< Expert Advice | 20.07.2015 |



Growing customer demand to work with a single contractor gave rise to the formation of Rolec Mechanical Services in 2011. Four years on, the challenge is how to control the rate of growth

We’ve all heard the phrase “the customer is always right”, and that has certainly proved to be the case for Rolec Mechanical Services, based in Milton Keynes. It was the demand from clients to work with one contractor capable of carrying out electrical, mechanical, plumbing and heating work that prompted Rolec Electrical Contractors to start up the mechanical side back in 2011, and since then the business has been on a rapid growth trajectory.

This part of the business is headed up by contracts director Gary Tuffnell who started it up “with a pad and a pen”, and is now responsible for around 50 of the company’s team of 140 people. “I had my own company before this, but used to work alongside Rolec on various sites so I knew the directors,” says Gary. “A lot of clients see the benefit of combined mechanical and electrical services because it means there are no grey areas. Everything is ultimately our responsibility.”

Home territory
The company’s niche is in newbuild housing, on projects ranging from single dwellings to large multi-occupancy apartment blocks. “A lot of these developments now have central plant rooms, where our responsibilities include boiler, combined heat and power, distribution and then the flats themselves,” says Gary. “Or we might do a one-off big house or small-scale social housing. It could be anything, but it’s all newbuild.”

Rolec takes on work within 90 minutes’ drive of its base in Milton Keynes, and recent projects have taken it to Purley, Wokingham, Walthamstow and Banbury. “A recent contract consisted of 159 apartments in Cambridge over five blocks with a central plant and renewables,” says Gary. “But we’re also just about to start two multi-million pound houses for Cala Homes in Stanmore. I would say Cambridgeshire is currently our main area; we’ve been working there now for three years and have just begun a contract for 137 units, again with a central plant.” These projects can be either electrical and mechanical, he adds, or just the mechanical side of things, and the business has a strategy of working for mid-sized housing developers and larger main contractors rather than the national builders.

“They’re very demanding and there’s not a lot of margin in it, so why tie up our resources working for them?” he says. “So we steer clear of the nationals and let others do them.” Major customers include the likes of Fairview New Homes and Hill Partnerships.

Rapid growth
The business itself has more than doubled in size since the creation of the mechanical side four years ago, with contracts managers and site supervisors now employed, together with a team of regular sub-contractors. “A lot of the original people I brought in were my old engineers, but as we’ve grown we’ve had to advertise and now we get people ringing up and looking for work,” says Gary.

“I like to use engineers who have a broad skillset,” he adds. “Some companies will have first-fixers and second-fixers, but to me if you’re a mechanical engineer you should be able to do all aspects, although there are some aspects of the plant rooms where we use specialists who we have built long-term relationships with.”

This rapid expansion has also meant an office move, with the business bringing electrical staff from its original base in Newport Pagnell to Milton Keynes. This has expanded from a single unit, with the business fitting out two adjacent units to create one new and vibrant office space, enabling the whole business to be under one roof. “We had to move because we kept expanding, and it’s certainly made communication easier,” says Gary. “It’s been challenging, but the margins are moving a bit at the minute as things are getting busier. We still see the odd occasion where people try to buy the work, but that’s not what we’re about. We want to turn a profit, otherwise there’s no point.”

Facing the future
The business has recently taken on a dedicated customer care manager, with a view to developing more of a maintenance side to its offering. “We have a couple of contracts where we undertake maintenance on them for a year, so we’re looking to build that side of the business,” says Gary. “But that will take time because you have to complete the jobs first.” The focus will remain on newbuild, he adds.

For now, however, the main challenge is around continuing its existing growth in a sustainable manner. “We’ve had discussions in the office about how you control the growth, because it’s hard to say no to the next contract,” he admits. “We want to try to keep it at sensible levels because we don’t want to let cash flow get out of hand. But it would be nice in three years to be able to say we’ve doubled in size again.”

Gary says his existing relationship with Plumb Center meant there was only one place to go when it came to sourcing stock for Rolec Mechanical Services. “I’ve always had a good relationship with Plumb Center so when I came here I called them in,” he says.

With projects based over a wide area, he places orders with the company’s Marston Gate distribution centre, which are then delivered direct to sites. “They place the contracts where they see fit, so we don’t dictate which branch delivers it,” he says. “We have containers on most of the sites. We do have our own stores too, but we try to keep that to a minimum.”


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