For many people, starting their own business is a lifelong ambition that is meticulously planned. But this was not quite the case for Steen Evans and his fellow directors when they started Pemb Civil and Engineering in 2008.
“Starting the business was not entirely intentional,” says Pemb managing director Mr Evans.
“We started off doing some work for a friend, and while we were doing bits and bobs for him a job opened up across the road.
“It was a culvert which had collapsed and we thought we’d have a go. We formed a company, won the contract then had to make the decision to hand our notice in at the companies we were working for and get on with running our own business.”
The decision has paid off, as the business has grown consistently since it was formed and had a turnover in 2011 of just under £3 million, with a projected turnover of between £4m and £5m for 2012.
Following the firm’s successful completion of the culvert job, Pemb tendered and won a place on a framework in Newport, which gave the newly formed business some stability during the difficult economic climate.
“We got onto that framework and it set us up; we haven’t looked back,” says Mr Evans. The company works on a variety of projects from highways to groundworks and civil engineering as both main contractor and as a subcontractor to companies such as Galliford Try.
“We’ve just gone for another four-year council framework, which we’re waiting to hear about, and there is another one coming out that covers much of the south-east of Wales,” says Mr Evans.
Pemb already works on several of these frameworks as a subcontractor, but as larger contractors go for larger jobs, it leaves a gap in the market for smaller companies such as Pemb to win the work.
“We work on one of the frameworks now with Galliford Try, but they’re moving onto higher-value jobs which leaves space for us to go for projects up to about £500,000, which we can comfortably manage as main contractors,” says Mr Evans.
Much of the firm’s work is in Wales, although it has done jobs as far afield as Surrey, Bournemouth and Bolton. As a result, the procurement departments and people working on projects know each other well, meaning maintaining a good reputation is vital.
“Primarily the south frameworks are run by Capita Symonds, so we get a good name through our relationship with them,” says Mr Evans.
“They’ve even come to us on a couple of smaller projects and asked if we’d like to tender as main contractor, which we’ve won. So word is getting around.”
But maintaining a good reputation is not just about finishing the work on time and to a high standard; building relationships with companies and people is also very important.
“We’ve worked on a couple of projects with certain site managers, and they’ve left that contractor, gone somewhere else and taken us with them,” says Mr Evans.
“Sometimes it’s a small world; a lot of these procurement departments speak to each other. Initially we struggled a bit until we broke into these bigger companies, but now were getting tender applications from the likes of Vinci, Leadbitter, Morgan Sindall and ISG.
“I’ve always been of the belief that you don’t burn bridges, because you never know what’s round the corner.
“So we’re commercially conscious, but in such a way that we will try to help the main contractor in any way we can because we’re not into the claims culture, it just upsets people.”
While building a good reputation takes time it can be destroyed very quickly, which is why Pemb is extremely careful about the workers it employs. “The workforce we’ve got are very good and most of them have been with us since we started,” says Mr Evans.
As the company grows and develops its skills and reputation, the jobs it wins are becoming more diverse and complex.
“We’ve just tendered for a bridge refurb job with a local council,” says Mr Evans. “It’s an old 17th century stone bridge, so it’s an ancient monument with lots of complications.
“It’s over a river, we can’t drill into the bridge, there is a gatehouse which needs to be rewired, all the oak flooring needs to come out and be replaced; all of these are things we wouldn’t have gone for a couple of years ago.”
When talking about the secret to the company’s success, Mr Evans is frank. “There is no secret; the way to succeed is through hard work. Everybody is dedicated and works long hours.
“We’ve got a great workforce; they are the face of the company and they really shine for us.”