Tawhiri and Tanya Pohio, owners of Sentinel Homes Manawatu/Whanganui, are people with vision. Already successful business owners, they have been running a renovations company since 2005. Then, a few years ago, Tawhiri made a plan – he wanted them to be running a company specialising in new builds by 2019.
“I didn’t know how I’d get there, but I knew that I was going to make it happen,” says Tawhiri.
As far as big dreams go, it wasn’t entirely crazy – the couple’s company had gone from strength to strength over the decade they’d been running it. The company had its roots in home maintenance, but as their reputation for quality work grew, clients began asking them to take care of renovations and new builds, too. “We ended up looking after all the properties for one company,” says Tawhiri. “At the same time, people realised we could also do building. That involved extensions and renos.”
The couple says a huge part of that success is down to the balanced partnership they’ve developed over the years – Tawhiri’s entrepreneurial streak is offset by Tanya’s love of systems.
“He has the vision, and then I help interpret it, so that things happen” says Tanya.
While Tanya also runs their church’s office and events, their Sentinel Homes business is very much a whānau affair. Tanya takes care of the accounts, and has an equal voice in the overall direction of the company.
“It wouldn’t happen if we didn’t do it together – it’s a life partnership and a whānau. We’re doing it together together, and that’s what makes it significant. We also want to build something for our children and the generations to come” says Tanya.
The big goal was to specialise in new builds. While Tawhiri loves the challenge of renewing tired old buildings, his perfectionist streak means new builds are better suited to him.
“In renos there’s a lot of unknowns,” says Tawhiri. “Where as with new homes you can get everything accurate. I like that control to create something perfect, from nothing.”
The market in Whanganui has also shifted in recent years – with house prices going up, it’s beginning to make more financial sense to build new, rather than buy a home to do up.
“It’s better to build something perfectly constructed, eco friendly, warrantied, all these energy efficient extras,” says Tawhiri.
Tawhiri’s reputation as a builder with integrity has grown out of saying no – he’d rather turn down a job than build something the client thinks they want, but won’t actually deliver what they need. That sense of responsibility sets him apart in the market.
“Clients might say they want this or that, but I have to listen in between all that,” say Tawhiri. “I want to understand how they live. Then it’s about interpreting what they want – rather than just taking instructions – and then designing it up to their lifestyle”.
He points to a client who thought she wanted to renovate her kitchen. After a conversation, Tawhiri realised that wasn’t going to cut it.
“She wanted to see her son out the back and greet visitors, so the kitchen was actually in the wrong place. Just renovating it would have been spending in the wrong area,” says Tawhiri.
Obviously, shifting a kitchen came with a far bigger budget than just renovating one, so the client, at first wasn’t interested.
“She said, ‘You’re crazy’, and I didn’t hear from her for six months. Then she called me back and said, ‘You’re the only one who made sense – you’re the one who addressed my needs”.
Tawhiri and Tanya’s goal is to leave every job with a client feeling totally happy with the result – without any of those regrets that seem to plague people who build or renovate.
“You’re never satisfied if the kitchen is in the wrong place, or that door is in the wrong place, and you think, ‘If only someone had told me’,” says Tawhiri.
That approach isn’t just good for clients, says Tawhiri, it’s also great for business.
“When we hand over the keys and the client is totally happy, we’re onto a winning note – word travels,” he says.
Deciding to join Sentinel Homes was an easy one for Tawhiri and Tanya. It meant that when the franchise opportunity came up, the timing was “perfect”, says Tawhiri and Tanya. “Sentinel Homes does all the systems so brilliantly, so there’s a whole new level of excellence we can offer to clients,” says Tanya.’
Tawhiri agrees, but says what sealed the deal was Sentinel Homes’ integrity and commitment to build quality – something the couple could clearly see after a discussion with Director Stuart Shutt.
“When we talked to Stu, it was a yes, straight away,” says Tawhiri. “The houses are going to stay there for 50 years and I’ll still be alive then. People will say, ‘Oh, that guy built it. There’s not many places you can hide here in Whanganui and the Manawatu, so we want to make sure we do it right.”
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