Not much baffles Danny Assabgy. The CEO of Hudson Homes is cluey, always thinking outside of the square, his keen financial mind supported by a strong natural instinct for marketing and sales. Nothing gets past him – that is, until COVID-19. The virus has him stumped, but not in the way you’d think.
“Something incredible happened,” he muses. “I have no explanation for it, nor is there any logic behind it, but it’s the busiest we’ve been for a while. Our sales have more than doubled.”
While he can’t pinpoint exactly what contributed to the surge in sales, Danny has his theories. He believes people in lockdown simply had more time to browse online and investigate Hudson Homes, while others who’d already bought and registered land were playing catch-up and finally making decisions about building.
Whatever the reason, Hudson Homes was ready with an online presence that made it easy to not only choose a home, but also explore it, fit it out and then buy it – all at the click of a button.
Launched by Danny in Sydney’s Parramatta seven years ago, without so much as a display home, Hudson Homes originally specialised in building investment properties to owner-occupier standards.
At its peak a few years ago, the company was building 500-plus homes a year throughout New South Wales and Queensland, with numbers gradually dropping to an average of around 350 as the construction industry slowed.
I got everybody back together and told them they were all back to full-time. It was a very proud moment.
When COVID-19 hit and restrictions were implemented, including visits to display homes being banned, Danny braced himself for the worst. Sure enough, for the first two months, business slumped, but the worst never came.
Instead, Hudson Homes has thrived, and as much as Danny appears surprised, you can’t help but suspect his leadership and loyalty to his team is the driving force. His first impulse was to protect his team of 60 working in construction, finance, design, marketing and sales.
Convinced that business would eventually recover and refusing to follow the lead of other builders who were laying people off, Danny turned to his staff to determine how they wanted the crisis handled.
“With the exception of our sales and construction teams, I sat down with everyone and asked whether they would rather get rid of 20% of the team or, for six months, have their days reduced to four with their pay cut by 20%. Unanimously, they said they’d rather chip in and take the pay cut. It just showed how much we were all there for each other.
“In the end, we didn’t get to six months, we only got to three,” Danny laughs. “I got everybody back together and told them they were all back to full-time. It was a very proud moment.”
Danny’s decision to exclude his sales and construction teams from any pay cuts was born from a lesson he learned completing an accounting cadetship at Ferrier Hodgson while studying at Western Sydney University.
“One of the first things I learned was that if you look after the top line, the bottom line looks after itself,” he explains. “That means looking after sales and marketing, because when you’ve got revenue coming in you can afford to make a few more mistakes.
“It didn’t feel right to cut pay for our construction team, which was still working at capacity, and although sales offered to cut their commissions, I told them that if there was anybody I wanted to pay more money to, it was them. Sales were down, but they were busy, and my greatest achievement would be to write them more commission cheques.
“It was putting action behind the words and saying, ‘I’m here for you guys. Let’s get this thing up and running,’ and it has been absolutely fantastic.” Once Danny had established a safe and stable working environment, he focused on those sales.
He knew he had to get buyer confidence, which meant going beyond just offering designs and products online. Hudson Homes had to be 100% accessible and services 100% available; they also had to offer something very different to those who were keen to build but wary of uncertain times.
“Our customers are part of everything we do, so we created a new package called We’re Here for You, which offered eight practical solutions to help people concerned about their current financial situation.”
Free products and services were added to the house and land packages, including ducted air conditioning, tenders, a luxury upgrade package and a bonus A$5,000 Spectrum Design Studio voucher.
Reductions were also offered for deposits, tender acceptance fees, contour surveys and bore hole reports. Meanwhile, online services were upgraded to cater to every need, with online forums providing access to consultants embedded onsite in display homes.
“As soon as our consultants logged into their computer, their status, photo and contact details were immediately visible, enabling clients to see who was available and where for a live chat,” Danny explains.
“Clients could also book private appointments to inspect the display homes.” Even with restrictions lifted and display homes opened once again for walk-ins, a walk through the Hudson Homes website is an outing in itself. A potential buyer can conduct virtual tours of a range of designs and, in just eight steps, receive an instant quote.
“They just have to select a floor plan, choose their inclusions, fittings, fixtures and any upgrades, and the quote is emailed instantly.” If you’re after a home and land package in a particular area, just choose a suburb, a price range, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and see what’s on offer.
Enter the Spectrum Design Studio and a personal designer will assist with decisions over decor, from roofing to carpet to lights. The company also provides property management, knockdown and rebuild services and a range of mini homes or granny flats.
Contracts for the land, building and all inclusions can be downloaded and printed off for signatures. Existing customers have access to a secure online portal allowing them to track the progress of their new home, with milestones, site photos and contact details of key Hudson Homes site supervisors recorded.
At the heart of it all, with his finger firmly on the pulse is Danny, whose email and mobile is always sent to new customers along with a letter urging them to keep in touch and contact him personally, should they need anything.
As far as Danny is concerned, unless the new build is somewhere that he’d choose to live himself, it’s not good enough for his customers. Beyond question, it’s Danny’s affable and generous nature that draws you to him, but it’s his fabulous storytelling that compels you to listen.
Like the time he “had to get creative” when, at just 18 years old, he launched a cleaning company called Magic Maids. He freely admits he’d never cleaned anything in his life having grown up in a household where his mother did everything for him.
“I’m Egyptian, the eldest son! She did all the washing and cleaning. So, it wasn’t like I had a passion for it; it just seemed like a great franchise business.”
Knowing even less about selling franchises, Danny, pretending to be an interested buyer, met with other franchisors to learn as much as he could. The first thing he realised was that he needed an operations manual.
“But of course, no-one wanted to give me one unless I bought the franchise. I finally convinced someone running a car detailing business to give me theirs and I used it as a guideline to writing my own for Magic Maids. I guess at school they’d call it cheating. I call it market research.”
Armed with his operations manual – an extremely detailed tome on how to clean homes, right down to removing cobwebs from cornices by holding the brush and twirling it clockwise – Danny got ‘creative’ again when it came to selling his franchises.
In his first year of university, when going out was more of a priority than saving money, he used the local job centre noticeboard to advertise for cleaners. “When people responded, I’d have to meet at their house because I didn’t have an office,” he explains.
“Once I got inside, I’d try and sell them a franchise for about A$15,000. I probably saw about 50 people before I sold one. I used that money to advertise and sold about four more.” Ironically, it was Danny’s coveted operations manual that attracted a buyer for the business.
“He was in marketing and loved what I created, particularly the detail in my operations manual, and he bought the business for A$250,000. I’d just turned 20 and thought I was the richest man in the world.”
Danny’s interest in the housing market was piqued after he launched his financial advisory service Equiti Private Wealth in 2005 and was asked by clients to help them buy investment properties.
“I discovered the problem there was that a typical investment property is designed to be cheap and small – usually a high-rise apartment with low-cost fittings and fixtures,” Danny explains.
“Because there’s nothing special about it in a market, selling hundreds of apartments just like yours, only another investor is going to buy it.” Exploring the idea further, Danny became convinced that offering good-quality houses at affordable prices would steer the market away from buying nondescript apartments.
I needed them, they needed me; we were there for each other.
His philosophy was simple: build homes that an owner-occupier would want to live in and, in return, an occupier-owner would buy it. In 2009, he introduced his concept to Melbourne’s biggest builder, Simonds Homes.
A 50/50 partnership was created, with Danny running the business for nearly three years before accepting an offer he “couldn’t refuse”. Honouring a non-compete clause, he focused on Equiti for the next two years before launching Hudson Homes, relying on that same formula of building homes that investors would want to live in themselves.
Once again, he had to get creative. “I went out to the market, walking into different display homes, pretending to buy,” he says. “I’d find out what every single company was offering, take their brochures – I’d literally have 50 on my desk – and then I’d simply select what I thought was the best combination of inclusions and put them into what we did.”
Today, Hudson Homes enjoys a healthy divide between its wholesale market – predominantly investment – and its retail sales catering to owner-occupier buyers. Inclusion packages are based on three categories.
There’s the H1 home, an affordable solution for first home buyers; the H2, a little more contemporary styling with a more distinctive range of inclusions; and the H3, offering more indulgence with luxury inclusions.
Danny admits he owes much of his success to suppliers who came on board with him in 2013 purely on the promise that 240 homes would be built in the first year. “Sure, they were sceptical, but we delivered,” he says.
“In fact, we built 248 homes. That’s when they knew we were here for the long run. From there, it was a case of growing together.” Rytec Plumbing is one example – it’s a popular go-to with its reputation for exceptional service to new housing constructions.
Run by Ryan Aquilina, renowned for his loyalty to clients and commitment to the plumbing industry, the company has been with Hudson Homes from the beginning. “They’re fantastic and understand our Hudson Homes culture and meet our expectations,” Danny says.
“It’s mutual respect, isn’t it? Understanding their needs as well as our own. “Our site managers have built strong relationships with suppliers and they choose who they want to work with. A&P Plumbing is another reliable company that’s been with us a long time.
Anyone can work on a Hudson Homes site, as long as they go through our induction process. While a plumber, carpenter – whoever – may know how to do their job, they have to understand our vision, our culture and why we do things the way we do.
“We lose tradespeople because they don’t or can’t fit in with us. But that’s fine because that’s how we get to keep the good ones – and the good ones stay.” When asked about his leadership style, particularly during COVID-19, Danny is stumped again.
He almost breezily dismisses any accolades, putting the company’s survival down to the collective efforts of his team. “It’s funny, I’ve never asked myself that question because I don’t see it as leadership. I actually just see it as doing the right thing. If they’re there for me, I’m there for them. I needed them, they needed me; we were there for each other.
“I don’t see it as leadership at all,” he reiterates. “To be honest, I see it more as me walking in the middle of the pack as opposed to leading from the front. I just thought it was normal to do that. Just natural.”
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