Our fourth instalment of “Looking Back” takes us to the late 1990s. It was during this period that Airmaster’s association with the Gandel Retail Management Group grew significantly. As well as having expanded Chadstone to become Australia’s largest shopping centre, Gandel had procured other retail properties around Victoria, including Altona Gate and Broadmeadows shopping centres, where Airmaster had been engaged to provide HVAC service and maintenance.
“It was such an important thing for our business, because we had this growth customer – but we didn’t realise they had designs on buying shopping centres interstate,” says Airmaster CEO Noel Courtney. In what was the second largest property transaction in Australia’s history at the time, the Gandel Group purchased the nine-level Myer Centre Brisbane in the city’s Queens Street Mall in 1999. “The Gandel Retail Management Group wanted us to go to Brisbane and look after the centre for them, and while internally we thought it would be a stretch for us from a capability point of view, I was dead-set determined about going there and eventually got my way.”
After personally signing the deal while sitting on a park bench opposite the building, Courtney oversaw Airmaster’s quick mobilisation with staff relocated from Victoria ahead of the contract commencing in early 2000. “It ended up being the recipe we used for every branch opening,” he says.
Such was his determination to see the company’s first foray interstate succeed that Courtney left Airmaster’s Victorian operations in the safe hands of Seebach and Cook and relocated his family to Brisbane for a period of six months. During this time, he personally grew the business and hired a local management team who eventually took over the reins. “A lot of our clients were telling us that they wanted to consolidate their suppliers, and I was concerned we would wither and die on the vine and become irrelevant to a customer base who wanted to deal with us everywhere,” he recalls. “So that expansion through the Gandel Retail Management Group was a really important thing, and we very quickly established ourselves as a credible alternative interstate.” Soon after acquiring the Myer Centre Brisbane, Gandel purchased the five-level Myer Centre Adelaide.
A similar expansion by Airmaster into South Australia would follow. As Airmaster’s presence around the country grew, significant national contracts followed, including that of Kmart and Big W. In 2002, Airmaster established its first permanent office in New South Wales and a few years later, the acquisition of an existing business in Perth rounded out the company’s national coverage. “The more we provided, the more relevant we have become,” says Courtney.