time. He loves it. I still build, quite a bit in the off time actually,” adds Glenn. “It doesn’t leave you. I love Whitianga and I love it best when someone in the supermarket says,” We still love our house!

“Sometimes we think about how many mortgages we are paying for because of our business,” says Glenn. Thirty odd businesses benefit from our teams’ hard work. Most of our tradespeople have been with us for over ten years. We support each other. That is great when I think about it. That adds up to about 60 children and 30 mortgages! We are making a difference to the quality of life in our community and I see that nationally through G.J. Gardner Homes’ output and philosophy.”

Glenn spoke about how the head office of G.J.Gardner monitors the business and its financial success. “It is a family business and that is reflected in the full support network through all the highs and lows of the ‘building your home’ industry.”

Being involved and generous:

The Informer did some local reading on G.J. Gardner and found that they are sponsors of some great events around the Coromandel – the Surf Club Run in Whangamata; the Run Walk Festival, the annual Whitianga Run Fest coming in May, Waihi Rugby Club, Whangamata Coastguard, Mercury Bay Bowling, T-shirts for Ladies Golf Tournament, and a number of smaller local community events and activities.

“Do you know what counts for success?” Glenn asked rhetorically. “The gauge of success is how happy the people are on the day of the handover. Actually, you want to make every home, a dream home, no matter what the size or the style. After all, your home is still your castle and your haven of safety and hospitality.”

G.J. Gardner showhome is open every day. Located on the corner of Joan Gaskell and Kupe Drives.

“What I have learned is to keep on the front foot of what is happening, follow every single lead and look after every single client.”