Launching a business in the middle of the global financial crisis is a ballsy move by anyone’s standards, but when Michelle and Johnny Calley returned home from London in 2008, they were determined to build a future for themselves.
WORDS LAURA TUCK / PHOTOS BRYDIE THOMPSON, AMANDA AITKEN + SUPPLIED
“People said it was crazy founding Calley Homes at a time when it was near impossible to get a building job in Tauranga,” says Johnny. “But despite the economic climate, we knew we had the experience, skills and determination to make it work, plus we’ve never been scared to take calculated risks.”
Today, Calley Homes is an award-winning company, and Johnny’s a prominent figure
in the building industry; he’s a member of the Registered Master Builders Association’s board of directors, among other groups. He climbed the ranks from the bottom rung. “I did a building apprenticeship when I left school at 16,” he says. “Now I’m passionate about nurturing other young builders through our apprentice programme, so they’re afforded the same opportunities I was.
“I spent the first few years of my career building luxury homes in the Coromandel,
and was fully qualified by age 20,” he continues. “I’d just been offered a project management role with a national firm when I met Michelle – right before she was about
to move overseas! I had to decide between the dream job and the dream girl.”
Johnny followed his heart all the way to London. Five years later, the couple were married and living in Tauranga. Armed with valuable overseas experience, they worked seven days a week to keep Calley Homes afloat during one of the toughest financial periods New Zealand has seen.
“The early days were tough,” says Johnny. “We had to think very creatively and behave proactively to keep our crew employed throughout the rocky patches in the economy. Having a diverse approach allowed us to challenge our scope of projects, and one of these was the nationwide rebrand of Shell service stations to Z. I won this contract through sheer persistence that really paid off – it was a fantastic experience and the contract kept my crew in work.”
In another bold move, Johnny and Michelle invested in building a show home, then moved into it with their newborn baby, Zac (now 8). “The residential market was flat, but we saw an opportunity to make a statement,” says Johnny. “We totally blew our budget, but it was a major turning point for our business. The show home was stunning – we’d finished everything to the absolute finest detail. It was a great advert for what we could
do and what we value, and opened quite a few doors for us.”
“It was a busy time, as I was constantly cleaning the house and heading out with the baby so people could look through,” says Michelle. “But we didn’t mind – the show home was a game-changer.”
A few years, two more kids – Mason (6) and Mila (2) – and a number of iconic builds later, Calley Homes has solidified its reputation as one of Tauranga’s premium building companies, with an exceptional eye for detail and a cabinet overflowing with awards. “The building process is an emotional and rewarding journey for our clients and for us as builders, too,” says Michelle. “We love it when a client is over the moon about their new home.”
“We thrive on building the unique, and finding solutions to our clients’ design aspirations and making them a reality,” says Johnny. “Celebrating 10 years is a milestone for us, but we have an insatiable appetite for driving forward.”
MAKING IT HAPPEN
The Calley Homes team believes anything is possible, but this Katikati build (seen above and below) inspired by Californian mid-century modern architecture was no mean feat. The owners had their hearts set on two central spines cast from in-situ-poured concrete (a very tricky process!) and had been turned down by a number of builders before Johnny came along. Instead of focusing on the hurdles, he presented creative solutions that resulted in a spectacular home and two very happy clients.