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AR Demolition wins big and wins work at Specialists Awards

Specialist contractor AR Demolition started with the current director striking out on his own as a sole trader 20 years ago. Now, the £15m-turnover business is taking on high-profile projects for clients like Network Rail – and won big at last year’s Specialists Awards in recognition of its progress.


Founded: 2007

Location: Nuneaton, Warwickshire

Turnover: £15m

Specialism: Demolition


Richard Dolman left school just after turning 17. He wasn’t badly behaved and didn’t go to a bad school but, as he says: “It just didn’t suit me.”

He undertook an apprenticeship restoring cars, working for a mechanic for four years, before eventually feeling the urge to strike out on his own.

“I wasn’t progressing and found it quite uninspiring,” he explains. “My friend across the road owned a JCB and we joked about doing something with that. In the end it became reality.”

Mr Dolman’s parents put their house up for security against a loan, allowing him to buy his own JCB.

“I took two weeks off work to take a course and learn how to drive it, then handed my notice in at the mechanic,” he says.

This marked the beginning of AR Demolition.

Every rule in the book

Starting out as a sole trader, Mr Dolman began with small jobs and admits he was “probably useless” at it to begin with.

But his positive attitude and a desire to do the job right eventually saw him learn – and the business grow.

“I’d been going four years when someone asked me to demolish an old fuel station,” he says. “I probably broke every rule in the book doing it – not through trying to cut corners, but just through naivety.

“I stepped back and looked at demolition, and I decided to do it differently”

Richard Dolman, AR Demolition

“It was at that point that I stepped back and looked at demolition, and thought that it was some way behind the standards that a paying customer would want. I decided to do it differently.”

As the burden of managing the business became more difficult as it grew, Mr Dolman’s cousin Andrew joined and the limited company of AR Demolition was formed in 2007.

Complex jobs, good value

Beginning with almost nothing when he started as sole trader in 1994, AR Demolition turned over £15m in its last full year.

Mr Dolman says the secret to his success has been “maintaining his standards”.

“I think the key is value for money – we are not the cheapest, but we will give anyone a run on value,” he says. “I always do what I tell people I’m going to do.”

The firm takes on a mixture of big and small contracts – the bigger deals are “nice”, Mr Dolman says, but firms will often “fight and squabble to get them”.

“If we pick up the 10 smaller jobs that those guys don’t want, then the margins are often a bit better and it perhaps limits our exposure a bit more,” he explains.

“It was highly charged in political terms, with lots of communities having their say and a monumental amount of utilities right underneath the road”

Richard Dolman, AR Demolition

AR Demolition recently took down a major flyover right in the centre of Leicester city centre, a challenging job by any standards.

“It was highly charged in political terms, with lots of communities having their say and a monumental amount of utilities right underneath the road,” Mr Dolman says.

“The way our team rallied to complete that job was massive. We just kept looking for that stone to turnover with a problem underneath, but it didn’t happen. We never took the job for granted and it went well.”

Other major projects completed in recent months include the demolition of the ticket hall outside King’s Cross station in London for Network Rail and the challenging job of taking down two old press halls in Derby and Leicester.

Both of these projects were nominated for Construction News Specialists Awards in 2014 – and both received a high commendation.

Valuable judging process

AR Demolition had a good night at this year’s awards: shortlisted in five categories, the company was highly commended in four and won Training Initiative of the Year.

The judges were so impressed that they also bestowed the Judges’ Special Award on the company.

“We decided instead that we wanted our customers to see how great we are – and the Specialists Awards was the obvious one as it instantly puts you in front of your customers”

Richard Dolman, AR Demolition

“We decided to enter as we had been involved in other industry-led awards and we were never comfortable with the politics involved in those,” Mr Dolman says.

“We decided instead that we wanted our customers to see how great we are – and the Specialists Awards was the obvious one, as it instantly puts you in front of your customers.”

Mr Dolman presented to our judges in all five categories alongside quality manager Patricia Sloneczny, a process he describes as “nerve-wracking”.

“But once I got over the nerves and realised the judges weren’t trying to catch us out and were trying to help you do your best, I ended up learning an awful lot,” he says.

Big night

The night of the awards itself couldn’t have gone much better – so much so that Mr Dolman says he “probably wouldn’t expect to be in that position ever again”.

“We were the new kids on the block and the judges obviously saw something they liked,” he says. “You have to understand: to be recognised like that completely blew me away.

“When [Construction News editor] Rebecca Evans was announcing the Special Award, talking about AR before revealing our name, as it became clearer that it was us she was talking about I couldn’t believe it.

“My mother was sat next to me and had to grab my leg to stop it shaking – adrenaline wasn’t the word.”

“A chief executive from a big contractor came up to Andrew on the night and thrust a card into his hand, saying: ‘I don’t know where you’ve been hiding, but you’re just what we need’”

Richard Dolman, AR Demolition

Beyond the recognition on the night, though, the award has also opened doors for the company with a major contractor.

“A chief executive from a big contractor came up to Andrew on the night and thrust a card into his hand, saying, ‘I don’t know where you’ve been hiding, but you’re just what we need’,” Mr Dolman recalls.

“After a few emails back and forth, we’re meeting their head of procurement this month.

“That is the real definition of success for me.

“It’s not about having loads of money in the bank, but if that contractor is sitting around a table scratching their heads, wondering how to carry out this really tricky demolition, and they say, ‘We need AR Demolition’ – that’s success.”

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