In the Welsh Construction Sector, it can be a difficult task to remain ‘ahead of the game’ and stand out in a crowded market – particularly in rural areas where there may be less opportunities for the SME Contractor. Many construction companies find themselves in danger of stagnation and become reliant on a handful of regular clients – putting themselves at risk should anything happen to these regular sources of income.
Construction Futures Wales provides independent specialist advice to companies facing these strategic challenges and offers practical support to companies looking to save costs, secure new markets and improve their potential.
SWG was founded in 2002 by Steve Gough, a Welshpool-based carpenter. Since then the business has grown to include all aspects of the building trade and services a range of domestic, commercial and public sector clients. Since its inception, the company began other trading arms including a flooring business and electrical contracting business, all operating from the Head Office by the canal side in central Welshpool – set up approximately 8 years ago.
SWG are on the Powys County Council planned maintenance Frameworks for Kitchen Replacements, Re-roofing and Groundworks and the company has evolved its workforce over the years to provide a complete package for its Housing Association and Local Authority clients. Staff are fully trained in caring for the more vulnerable client, Tenant Liaison Officers are on hand to advise and assist during refurbishments.
SWG is widely recognised as one of the area’s biggest local employers, with over 28 direct employees and 40 local subcontractors. Like all indigenous companies, SWG is constantly evolving and changing to meet the needs of its clients, resulting in numerous challenges in terms of process management, skills and strategy. With this in mind, Director Julian Kirkham first contacted Construction Futures Wales in March 2016 with a view to finding support and advice on how to make the necessary changes and help the business to grow.
“Steve (Gough) was keen to grow the business and we had already identified several areas of skills shortage, particularly around finance and management. SWG had become known historically as a maintenance and repair company for Powys Council and we were keen to reduce our reliance on these and be recognised as an independent contractor on our own right.”
Being historically recognised locally only for maintenance, SWG was finding it hard to break into other, more lucrative markets such as new buildings and local developments. Recognising the need to take on bigger contracts, readdress their customer mix and become more profitable, Julian requested a Company Health Check from Construction Futures Wales to help him identify areas for action.
Construction Futures Wales Advisor John Humphreys visited SWG and conducted a review of the business:
“The findings of the Health Check recommended support to help with Planning and Strategy development and to advise on the benefits of introducing a Quality Management culture in the organisation and provide an overview of Lean System Thinking and its potential impact and benefits for the company.”
The report identified areas for improvement in
- Planning and development – developing a strategy for growth
- Purchasing – highlighting gaps in the processes
- Business Process –value stream mapping and identifying ‘waste’
- Quality Standards – looking at the introduction of the ISO 9001 Standard
- Staffing and skills
- Management Training
An action plan was created and several workshop sessions were conducted with the management team, utilising the free support through the Construction Futures Wales programme:
- Orbit Diagram, Plan on a Page and Value Stream Mapping techniques to establish current position and high-level gaps in order to jointly develop an Integrated Business Systems Manual – compliant with ISO standard 9001
- Specific workshop on identifying new opportunities for the company
- Tendering advice, guidance and review including the successful Powys Council tender
- Modification of estimating tools
Since completing the workshops, Julian is pleased with the impact they have made to date:
“Since our initial meeting with CFW, we have taken on a local graduate Estimator which has been a huge success and we are now looking at all sorts of opportunities and going for different work with different clients which is expanding our coverage area.”
“Having someone in-house dedicated to this task has made all the difference and is taking the business in the right direction.”
“Over the last year we have also appointed a Senior QS, Electrical Contracts Manager, a TLO Officer and a Finance Officer – all professional positions in a local company – which fits in line with our new business strategy and creates opportunities in the local economy.”
Key staff members were also identified for training and development – Mat Green was granted a place on the Construction Futures Wales Leadership & Management Level 5-7 course in March 2017 and is due to graduate later this year.
The business is also in the last stages of achieving their ISO 9001 standard having completed around 90% of the process, they are now waiting on a date for audit.
Things haven’t all been plain-sailing however. An arson attack in May 2017 devastated the offices and stock held on-site resulting in huge losses. But despite the chaos, the team reflect positively on the experience:
“It was a testing time; the team rallied round proving their resourcefulness and carried on. The result is that we have now moved a lot of our essential business systems to the Cloud to enable us to carry on working remotely, should there ever be a problem in the future.”
Looking forward, SWG Construction is still looking to increase its range of products and services and gain a better share of the market.
“We are now looking at improving our marketing and visibility - our new website is under construction and we have undertaken a recent re-branding exercise to more accurately reflect what we do – changing our name from SWG Business to SWG Construction.”
We have experienced 100% growth since meeting CFW in 2016 and are on-track to achieve good growth this year. Our 3-year plan clearly outlines our desire for growth and taking on larger projects, looking further afield for business and more construction projects with our major clients.”
“We have spoken again to Construction Futures Wales about how we can make more improvements in other areas such as Lean Construction and Health & Safety – we look forward to meeting John again soon!”