Contractor’s Skillbase division to target well-heeled households as well as working for insurers.
Mowlem is about to launch a refurbishment and improvement service direct to homeowners, bypassing the trend for insurance-based schemes.

Although details are sketchy, it is believed that homeowners will be charged an annual fee of about £100 in return for a guarantee that work will be carried out by Mowlem’s Skillbase division within a set time.

A spokesperson for Mowlem refused to confirm the fee but said: “We are launching a couple of new services that we will be ready to talk about in a month’s time. One will be in refurbishment and both are aimed at extending the service scope of Skillbase.” Brian May, divisional chairman of Mowlem, said: “We are hoping to establish a database of customers who come to us for all kinds of services. We definitely want to target more homeowners direct.” Skillbase was started in May last year to provide 24-hour domestic maintenance and repairs through insurance companies such as Commercial Union. It also does work for housing associations and a small amount of repair and maintenance direct to homeowners. Morrison and Jarvis are involved in similar services for insurers.

The City was positive about the move, with analysts predicting it would benefit from householders’ fear of cowboy operators.

People may pay for it in good times, but may well not when times are bad

Mike betts, JP Morgan

“There is a major refurbishment market to be had,” said one. “There is a definite upward trend in couples with large disposable incomes who don’t want to do DIY but don’t want a cowboy to do work for them.” Mike Betts, of JP Morgan, said: “There probably is a market for it. The temptation for most people when they want refurbishment doing is to go for Yellow Pages, pick the cheapest and, surprise surprise, end up with a problem.

“People may pay up for it in good times, but may well not when times are bad, so it is probably going to be very cyclical. That said, all the contractors that have moved into the insurance market have managed quite well and while the overheads can be quite high, the margins are good.” Skillbase had a turnover of about £35m in 1998 and now employs about 1000 people. It recently extended its regional coverage, opening offices in Leeds and Chatham in Kent.

In recent months, it has acquired maintenance work through Norwich Union, Prudential and Abbey National. It has also worked for Sainsbury’s Homebase customers.