Central Victorian Design Series, brought to you by V Group.
Once upon a time, Glenn Bourke was just a man in a shed. Thirty years later, he’s a pillar of the community, supporting local businesses with his home-growth enterprise, Bourke’s Kitchens.
The story of Bourke’s Kitchens is one which goes back 30 years, and is one which epitomises the notion of ‘humble origins’. From operating out of a friend’s shed, to having an award-winning showroom with his name on it, Glenn Bourke’s story is a unique tale of hard work and success in the Bendigo region.
Bourke’s Kitchens founder and namesake Glenn Bourke began his company at the tender age of 21 – and now, 30 years later, the 51-year-old Bendigo native reflected on how his start in the trade would not have suggested that he would one day be one of the leading names of the kitchen/joinery game in central Victoria.
“I started out on my own renovating cupboards and kitchens, installing new benchtops or new doors for them on-site… nobody was doing that back then,” he said.
“No-one would put new benchtops or renovate an existing kitchen – they’d pull out the old one and put a new one in. I’d go out to people’s houses and I’d laminate their old benchtops and swap the old doors out on site. A fiddly job and time consuming, but no-one else would do it. There was an opening there to do that.”
“I put ads in the Bendigo Advertiser at the time every Saturday, and slowly built up the business from there. I used to work out of a friend’s shed in their backyard and make the cupboards, take them to the site and install them.”
From such humble origins, he built the business from there.
“I did that for a few years, and it ended up that the friend’s shed was getting too small, so I rented a larger shed, but I couldn’t afford to rent a shed and a house, so I lived in the shed for two years.
“I used to sleep in the office, and work in the shed during the day.”
Glenn’s ‘big break’ came through when the Bendigo Marketplace was being built, when he got to do the shopfronts for the outlets all the way through it. Included in this contract were the office fit-outs in the Coles and Big W shops.
It was a huge win for the young company, but it was not without its drawbacks.
“I was young, and didn’t think about it and threw myself at it,” he says
“I employed some help and an on-site builder; we were working some days from 7.00 am to 3.00 am the next morning to get the job done.
“Looking back now, I probably didn’t make any money, but the experience and the profile kicked us on to bigger things.”
The growth of the company
Glenn has seen his operation exponentially grow, expanding from his one-man set-up to 22 employees.
“I’ve always had a theory that we’re only as big as our customers. They’re bringing the work in and we’ve got to get it done. If that means we need more staff, then so be it.
“Commercial builders wouldn’t look at you unless you’d had experience doing big commercial jobs. And when the marketplace opened up, it opened up the doors for others.”
Working with V Group and other local businesses
Glenn feels a deep sense of loyalty to the local trades his business tends to use.
“I think that subcontractors like V Group, and plumbers and so forth, it’s good to stick with the same people. They get to know how we do things, and their product is always going to be a good thing.”
The business opened their first showroom on Strickland Rd, a purpose-built factory and showroom for eight years. Then they decided to build their own factory and showroom on Murphy Street, where they are still located today.
Being a part of Bendigo and Central Victoria
Glenn was born and bred in Bendigo; his roots run deep in the region. “It’s the only town I’ve ever been in, it’s a great community and place to live,” he said.
Changes in the industry
Among the many changes in the industry he’s seen in his three decades of plying his trade, Glenn highlights technology and renovation shows on TV as being the most influential.
“When I was an apprentice and starting the business, it was very manual work. Setting the jobs up, I cut every piece on a saw, used a drill press. Now I have a factory and I have a router that cuts all the board, drills all the holes for the hinges. What that machine does in a day, I used to do in two weeks.”
Computer technology plays a part as well.
“Years ago, I was drawing kitchens by hand, it’s now done in 3D with computers, customers can see how their kitchen is going to look. It’s good that technology has improved.”
The popularity of renovation shows has also made an impact. Where once, renovating was very easy and options were limited, there are now scores of options.
“It comes from TV shows, like The Block. People see the kitchen as a piece of furniture. When you go to someone’s house, where do you sit? Usually, it’s the kitchen. 15 years ago, we’d do a kitchen and laundry. Now we’re doing that and more, the TV unit, built-in-furniture in the house, walk-in robes etc. People have become savvier through TV shows.”
“In saying that, you have companies selling Laminex and Caesar stone marketing their products really well. Business marketing themselves better has pushed things along.”
The secret to success
Glenn cites his mentors as being the key to his longevity and success. From the very start, he “was always bouncing ideas off them.”
Looking forward, Glenn’s got some advice of his own to give: “Always reinvent yourself, look to improve yourself as much as you can and ask how you can do it better. Focus on your customer’s needs and try to exceed their expectations.”
This article is part of the V Group Design Series, a series that highlights influential leaders in the Homes Industry across Central Victoria.
This series is brought to you by V Group. V Group is the home of V Stone, V Splash and V Clad. They are industry leaders in custom Victorian stone and large format porcelain solutions.