The name of roofing contractor Lakesmere may not be particularly familiar to the industry, but the company’s work certainly is.
From the domed roof of the Welsh assembly to the glass Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, Lakesmere’s specialist roofing design has been behind some of the most iconic structures of recent times.
This involvement, which currently includes work on Bovis Lend Lease’s Unilever House in Blackfriars, central London, and Laing O’Rourke’s Coventry Arena, is made all the more striking by the fact that 13 years ago the Winchester-based company was a niche firm less than one-10th of its current size. Mark Davey, the managing director, staged a management buyout of the original Lakesmere division from local company Walcon in 1993 together with business partner Geoff Dennis, who is now financial director of the company. At the time, the firm’s turnover was £2.7m, compared with its current figure of £33m.
“We didn’t envisage anything like this,” Davey admits, looking at a mindmap on his office wall that refers to high-profile repeat clients including BAA, Laing O’Rourke and HBG. “We thought the company would reach a regional level, but it just kept growing.”
That growth has seen Lakesmere expand beyond its southern base to Manchester and Glasgow, with plans for a fourth office in Birmingham in the new year. At present, the firm does not have plans to work in Europe, although Davey is keeping an open mind. “We’ve worked in the Isle of Man, the Shetland Islands and the Orkney Islands. If you can work in these places, you can work in most.”
To keep up with its order book, Lakesmere is also having to expand its staff: from 17 employees at the start, the firm has grown to 170 and the number is set to rise further next year. The firm employs 45 designers, more than any other roofing specialist in the UK. It has traditionally taken on workers direct from college courses and trained specifically to deliver its “building envelope” – a single package from design through to fitting, with no outsourcing of work.
It is now finding the need to bring in a number of senior staff from elsewhere. “It’s difficult to bring in good people,” says Davey. “But we have been bringing in one or two at senior level. It means we can have the benefit of external experience in a relatively specialised market.”
Davey’s caution over staff selection reflects the position Lakesmere has built up as a highly specialised contractor, rather than simply another roofing company. Its “envelope solutions” are a source of pride for the company and mean it appeals to clients who are looking for a one-stop shop. However, Davey recognises this approach also carries more risk. He says: “The strategy means that the client effectively downloads its risk onto us, but it just means we have to be more certain to get it right.”
The firm has increased its tender conversion rate from about one in nine to about one in three since gaining its independence. A mark of its success is that it has been consulted by troubleshooters attempting to help out other, less successful companies in the roofing sector.
In the past year, profit has almost doubled to £886,900.
Davey has also decided to invest in the firm’s branding. Having appointed a marketing consultant last year, he is determined to make the firm, as well as its projects, a focal point for the industry with a rebranding early in the new year to raise the profile of the firm’s envelope work.
When asked if this push for recognition could have come sooner, he replies with characteristic caution: “If I’ve ever learned anything, it’s that you don’t say you can do something before you can do it. You have to prove yourself first or you’ll shoot yourself in the foot.”