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THE MAGAZINE FOR THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

BUILDING DESIGN &

CONSTRUCTION APRIL 2014

ISSUE 196

FOCUS ON:

WATER OPERATORS WELSH WATER PAGE 32 YORKSHIRE WATER PAGE 40

plus

We talk to Gordon Cairns, Managing Director of GHI Contracts on reaching their twentieth anniversary Page 8

ALSO INSIDE:

Chris Bowker Ltd:

Great results, happy clients


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SCOTTISH CONTRACTORS: GHI CONTRACTS

EXCELLENCE

IN INTERIORS GHI CONTRACTS ARE PRINCIPAL CONTRACTORS, SPECIALISING IN THE FIT-OUT & REFURBISHMENT OF COMMERCIAL PROPERTIES IN ALL SECTORS

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SCOTTISH CONTRACTORS: GHI CONTRACTS

eaching its twentieth anniversary has been a commendable achievement for GHI Contracts, claims Managing Director Gordon Cairns. That’s because, following meteoric growth between 2004 and 2009, it went through a period of consolidation when the economic crisis hit. “Given the casualties the crisis caused, we are delighted to have seen that through because our core market in the corporate fitout and refurbishment sector certainly took a nose dive,” he recalls. “We had to pursue other avenues to maintain a critical mass and we looked at new market sectors, selective sub-contracting opportunities, geographical locations and what else we could do differently in a cool market. There was a period of soul searching to try and keep the same robust company structure so when the market returns, as it seems to be doing, we are the right size and shape to exploit it.”

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RAPID GROWTH GHI Contracts started as a one man business in a garage, initially providing labour and partitioning services to the main contractor market. It soon broke into the fit-out and refurbishment market it’s in today and turnover grew steadily to £8 million by 2004, then rapidly to £25 million over the next five years before falling back to £16 million when recession struck. Having endured that period of consolidation, GHI is now in a position to take advantage of the recovery. That position has been achieved, believes Gordon, by the company’s working methods: “We focus on quality, giving a service that has longevity and we try to follow that ethos within the business. Our staff are all long-term employees, ten years plus, so we try to ensure clients have the same member of staff on their project second time around. We have a strong customer focus and client and staff retention have been key to the success. We don’t go out looking for individual projects without thinking about the long term opportunity with them.”

The company doesn’t get involved in new build construction but focuses on fit-outs and refurbishments of existing properties. For that, most work is obtained through the consultant market and GHI has built strong relationships with numerous architects, surveyors and project managers as the providers of a frequent and repetitive workload. Since the design and build model isn’t as common in Scotland as in England, most work comes in predesigned. Nevertheless, when design and build opportunities arise, the company offers the design service to its architect clients to provide them with reciprocal business in return for the opportunities they offer. On the occasions GHI goes into newly built properties, it’s working for the tenant/occupier, which provides a different relationship and results in a wide variety of work. “Offices and the education sector are strong for us,” remarks Gordon. “We

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currently have a framework with Glasgow University, Edinburgh University and are providing teaching facilities, laboratories, general amenities and space for students while office fit-out covers most types of commercial occupiers. We see the finance sector as a resurgent market and we have done many lawyer practice offices and technology occupiers in the past. We are trying to identify growing markets and break into these at an early stage. Our frameworks provide over 20% of our turnover and the framework with Standard Life has taken us to work in The Gherkin in London.” The contract at the Gherkin is seen as a major gain for the company since its work is predominantly in Scotland’s central belt. It also recognises Aberdeen as a key target market while other frameworks have taken it as far as the Orkney Islands and the Shetlands. Although it doesn’t actively tender for work in England, it will work anywhere in the UK for existing clients. Work at the Gherkin involved the fitting out of three floors for Standard Life and reinforced GHI’s strength in the financial sector. That’s further emphasised by a recently completed multi-million

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refurbishment and fit out for JPMorgan Chase in Glasgow. In other sectors, it’s currently on site for a £2 million hospital refurbishment for NHS Fife in Dunfermline and has just finished a large bio-science laboratory facility for Edinburgh University. A contract for Ignis Asset Management in Glasgow involved a 30,000 square feet office space refurbishment and a fit-out for ORE Catapult renewable energy centre of excellence has just been finished on a design and build basis with all furniture provided as part of the overall package. Although GHI doesn’t get involved in FM and therefore doesn’t provide planned maintenance, its commitment to long-term relationships means

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it won’t simply walk away from a job on completion. Instead, it is there to provide an after-care service and so, should a client require maintenance for air conditioning, for example, it will enable contact with the appropriate supply partners to deliver the required service. The range of projects illustrates GHI’s willingness to tackle new and challenging projects, applying it’s tried and tested methods of delivery. It also demonstrates the confidence its clients have in the company’s ability to deal with them successfully, shown by it currently looking at a £1.5 million contract involving the fit-out of clean rooms and laboratories. Whereas most new contracts require the

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successful fulfilment of rigorous pre-qualification processes due to public procurement rules, this opportunity has come through a regular consultant client and proves the value of taking the longterm view and completing every job properly. For the specialist elements of the work, GHI uses selected supply partners that enable it to undertake all aspects of a project including M&E services, decoration, floor coverings and suspended ceilings. Those partners, as Gordon confirms, are part of a small list of tried and tested sub-contractors: “We operate a supply chain approval scheme and a supply chain charter where we have tier 1 sub-contractors getting a high volume of repeat business. That doesn’t close the door to other contractors breaking in but we go through a process with them to make sure they are able to

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offer the quality and have the resources and expertise for the markets we are working in. REVIEWS AND FEEDBACK “If so, we will slowly build them up to eventually become a tier 1 contractor. We score all our contractors through a KPI scheme so they are regularly reviewed and we give them feedback on an annual basis. If we feel they are not performing over a period of time, we will discuss it with them and hopefully address that. We like to think there is a two-way form of feedback that allows the collective betterment of each project.” The supply partners are in addition to GHI’s own workforce of around forty site staff that include different grades of site management, some general operatives and about twenty joiners

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SCOTTISH CONTRACTORS: GHI CONTRACTS that enable all joinery work and partitioning to be carried out in-house. With a strong emphasis on training, there are also half a dozen apprentices going through the company’s apprentice scheme. “We are closely associated with South Lanarkshire College and sponsor one of their awards,” comments Gordon. “For the last couple of years, we have had the Apprentice of the Year from that college employed by us. Our target is to take on two a year and put them through a recognised apprenticeship scheme.” The combination of the company’s highly trained staff and a pool of proven, specialist supply partners helps to ensure quality standards remain high. That, as Gordon confirms, is maintained all the way through a project: “The critical stage for us is at the end so we make sure we achieve a seamless handover to the client. As a job is nearing completion, there is a whole process for project close out and that filters into the supply chain. It’s written into our ISO 9001 quality processes, we have important training standards in terms of quality and we also believe health and safety is a critical part. If you have a safe site, you are more guaranteed to get quality right first time, so we look at the safety and cleanliness of the site, making sure there is full compliance to our standards.” BEST PRACTICE The health and safety aspect is ensured by following best practice, which is enforced by using a health and safety consultant to visit sites frequently and

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“OUR PEOPLE ARE OUR STRONGEST ASSET AND WE HAVE RETAINED A STRONG TEAM THROUGH DIFFICULT TIMES AND DEVELOPED THEM IN THAT PERIOD.” GORDON CAIRNS MANAGING DIRECTOR

provide independent safety assessments. The emphasis on training is also crucial, with the firm having a strict safety training process in place that includes topics such as asbestos, plant use, control of dust and noise and anything else necessary to meet current legislative criteria. Associated with that are accreditation for Achilles Level 5, Considerate Contractor, Constructionline and ISO 14001, the latter providing various environmental tools to ensure compliance with current best practice, which is reinforced by site audits by an external provider. All the efforts to ensure quality, continuity and strong relationships with clients have enabled GHI to come through the difficult times and set it up for improved trading conditions. “I definitely think last year saw us turn a corner,” confirms Gordon. “The outlook is looking better although we are not sim-

ply going to chase turnover but will expand based on our current offering. It is right and proper that we still look at the bottom line to ensure we are not doing turnover for no margin. “We expect over the next five years to grow geographically but our core business model won’t change considerably and we will stick with what we are good at. We will continue to develop our people and expand our team but maintain the ethos we have got. Our people are our strongest asset and we have retained a strong team through difficult times and developed them in that period. We feel that is a really important factor and gives us the building blocks to expand in the future.” www.ghicontracts.co.uk Tel: 01698 844202

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GHI Contracts - BDC Magazine April 2014