Dreamer to Doer - The Story of Mark Yates

Dreamer to Doer - The Story of Mark Yates
The beginning...
Mark Yates always knew he wanted to run his own business and by 21 years of age, he had already ticked that dream off the list. Mark is a third-generation Riverlander and attended Renmark High School until year 10, before moving to Adelaide for boarding school. He finished his schooling at Prince Alfred College, before taking on an apprenticeship in Adelaide with Robert Gerard’s business, Gerard Industries, alongside another Renmarkian.

“I lasted two years doing the apprenticeship before I ended up moving back to the Riverland,” Mark said, “where I worked with a local contractor to finish my apprenticeship. Basically, the day I finished my apprenticeship, I went out and registered as a contractor and started my own business - I always wanted to own my own business, but I didn’t think I would have enough work to keep me busy and keep me occupied.”

However, Mark found that the work kept coming.

Mark was contracted for a couple of weeks with SA Power Networks – ETSA at the time – the few weeks of work quickly turned into five years. Not bad for someone who freely admits that the first time he came face-to-face with an electrical substation he had no idea what it was, but he promptly became very familiar with all things ‘high-voltage’.

After a lengthy stint with SA Power, Mark decided to take on his first apprentice Michael Norman, who has now been with Yates Electrical Services for over 10 years. In 2011, Mark was approached by Solarshop - a residential solar installation business. “They contracted us originally to do one service call a week and I took that up thinking, ‘I’ll go and do this service call in Paringa’, and that one service call turned into about 20 jobs a week,” he said, “So we were quite heavily involved in that company while they were trading.”

However, things quickly went pear shaped for Solarshop.

“The company went into liquidation, and I found that out on my first day of my honeymoon,” Mark recalls, “I was overseas with no phone and no laptop, but I borrowed a laptop to check my emails and, sure enough, they had gone to the receivers. I flew back and went straight into a meeting with Solarshop to discuss the future of the business.

“They wanted me to sign a contract with them and I sort of sat on it and talked to my solicitors.”

With a massive decision to make, Mark decided to head in a different direction.

“I didn’t sign it and that was probably the best thing I could have done,” he said. “I lost a six figure amount of money because of that, but that was the best thing that could have happened. I had the choice to either lay down and die, or man up and do something.” After taking a massive hit business wise, Mark dug deep to get himself and Yates Electrical Services back on track.

Mark saw an opportunity for his business and grabbed it with open arms.

“We sat down and were thinking ‘we’ve just lost this amount of money, how are we going to recover from this?’ - At that point in time the price of solar modules were coming down and there were about a thousand clients in the region who had paid their deposits, sitting there with frozen jobs while the receivers took over the business.

“We thought ‘well, what could we do?’ We knew the customers had paid the deposit - we knew the projects, we were locals so we thought we would put an ad on the radio and we’ll complete the installations minus the deposit.

“So we basically picked up approximately 400 clients in about three months. We had people lining up at the depot in Paringa.” Mark said the business absolutely boomed, with enough work to keep him occupied seven days a week, resulting in a heavy reliance on a diet of pizza and scotch while the hectic period kept going.

Yet, according to Mark, it was the overwhelming support from locals which ultimately helped the business thrive, allowing it to become the successful company it is today. “We were fortunate that our local community supported what we were doing,” he said. “We could have been dead in the water but people backed us.”

The business was then in a position to grow.

“We got the capacity to build and that’s when we really took off.

“Initially we were sourcing products from interstate suppliers but then we decided to import our own product. We’ve now had a long-standing relationship with our supplier for over ten years, and that was all a learning curve as well. You can’t just know how to ship a container from another country to here, so we took a punt. There was a lot of phone calls, a lot of back and forth but now the system works really well.”

While Yates Electrical Services is now a successful and professionally run business, it took a phenomenal effort to get it to the position it is today. “We pretty much had to build all of our own systems from the ground up. The important part has been having the same key guys involved with the business, who know the business. I’ve also always tried to be as transparent about the direction of the company with the guys as I could. I recall that during the Solarshop debacle we were in a bit of strife financially, I spoke candidly to the guys and told them I could afford to pay them until the end of that week, but if they decided to come back the following week, it would be at their own risk, because I was simply at my capacity. I think a couple of the Adelaide guys went back to town, but the majority of the local guys helped me worked through it.”
The present...
Mark now employs around 50 people and operates his business out of a shed in Paringa, and enjoys creating a positive working environment for his employees. “The majority of the employees are local and I find that’s the best way, It’s pretty cool to come to work and then see them out having a beer. It’s really more than just a workplace and it’s not necessarily what we do day-to-day, it’s more about the group of guys that we have here and knowing that we can go out and deliver a project to the client.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, that component is pretty satisfying. My individual employees have an appreciation for what they do, and we try to involve everyone as much as we can.”

Mark has enjoyed watching his employees thrive not only at work but also in their personal lives. “The most rewarding thing is when they come to the business with nothing, then they start to lay roots - they might buy their first car, buy their first home, get married, have kids. One of the guys has been working here through all three of his kids’ births. To see that progression of my employees is really great.”

The future...
Mark certainly has no intention of slowing down and has many more dreams lined up to achieve. He will continue to build relationships in overseas markets and explore international opportunities, yet, on a local scope, he said his customers have been a wonderful asset to his business. “I think word of mouth goes a really long way, so if you do what you promise you’re going to do and deliver that to a customer then that’s what they look for,” Mark said. “We don’t advertise much at all. We’ve just had continued work. The last financial year has been the busiest to date and I think it’s only going to get busier.”

Mark and his team are now working on the energy retail facet of the business, “The end game being that we want to on board customers direct and provide direct value for people in the local community,” he said. “The retailing space is really exciting, and we think it will be fantastic for Riverlanders. We’ve been working on an application for months, and its going to take approximately 16 weeks to assess the application.”

The future is bright for Yates Electrical Services and with Mark at the helm, the only way is up. Watch this space!

About the Author

Heather Smith is a Copywriter living in Adelaide, South Australia. With a career which spans print and digital media, Heather is now lending her dazzling writing skills to the team at Yates Electrical Services.

Heather likes cosmopolitans, empty train carriages and mocassins.