Oldham firm City Response has flourished on the back of a fruitful relationship with its parent organisation, The Guinness Partnership. With the economy on the up, head of business development Warren Goodall hopes that this is just the start
Difficult economic circumstances have been no barrier to growth for Oldham-based City Response over the past 12 years.
The business was created in 2002 by Northern Counties Housing Association to provide repairs to homes in Manchester when its existing contractor suffered difficulties. Since then, the business has embarked on a period of growth, largely on the back of its relationship with Northern Counties – now part of The Guinness Partnership, of which City Response has become a wholly owned subsidiary. “It’s now a single entity covering housing stock throughout England, from Newcastle down to Cornwall and across from the east to the west coast,” explains Warren Goodall, head of business development.
The focus up to now for City Response has largely been the northern area of England, stretching from Grimsby to Liverpool, and Harrogate down to Coventry, but it has recently picked up work in Milton Keynes, Exeter and the North-East.
Turnover has increased to £30 million a year, says Goodall, but the business is tendering for a number of contracts. In addition, it takes on work for other clients, also in the social housing sector, he adds.
The business itself operates in four main areas, all around social housing. These are responsive repairs; renovations of empty properties to bring them back up to a letable standard; planned renovations to high volumes of houses; and, more recently, major works.
“We’ve just done our second major works project,” says Goodall. “The first was West Gorton in Manchester where we worked on an estate of 144 properties over three phases and three years, where all the houses had new doors, windows, roofs, fences, garages and doors, and then inside it was new kitchens, bathrooms, central heating and electrical rewires. It was a comprehensive refurbishment.”
City Response has 343 directly employed staff, including 231 operatives, comprising plumbers, joiners, roofers, decorators and electricians. Its head office is in Chadderton, Oldham, but it also has two regional offices in Chesterfield and Milton Keynes, with staff based across a wide area to ensure it is able to meet demand across the country.
“We’re very keen that we use local employment,” says Goodall. “We use a balanced scorecard to make sure we’re on track, and we are currently at 93 per cent. We employ people as far away as Shrewsbury, and we’ve just taken on a team who are all based in or near Exeter to do some planned works.” The business also makes use of agency workers and sub-contractors when needed.
Delivering the goods
Plumb Center’s branch network is also utilised to ensure that operatives are able to get the stock they need when they need it, even if they are not near one of City Response’s own locations. “It’s only recently that we have expanded, so it’s about having stock in the right places at the right time,” says Goodall. “We need to be able to deliver great customer service very quickly, so our operatives need materials to hand.”
The relationship with its parent organisation helped insulate City Response from the worst of the economic downturn, but it did bring about a renewed focus
on cost by The Guinness Partnership. “Tender prices were dropping like mad and we still had to prove value for money,” recalls Goodall.
“Prices are rising again now, but we have modest profit aspirations and we’re open with the profit we need to make from the work we do, and that’s accepted. We effectively work on an open-book relationship and tell clients exactly what it’s costing us to deliver a service.”
With the economy now improving, City Response hopes to increase the amount of work it wins from a variety of social landlords, largely through extending its geographic reach, as well as picking up additional clients.
“Essentially we want to grow to be the contractor of choice for social landlords, and if there are a number that have stock in the same areas, then that’s something we are keen to explore,” he says.
“That gives all clients benefits, because it makes responsive repairs especially
very efficient. It’s all about delivering excellent customer service and value
Nick Martindale, editor, Plumb Parts
Attracting local skills
Encouraging local youngsters to consider a career in construction is a particular focus for City Response.
In June, 30 year-11 children from Sheffield Park Academy attended a day of workshops at its Barrow Hill branch in Chesterfield, giving them the opportunity to try out their skills as tradespeople.
“We gave them a go at six different activities and the feedback has been amazing,” says Warren Goodall, head of business development. “Already we have two people who want to be apprentices.”
The business is already a large employer of apprentices, and aims to have a ratio of 10 per cent trade apprentices to operatives. Many of these are drawn from schools in the Chesterfield region, on the back of relationships that the firm has built up since it moved premises in 2013.
“It’s given us a very solid base because they are our future workforce, and it helps us to be representative of the communities we live and work in,” says Goodall.
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