IN three years Matt Buchel drove a business he bought for sub-$500k to generate annual $6 million in revenue. Now he’s helping other businesses turn their luck around.

After 15 years of owning and operating his own companies, serial entrepreneur and builder-by-trade Matt Buchel’s latest venture is arguably his greatest success.

He bought and rebranded Bali hut and gazebo company Tropical Lifestyle in May 2008 after moving to the Gold Coast from Sydney, after selling his property maintenance company Graffiti Gone.

He says the previous owner established the company in 1981 but, despite having a passion for quality products, lost interest in promoting the business during trying economic conditions.

“To say the business was underperforming is an understatement. There were three guys working three days a week and its potential wasn’t being explored,” says the 37-year-old.

“I’d moved to the Gold Coast and was looking for a business that suited my expertise. I’d been in the building industry for the last 15 years and the Tropical Lifestyle concept was something I’d been thinking about for some time.

“I knew what the business would be capable of if I put the right operating structures in place, developed strong marketing strategies and just applied the management skills I’ve learnt over the years.

“But even I was a little surprised with its initial turnaround success.”

When Buchel took ownership of Tropical Lifestyle the company turned over less than $500,000 a year. In his first year in charge of the outdoor building supplier he turned over $2.5 million and in the second year (FY10) sales revenue was $4.7 million.

FY11 looks even better. The company is on track for annual revenues of $6million and now has more than 30 staff.

“I have had to invest maybe another $500,000 back into the company over the last three years, but that’s what you’ve got to do to maintain strong growth,” he says.

“In 2008 Tropical Lifestyle had three gazebos on display and around 30 statues. Now our Bundall superstore is the largest of its kind in Australia, with 30 gazebos and 85 water features on display and around 1200 different styles of statues and pots available for sale.

“People fly in from all around the country to visit the store and inspect the display products. We also build timber decks and carports; pretty much any outdoor custom building our clients require. Setting up our internet presence that includes an online store, catalogues and promotional videos has also been a key part of Tropical Lifestyle’s success.”

Buchel’s track record of executing successful business development strategies has been the catalyst for the creation of his offshoot marketing consultancy Smart Marketing Magic.

“I’ve been studying marketing for many years so Smart Marketing Magic is an enjoyable side project for me,” he says.

He says the biggest mistake made by builders is failing to negotiate and meet the market.

“Market conditions may be tough at the moment but we don’t sit around watching the news and get caught up in the doom and gloom of the Gold Coast’s construction industry,” he says.

“The biggest area where business owners fail is not knowing how to sell. When people call and ask for a quote, it’s stunning the amount of operators who just give a price without asking the client what their budget is or what they are expecting to spend.

“In the good times you might have been able to name your price, but it’s increasingly competitive out there and you’ve got to be a smart negotiator and know how to market and sell your product or service to survive.”

Gold Coast Business News celebrates the success of this city’s young entrepreneurs. If you’re a Gold Coast business owner aged under 40 and want to apply, email [email protected] and tell us why you should be featured. Nominations for the 2011 Gold Coast Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards open in July.

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