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All-in-one or all for one – Lockwoods hails flexible specialisation

The Lockwoods group of companies has weathered the recession by both diversifying into specialist divisions and being able to combine its various arms to deliver complete packages.

Small construction companies that have survived the downturn often attribute their success and survival to one of three factors; diversification, specialisation or flexibility.

Lockwoods managing director John Maddock points to all three when discussing how his group of companies has navigated the challenging economic conditions.

Lockwoods is based in Bootle, Merseyside, and has been trading since 1966. The group comprises general building contractor Lockwoods Construction, mechanical building services arm Lockwoods Technical, electrical building services division Lockwoods Electrical and joinery contractor/timber-frame specialist SticX.

Diverse group allows cross-collaboration

“The first business was the construction company started by my father and his cousin,” Mr Maddock says. “They added the technical and electrical services elements in the mid-1970s as they sought to take control of the services element of what we’re doing.

“Our subcontracting company was the first to start coming back, and we’re now getting more work in construction too”

John Maddock, Lockwoods

“Initially this was a simple business decision to keep the work in-house, but as the services element of buildings has become increasingly important and more technical, we have reaped the benefit of being able to offer clients a full design-and-build facility with immediate access to technical services advice.”

As the company encompasses a range of businesses and expertise, it means each part can either work together across a project or work as a subcontractor for other businesses.

“We work together to deliver full, integrated new-build and refurbishment projects or separately to fit into other company supply chains. We can subcontract for all sorts of people,” Mr Maddock says.

The company works mainly across the North-west, but subcontracting means it also works nationwide.

This diversification is one of the factors that has helped Lockwoods survive the downturn. “Business at the moment is interesting – it’s been a horrible recession for almost five years but we’re starting to see uplifts in enquiries and winning work in the past three to four months of this year,” Mr Maddock says.

And he is even more optimistic about the coming months. “Our subcontracting company was the first to start coming back, and we’re now getting more work in construction too.

“We are very positive about the next few years and expect a significant gain in turnover this year.”

Having a variety of in-house expertise also means the company can help clients value-engineer projects and can offer several services all-in-one package.

“Our size means we can be flexible and agile, but our expertise means we can work across a whole variety of projects as both main contractor and subcontractor,” Mr Maddock says.

Adaptive approach to renewables

One particular area of the market where Lockwoods has had recent success is in renewable technology, particularly biomass boilers.

“We’re well placed to tap into the renewables agenda, as we already have lots of technical expertise in this area,” Mr Maddock says.

“We do a lot of timber-frame construction – it’s quick, green and predictable”

John Maddock, Lockwoods

“We have installed a series of medium-sized biomass installations and are subsequently running and maintaining installations for a local registered social landlord, even up to metering and billing for energy use,” he says.

This came about because, once installed, clients would often ask Lockwoods’ engineers for further advice and help running the installations, so the company deicide to offer a monitoring and metering service as well.

“This is typical of how we operate: Lockwoods Construction won a building project; Lockwoods Technical produced an innovative heating solution; two years down the line we are still looking after the building and have found another specialism,” he says.

DIY timber-frame specialisation

Another specialist area the company has recently diversified into is timber-frame construction. “We started our own timber-frame company, SticX, to deliver timber frames to projects where traditional panel fabricators were too expensive,” Mr Maddock explains.

“We do a lot of timber-frame construction – it’s quick, green and predictable.”

“We couldn’t find a panel manufacturer that could sell us a frame at the right price. So we built our own, on site”

John Maddock, Lockwoods

This idea came about when Lockwoods was doing a small three-storey block of six flats on an infill site in a residential area.

“We wanted the fast build programme that timber frame would give us, but we couldn’t find a panel manufacturer that could sell us a frame at the right price. So we built our own, on site,” Mr Maddock says.

“Offsite fabrication is great for some projects, but its financial advantages come from repetition and volume in order to overcome factory overheads and for many projects this isn’t the case.”

SticX has grown into a £1.5m company and is one area Mr Maddock hopes will see further growth in the future. “We believe we will be able to extend the use of timber frame in construction and generate our own market,” he says. “This company is growing fast.”

Workforce builds reputation

The other pillar of the Lockwoods business is its reputation, something Mr Maddock believes comes from the high quality of his staff.

“We are the sum of our people: we look to recruit technically competent engineers and builders and retain them,” he says. “We’ve got some really great people here.

“We directly employ our own labour – we’ve got about 100 guys at the moment and five apprentices. Our reputation is based on quality and we have to employ our own guys to ensure we get that quality.”

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