SME profile: Buckingham Group rides the storm with its varied portfolio and UK-wide reach

Last year was a dismal one for many contractors, with 531 insolvencies in the last quarter alone. Buckingham Group Contracting has bucked this trend to virtually double its turnover and profit.

Paul Wheeler, chairman and managing director at the Midlands firm, said turnover rose from £93.5m in 2009 to a projected £173m in the financial year ending 31 December 2010. Pre-tax profit increased from £2.7m to an estimated £4.4m.

Wheeler believes Buckingham dodged the doldrums gripping the industry by playing to its strengths and doggedly pursuing opportunities across the UK.

One of its areas of expertise is sports facilities and the decision to open a North-west office paid off with a contract to build a £26m for the Salford Reds rugby league team.

Other projects on the books include the £30m London 2012 Olympic handball arena, a £30m pit lane and paddock complex for the Silverstone grand prix circuit and a £93m stadium for Brighton and Hove Albion FC.

The wide spread of locations is new for the Stowe-based contractor. “Historically the business concept was to be a Midlands-based company,” Wheeler said. “But we now go wherever the suitable work is.”

The firm also targets work in civil engineering, demolition and land remediation, and Brown said this varied portfolio has helped it ride out the recession.

“If there’s a dip in one sector there are enough opportunities in others to pick up any slack,” he said. “As one market dips another tends to grow and that goes for different regions as well.”

Wheeler has high hopes for the North-west division because he believes the region has strong potential. Market research conducted before Buckingham set up the division showed there were good opportunities, particularly in cleaning up derelict sites.

A lot of the firm’s clients were looking at projects in the area, Wheeler said. He hopes to offer them packages to demolish buildings, remediate land, provide infrastructure and deliver new-builds, all with reduced overheads.

Another early win for the office is land remediation works worth £6m for a new Sport City, next to the City of Manchester stadium.

Tim Brown, director and partner at Buckingham Group, expects the business as a whole to perform strongly this year and grow a further 30-50%.

The privately owned firm began life as a plant hire company in 1955, set up by Paul Wheeler with his father and brother.

“Paul Wheeler grew this business and it has retained its family values,” Brown says. “It extends throughout the business - we have got mothers and daughters working side by side.”

The 26-year association with Silverstone is typical of Buckingham’s long-term relationships. The pit lane and paddock win was hot on the heels of a deal to reconfigure the racing track, completed last April.

In 2010 the firm invested in a safety programme. In the last five months of the year there were no accidents on Buckingham sites, during 1.5 million working hours.

Other recent big wins include a £10m runway extension at Southend airport and a £7.5m project at Snetterton race circuit.