More Than A Grim Reaper

28th November 2013

Our Technical Director Ian Martin was recently interview by Construction News and discussed the success of Hughes & Salvidge and our future plans…

Demolition contractor Hughes and Salvidge has doubled turnover in the past three years and is now looking to Europe for further expansion, writes Daniel Kemp

Demolition specialist Hughes and Salvidge has experienced strong growth during the past three years of the downturn, doubling turnover to £25m.

This impressive achievement has been brought about through a “combination of acquisitions and organic growth”, according to the firm’s technical director Ian Martin.

The company was founded in 1964 in Portsmouth and still has its head office there, yards from the shipyard that is due to be closed with hundreds of jobs lost. “That’s a reminder of the economic situation at the moment,” Mr Martin says.

“I think of our industry in particular as a large tanker. It’s been going one way, down, for a long time and it will take time to turn that around. I’m confident that we’ll be able to do it within the next 12 to 24 months, though.”

Hughes and Salvidge specialises in demolition and decommissioning, carrying out the full range of associated works including asbestos removal, decontamination and site remediation.

“Anything our client needs from us we can do,” Mr Martin says.

The company works across a wide range of sectors, with particular specialisms being pharmaceutical, petrochemical and airport demolitions.

“We’re the only demolition company in the country to have an office at an airport,” Mr Martin says, referring to the company’s base at Heathrow.

“You have all the normal issues of dust, vibration and noise, but you’re often working within 50 ft of a 747 jumbo jet.

“We also have to work around the passengers. The passenger experience is very important to the airports, so we have to temper our work methods accordingly with lots of restrictions and a great deal of night work.”

Mr Martin says, however, that the airport jobs are not necessarily more challenging than those in the petrochemical sector, for example – just that the challenges there are “very different” from other places.

Hughes and Salvidge doesn’t like to pigeonhole itself to a particular value of work. “It’s all about the client,” Mr Martin says. “If the right client comes along with a £25,000 job, then we’d do it. If we make that relationship, they may have a £2.5m project the next month.”

Northern expansion

The firm’s expansion into the North has allowed it to “monitor clients’ perspectives” around the country much more effectively, Mr Martin explains. “With our offices in Heathrow and Huddersfield, we can now access almost all of the country pretty easily,” he says.

Building good relationships with clients has been an important part of the company’s success in recent years, a trend Mr Martin expects to continue.

It is through those clients that Mr Martin hopes to gain a foothold on the continent. “Those companies are always looking for a good supply chain,” he says.

“In the UK, I think the standards of health and safety in demolition are generally better than the rest of Europe, and we can stand toe to toe with the best in the world.

“By building up the relationships here with the multinational companies, we can travel abroad and demonstrate our services there. We’re not taking a scattergun approach; we’re targeting expansion through the clients rather than looking at a particular country.”

Despite the European ambition, Mr Martin says that 2013 has still been “a tough year”. “The Bank of England says we’re in recovery now, but I’m not sure I’m seeing it just yet,” he says. “Cashflow is the biggest issue we face, and I think a lot of specialists are still struggling with it. To stimulate growth, we have to sort out payment terms.”

He believes the feel-good factor has to come from the top – if clients start spending again, confidence will increase and work will pick up for everyone.

“We’re targeting the blue-chip clients over major contractor work,” Mr Martin says. “And we expect a fair bit of work in airports, too, thanks to our expertise there and the work Heathrow and Gatwick have got planned.”

The company rebranded earlier this year in anticipation of its 50th anniversary in 2014. “We created a new logo and freshened up our website – even though we’re 50 years old, we still have some young ideas,” Mr Martin says.

“People often don’t realise that demolition is very innovative. People see us as the grim reaper at the bottom of the food chain, coming in and getting rid of factories and offices that have closed where people have lost jobs.

“But we see ourselves in a different light, clearing away the old building and breathing new life into it.”

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