< Expert Advice | 08.03.2016 |

Diversify and Grow

Diversify and Grow

Essex firm Woodford Heating & Energy has grown up providing heating and mechanical services to newbuild developments. Now the company is looking to expand into other areas, too.

Today, Roy Alderslade is the managing director of a multimillion-pound business, but he admits he would have thought twice about starting up at all if he’d known just how much hard work it would be. “I’ve always been ambitious and wanted to run my own business, but if I’d realised the hurdles there would be to get there, then I never would have done it,” he says.

Roy first started the business in 1994, having previously worked as a self-employed gas and heating engineer in Woodford, Essex – reflected in the company name of Woodford Heating & Energy, although it now trades out of nearby Loughton.

The early years were particularly manic, recalls Roy, and saw a period of rapid growth. “It was quite common for me to be doing 12 hours a day, working on the tools and then going back to the office and pricing, invoicing and sorting out the accounts,” he says. “But I was a young lad with plenty of energy, so I got on with it.”

Newbuild niche

Back then, the company’s main focus was the refurbishment sector, working on private and social housing projects. But it soon spread into newbuild premises, which is where the business has established its niche. The move saw it expand beyond its plumbing and heating base to taking on responsibility for all mechanical and energy-related installations including ventilation, air-conditioning and both dry and wet risers.

Within four years, the business’s turnover was £1.5 million, and although subsequent growth has been more controlled it has risen steadily to today’s figure of £27 million. The firm has grown in size too – it now directly employs 85 people while its overall workforce, including subcontractors, is more than 200.

“Our first major project consisted of 20 houses and 54 flats, and that was a huge leap from where we were and opened the door to many more projects,” says Roy. “Ever since then, our strategy has been to never do just one job. We look for clients that can give us long-term relationships. It allows us to plan and grow a bit more comfortably and increases confidence on both sides of the relationship.”

Having such solid relationships with its main contractors and dealing directly with developers helped the business to navigate the downturn, he adds. “It was about survival. Fortunately, the clients we had long-term relationships with continued to supply us with work, and that got us through it.”

The only way is Essex

The company’s Essex location gives it easy access to London’s booming property market, and this is where Roy believes most of the growth – he’s aiming for 15-20% a year – will come from in the next three to five years. Recent projects include Catford Green (a £9.2 million project), Enderby Wharf (£8.8 million), Stratford Plaza (£3.8 million) and Broadway Chambers (£7 million).

Alongside working on these residential schemes, the business is looking to diversify into other areas, including newbuild commercial. “The residential market could change and that’s one reason why we’re interested in diversifying into the commercial sector,” he says. “We’ll probably have more of a presence there in two or three years’ time.”

Another focus for the company has been to develop a maintenance arm. “The after-sales part of our business has always been important and is becoming more important because clients are more demanding these days,” he says. “So we have a team looking after our own service and maintenance, and we saw an opportunity to do chargeable works for a wider base of client.” This move has seen the firm take on projects in offices, schools and shops, including hairdressing salons for Toni & Guy.

Roy’s own role has also evolved over time. “I don’t really get involved in projects any more,” he says. “My role now is steering the ship, and keeping us going in the right direction. I liaise at a high level with our clients and talk to them about future projects, but mainly it’s a case of keeping the company focused.”

It’s all a far cry from the days when Roy would take on everything himself, but having built the business up to its current level he’s keen to see just how far it can grow. “I don’t think there is a limit to any business,” he says. “There are large contractors out there turning over £100 million. I don’t have a game plan to get to that, but our plan is for genuine growth while the market allows.”

Drain to gain

Working on many different sites, often for long periods of time, means that a large amount of kit – particularly drainage materials – is required, and Woodford Heating & Energy relies on Drain Center to deliver this direct to site.

“The logistics side of our business can be challenging,” says Roy Alderslade, Woodford managing director. “Drain Center is good at the delivery process. We score our suppliers internally, and Drain Center scores highly. ‘Right first time’ is what we aim for, and Drain Center helps us to achieve that.”

Knowing Drain Center will be able to deliver any materials the next working day also gives extra peace of mind. “While we try not to be reliant on next-day delivery, the demands of modern construction make it useful,” adds Roy.

 

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