IT’S not just their pair of green and black Renaults, a Trafic and Kangoo, that makes them unique, Livewire Electrical & Design is an all-female workforce comprises owner Kylie Slade and her daughter Chelsea, along with apprentice Tayla Ritchie.
Crawling under houses, up ladders, into roofs, lugging coils of wire, coping with spiders and other nasties, are all in a day’s work for this intrepid trio.
Becoming an electrician wasn’t Kylie’s first choice; her vocational change was sparked by a downturn in the hospitality industry that left her jobless.
“After 14 years in hospitality I found myself unemployed,” said Kylie, “Then I got a job helping wrap houses with insulation. From there I started with Laser Electrical in Ballarat, but was soon told to take on an apprenticeship, or risk not being kept on.”
So, in her early 30’s, Kylie was back in the classroom, surrounded by students not much older than her own kids, working her way through trade school. After completing the first two years of her apprenticeship, work dropped off and this time she was let go.
Undaunted, Kylie contacted local electricians and found work. She completed her apprenticeship, staying on with a local electrician until another downturn and another bout of unemployment.
Determined to break the vicious cycle, and now qualified, Kylie’s husband Brad suggested she have a go on her own.
“I’d never dreamt of working for myself, but Brad’s encouragement and the opportunity to provide an apprenticeship for (eldest daughter) Chelsea, whose ambition was to become an electrician as well, were the motivating factors four years ago to establish Livewire Electrical & Design,” said Kylie.
As the word spread about Livewire Electrical & Design’s excellent work, the business started growing, allowing Chelsea to complete her apprenticeship, and the business took on another female apprentice, Tayla Ritchie, who started in January 2016.
Moving from hospitality, with starched white linen and sterling-silver cutlery to overalls, a tool kit, steel-capped work boots and a sandwich on site, was a totally foreign move for Kylie, though the move rekindled her interest in houses and design from her school days.
“I wanted to be an architect back then, so I started looking for jobs in the building game and then undertook my apprenticeship which was quite challenging, but I got through it and here I am today.”
Now well-established through word of mouth and the signwritten Renaults, like any small business Livewire Electrical & Design’s early days were an emotional roller-coaster.
“Friday afternoon would arrive and I’d be worrying about the next week, then over the weekend the phone would ring and we would pick up jobs.
“Some people are excited about having a female tradie working for them and we get a lot of work from women living on their own, who feel more comfortable having us in their house.”
Kylie admits she couldn’t sit at a desk, and loves being on the go and working with clients to find solutions that make their life easier.
“We do a bit of everything,” she says, “from moving a light switch to complete wiring of new, and rewiring of old homes, and industrial jobs like the diary we are about to wire. I enjoy working on upmarket new homes where I can use my creative flair.”
Looking to the future, Kylie aims to grow the business and give more girls the opportunity to learn the trade.
“Although I haven’t given it much thought, a fleet of Livewire Electrical & Design vans, with female staff servicing other areas of Victoria would be cool,” she muses.
Not only do Renaults make up the Livewire Electrical & Design fleet, Kylie’s family is also smitten by Renault passenger cars, with Chelsea owning a Clio R.S. and Brad, a Megane R.S. 275.
“When I started the business I had an old ute and was doing jobs at Ballarat Renault. Then Chelsea bought her Clio. Soon after, the new Trafic came out in lime green, and with the business growing and the need for a second vehicle, I bought one, had it sign-written and decked out inside with racks and shelving. It’s great for the business and it really stands out.”
The Slade family car was quickly traded after Kylie spotted the new Renault Captur, and soon after the ute called it a day, and was replaced with a Kangoo, which Kylie affectionately named ‘Mini-me’.
In 2016 Kylie and Brad spotted a Renault Megane R.S. 275 while attending the Australian Grand Prix and instantly fell in love with it. “Brad fell in love with the Megane and suggested we buy it,” Kylie says. “I kept saying we couldn’t afford it. Meanwhile, I quietly traded in the Captur on the Megane and on Father’s Day we went to Ballarat Renault, using the excuse I had to check on a job. There was the Megane with a big red bow on it, along with some personalised rego plates.
“We all screamed ‘Happy Father’s Day’ and I’ll never forget the look of happiness, surprise, and disbelief on Brad’s face. It was wonderful to see and the least I could do as Livewire Electrical & Design wouldn’t have happened without him and his amazing support and encouragement,” she says.
Planning some long drives together in the Megane R.S. has started, with Victoria’s Great Ocean Road top of the list. The Renault vans are having a positive effect on Livewire & Design’s bottom line thanks to their recognisable signwriting, outstanding fuel economy, low running costs and huge cargo area that carries plenty of stock, so they don’t have to leave a job to run off to suppliers.
“I recommend Renault to everyone; I like everything about them. They are such fun to drive, incredibly comfortable and their excellent safety features are very important to me. I wouldn’t let my family drive anything else, which is why we bought another Clio for my youngest daughter Hannah, when she turned 18,” Kylie says.
“I can’t thank Ric and Emma De Ruiter (owners of Ballarat Renault) enough for the way they have looked after me, my family and friends. “They are wonderful to deal with and are so helpful and friendly. Ric is constantly offering smart business advice on how I can improve and help grow the business, which I truly appreciate.
“They even suggest the best times to book the vans in for servicing to minimise downtime, as they know I have a business to run,” Kylie says. “Now that’s what I call service!”