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Gelder Group goes from one-man band to £40m contractor

Steve Gelder founded his company 25 years ago with just one apprentice; today, a focus on customer service and diversification has turned it into a multi-million pound business with more than 300 employees.

Founded 1988

Location Lincoln

Turnover £40m

Number of employees 325

Steve Gelder dreamed of being a professional footballer at school, as most young boys do. But when that didn’t work out, he ended up labouring on a building site.

“I heard about an apprenticeship scheme, so I worked through the summer, every Saturday, in order to get noticed,” he says.

“After qualifying as a bricklayer and working for a few other companies, I decided to set up on my own aged 22.”

Founding and growing a new company

The company that he founded in 1988 with just one employee has now grown into the £40m-turnover Gelder Group, of which he is managing director.

Construction remains the focus, but the firm has expanded to the extent that it now has multiple divisions, including insurance, renovation and repairs; housebuilding; maintenance; and major contracts.

“We take on contracts worth between £250,000 and £10m,” Mr Gelder says. “Our core business is in the £1m to £2m market. These jobs are too small for the big boys while being a little bit above the smaller firms.”

Gelder Group has doubled its turnover since 2006/07, rising from £17m then to around £40m now.

“It’s not difficult to beat people’s expectations of builders and our repeat business shows that we’re doing that”

Steve Gelder, Gelder Group

“We set up the maintenance division because we anticipated that owners would increasingly seek to maintain their existing buildings, rather than build new ones, during the recession,” he says. “It’s gone from strength to strength.”

Mr Gelder believes that exceptional customer service has also helped growth. “It’s not difficult to beat people’s expectations of builders, and we know that we’re doing this through the amount of repeat business we secure.”

Training young people and prisoners

Another initiative that has proved successful in recent years is the Gelder Training Academy. Opened in 2007, the centre now brings in £750,000 a year. 

Alongside the academy, Gelder Group also runs a Virtual School, helping young people who have been excluded from school or who are out of work to gain useful skills in basic maths and English to either help them get back into mainstream school or prepare for an apprenticeship.

“I took on 10 kids in Gainsborough, who initially were very difficult,” Mr Gelder says. “We made paper briquettes, with the view to selling them in Gainsborough Market. We ended up making 130 per day and selling them all.”

“Prince Charles told me my MBE wasn’t for what I had done, but for what I would do in the future”

Steve Gelder, Gelder Group

The scheme went so well that Mr Gelder decided to build a dedicated classroom on his 15-acre office site. The school has so far had a 100 per cent success rate of integrating young people back into mainstream schools or into jobs. It is set to expand further this year, with new sites opening up.

This success caught the attention of HMP Lincoln, which asked Mr Gelder to come in and help with its training.

“I felt that the training offered to prisoners wasn’t achieving what it was supposed to – the idea is that you want them to be able to work once released, which wasn’t happening,” he says.

“After the Virtual School, I helped the prison to the point where we now run all of their training. We even took on a prisoner as an apprentice – a UK first.”

Mr Gelder was motivated to start the academy and school after receiving an MBE in 2007 for services to business and the community in Lincolnshire. “I was so pleased with myself initially,” he says.

“But when I got to the front and accepted the award from Prince Charles, he told me: ‘This isn’t for what you’ve done; it’s for what you will do in the future.’”

Ambition for further growth

The firm has trained more than 250 apprentices, making up 10 per cent of the workforce at any one time.

“They bring in so much energy and we’re always trying to harness it. We have to grow to try to accommodate them all,” Mr Gelder says.

“A lot of our employees have been with us for a long time now. Our first apprentice, Dave Wells, is still here. We recently recreated an old photo from 25 years ago with Dave Gladwin, who is now our construction director – except instead of work tools, we had awards in our hands.”

“We’re always trying to harness our apprentices’ energy. We have to grow to accommodate them all”

Steve Gelder, Gelder Group

After 25 years, Mr Gelder still wants to continue growing, but he acknowledges there are challenges ahead.

“Ultimately, I’d like to double our turnover again, but we need to get through the recession first,” he says.

He likens the recession to climbing a mountain: it’s a long, hard slog, but eventually you get to the top. “There is still a big enough chunk of money out there for Gelder Group to go after,” Mr Gelder says.

“We just have to keep climbing that mountain, and we’re looking forward to that satisfied feeling at the end of it.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • good luck to him, it sounds like something i want to do in plumbing

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