The winner of this year’s Demolition gong at the CN Specialists Awards tells Lucy Mair how the company is delivering high standards globally.
For SMEs operating in the current climate, trading can be tough. Margins are being squeezed and competition is high, so anything that sets companies aside from their competitors is a bonus.
Winning a Construction News Specialists Award is one way the EDS Group is differentiating itself from its rivals in the demolition sphere.
The company’s global business strategy and in-house staff training programme impressed the judging panel of industry experts at the awards in March 2012.
The decommissioning and dismantling specialist won the Demolition Award, which has been a direct business asset to the company since.
EDS managing director Darren Palin says: “Winning the Specialists Award has confirmed to the company, our staff and our clients that EDS is a leader in the industry.
“It’s a nice accolade and the award has been recognised not only in the UK, but also by our clients internationally, raising awareness about the business.”
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The award has also helped the company compete for new contracts. “We’ve used the award successfully when presenting and prequalifying for new business and I think it has supported our bid for several contracts,” says Mr Palin.
“When we’re up against a competitor the fact that we have an award in our cabinet and they don’t can be used to our advantage.”
EDS has been operating for almost two decades and has a turnover of £60 million, but the company is not immune to the difficulties currently facing the UK demolition sector.
“At present the UK market is lethargic and as a result it is very competitive out there,” says Mr Palin. “A lot of people are chasing the same work and that’s reflected in the prices we’re securing for contracts and in the margins.”
Despite these difficulties, EDS has experienced overall growth of 15 per cent in the past 12 months, giving Mr Palin reason to be optimistic. “We are bucking the trend,” he says.
Mr Palin attributes EDS’s success in the UK to the level of service it provides. “We offer a complete in-house service and we have the capacity to handle complex projects,” he says. “We specialise in the disinvestment and decommissioning of oil and gas refineries, petrochemical plants, chemical plants and pharmaceutical facilities, and we look after everything from start to finish.”
The company’s growth is also being driven by expansion of its overseas business and it has recorded a sustained increase in international trade each year for the past three years.
“When I joined EDS nearly seven years ago, the company focused its attention on the UK market. Now, over 50 per cent of our income comes from outside the UK,” says Mr Palin.
EDS began expanding its international operations in response to client demand and development of the global economy, and the move is paying off. “I think what differentiates EDS from our competitors is that we’re prepared to travel for our clients,” says Mr Palin. “Many of them are UK-based, but they have an international reach like we do.”
The company directly employs 300 people in the UK, Canada and Australia and has won contracts in Europe as well as Argentina, the Philippines and Turkey.
But global diversification also presents serious challenges for the business. “Language is an issue for us because there’s a lack of UK staff with foreign language capabilities,” says Mr Palin. “There are also few people with knowledge of multiple markets. From our perspective, the greatest challenge we face is growing globally.
“To overcome these issues, we’ve started working with the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and with universities to provide foreign language training to our existing employees.
“We’ve also started recruiting staff from outside the UK who understand our international markets and speak different languages.”
Mr Palin is proud of EDS’s success over the past year, but appreciates that there may be more challenges ahead.
To other specialist businesses in the sector that want to replicate the company’s achievements, Mr Palin advises: “It is important to have manageable and sustained growth. Avoid chasing short-term margins – have a plan and stick to that plan.”