Home Contractor's CornerContractor's Qs “Challenging customers have helped me improve the business”

“Challenging customers have helped me improve the business”

by Matt Downs

TC: What was your path into roofing and to your current position?

JW: I started my journey as a roofing labourer at the age of 15 while still at school. I then progressed to a tiler and slater, estimator, Contract Manager, Associate Director and finally Managing Director. Contour Roofing (Essex) was formed in 1984 by then Managing Director Alan Knightley, but only as a traditional roof tiling, slating and leadwork company. I joined in 1999 and in 2003 started the flat roofing arm of the business.

TC: If you had one piece of advice about starting a roofing business, what would it be?

JW: I asked my wife this one and she said: “that’s easy to answer”, so I said: “go on then”.  Let’s just say after 20 minutes of debating we could not agree on one conclusive answer because I don’t believe there is one.

Personally, it’s all been about putting in the hard work, time, getting back up when you’re knocked down, and learning from all of this until you fulfil your goals. I remember when there were just three of us in the office running Contour Roofing. We were doing multiple jobs, 7-day weeks and very long hours! I believe in the old cliché – put your mind to something and make it happen.

TC: Tell us about a current project you’re working on…

JW: We’ve recently been working on multiple single ply roofs for the pioneering Temple Farm Development. A former scrapyard, this 34-hectare rural site in Chelmsford is being developed into the new national headquarters for the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain.

Temple Farm

It’s been a mammoth and challenging project which has been operated under an NEC contract and BREEAM requirements. High sustainability levels, cost savings, skilled workmanship, achieving the highest quality finishes and benchmarking have all been key. Because of this, we’ve worked closely with Sika Sarnafil’s technical department, who offered constant support, clarified details and provided any required evidence. This allowed the team to achieve the best ratings, while also providing a great learning opportunity for all. By specifying Sika Sarnafil Single Ply waterproofing systems, alongside excellent installation, we have also been able to help the client achieve the project’s Outstanding BREEAM rating and a 0.10 U-value.

TC: You must have worked on some difficult projects over the years. Does one in particular stand out?

JW: In 2016 we worked on 32 Ewart Grove, a complex Paul Simon Homes residential development in London. It was definitely one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever worked on, particularly when it landed on my lap to price. I remember our estimator said to me: “you should throw that one in the bin”, but me being me, I wanted to take something on that we had never done before.

Firstly, I had no idea how to price it and secondly, I questioned whether we could really do that type of work! With its extremely intricate design, including two-barrel roofs and a large, unique triangulated tower at the front, the project presented a real challenge. Originally the specification for the 400m² area called for a metal roof, but the cost implications of this meant that another solution was needed. It was thought that such a complex roof design could not be done, especially with the time and budget available.

Ewart Grove

Fortunately, when you work with market leaders Sika Sarnafil, help is never far away and it wasn’t long until we were on site working out how to actually do the work. In partnership with Sika Sarnafil, we quickly presented a new bespoke specification, which paid off. Paul Simon Homes was extremely impressed with the finished results and in 2016 we won the NFRC Single Ply Roofing Award for our work on the project. I still jest with the estimator to this day about throwing it in the bin!

TC: What about difficult customers? Any situations that stand out that you can tell us about?!

JW: I couldn’t pin point one particular incident, but challenging customers have helped me improve and develop the business to become better.

TC: What’s the most frustrating thing about your job?

JW: Accepting it when things go wrong, because they do. But as long as you have done everything possible to prevent these things from happening, then you need to accept – it’s easier said than done!

TC: And the most satisfying?

JW: One of the most satisfying things has been seeing the company grow and mature into a really strong business. It’s fantastic to get good quality feedback from customers and our supply chain, thus enabling us to maintain strong relationships and repeat business. It has been very satisfying for Contour Roofing to be recognised year on year at national award events such as the NFRC and SPRA. This not only showcases what we do, but creates a really strong feel-good factor in the work place.

Contour’s management team with BBC host Steph McGovern and their NFRC 2016 Award in the single ply category for their project Ewart Grove

TC: What’s your most important tool as a roofing contractor, either in the office or on site?

JW: It’s people, and good people at that.  A business does not run on one person and requires everyone working together to get the job done.

TC: What’s the biggest issue currently affecting you as a contractor?

JW: The uncertainty of BREXIT is a concern, but all we can do is continue to work hard and improve as individuals and as a business. I addressed the skills shortage in 2014 with our apprentice programme and five years down the line it has paid off.

TC: How has the start of 2019 been and are there reasons to be positive for the remainder of the year?

JW: The start of 2019 has been positive, and we continue to grow with some big contracts lined up. We have also been focusing on mental health within the workforce as the construction industry has one of the highest rates of mental health issues and suicide with young men than any other sector.  All Directors, Managers and office personnel have recently completed First Aid Mental Health Training, and we intend to roll out Mental Health Awareness Training to all our workforce by the end of 2020.


Related Articles

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More