Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to the newest version of your browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of Construction News, please enable cookies in your browser.

Welcome to the Construction News site. As we have relaunched, you will have to sign in once now and agree for us to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Forrest is taking Pearce back to its roots

Colin Forrest has just stepped into the top job at Pearce. He explains to Steve Menary how he intends to put the Bristol-based contractor back in the black

THE PAST few years have been as unsettling as any in the 85 years since Pearce was set up but Colin Forrest probably knows just how the Bristol-based contractor feels.

Off loaded by parent Crest Nicholson in 2002, Pearce's management took the helm only to sail into a costly whirlwind ? better known as the Government's ProCure 21 initiative ? that helped tip the business into the red.

While Pearce was trying to ride out this storm, Mr Forrest was spending an equally challenging period at Garvis Snook's rapidly-growing Rok empire.

Mr Forrest was tempted by an offer to become managing director of Rok's south-eastern business, which effectively comprised Llewellyn, the Sussex-based contractor that Rok had bought for £16.3 million in 2003. On his arrival, Mr Forrest found problems at the London office that needed sorting out and left him no time to do the rest of the job for which he was recruited.

Other people stepped into the void Mr Forrest had been forced to create. After a year, the problems in London were resolved but the job he was attracted to was gone so he looked for an alternative ? and found a troubled Pearce.

'I assume that the Pearce directors had a responsible conversation and said they needed to do something different, ' says Mr Forrest, his Scottish accent still quietly evident.

'Pearce is a company that I can identify with since there were some post-buyout issues but they were dealt with honestly, which is important to me, ' he adds.

That is evident.

Sitting in a site hut on a job for supermarket chain Somerfield at Wareham in Dorset, he produces a detailed business plan that all his staff will receive and a draft set of accounts yet to be sent to Companies House showing the £1.6 million of losses inf licted partly by pulling out of ProCure 21.

'There was a degree of rose tinting about ProCure 21 but I'm over 18 and get to make my own choices, ' he says, laughing.

Mr Forrest's business plan is the result of spending months at Pearce before replacing chief executive John Rackstraw, who moved to non-executive deputy chairman, on December 1, 2005.

Currently the Bristol-based contractor has only two jobs on the go in its home city.

That situation ? described as 'ludicrous' by Mr Forrest ? will be rectified.

'Pearce saw itself as a national retail contractor that did a bit of building around Bristol. It was seen by its regional market as not responsive nor an attractive proposition, ' he says.

The south-west is bursting with strong regional cont ractors such as Cowlin, Midas, Dean Dyball and his old employers Rok but Mr Forrest, who has taken a 10 per cent stake in Pearce, wants to reinstate his firm in this market.

Restructuring was required to usher in a new era at Pearce and a Chesterfield office has been closed and a separate leisure division dropped.

With frameworks for fitness centre clients such as Cannons com ing to an end , Mr For rest sees th is more as a natural end than any form of retreat.

Pearce is running two project arms for retail-only clients: a general works business focusing on jobs from £100,000 to £1.5 million, and a major projects arm for contracts from £2 million up to £20 million.

Pearce also recently built a £35 million factory for food outfit Gerber but Mr Forrest sees this as 'put t ing too many eggs in ou r basket for a £130 million-turnover firm'.

This year should produce a retu rn to the black with a pre-tax profit of around £700,000 in the 12 months to Apr il 2006 on tu rnover of about £128 m illion.

Pearce has changed its accounting year but tu rned over £229 m illion in the 18 months to April 2005 and the 2005-06 workload is down, due to less retail work com ing on st ream.

'The food retail market has halved, ' says Mr Forrest. 'That was obviously going to have a big effect as we're predominantly a food retail business.

'A couple of big f rameworks came to an end , so you could say: 'OK, those clients wanted fewer partners.' But I'm fairly self-critical and wanted to know why we were knocked off the end of those frameworks both times.' But Mr Forrest does not criticise Rok, Snook or Pearce's previous regime and describes qualifying for ProCure 21 as 'a triumph of business development but not a success operationally'.

Although he has no children himself, Mr Forrest likes to keep staff with young families working close to home and is also interested in a wider spread of the shareholding among employees.

Ultimately, he would prefer the amount of turnover coming from retail work down from well over half the workload to about 40 per cent.

'Trying to work for all six major supermarkets is difficult, ' he adds. 'Our relationship with Tesco and Asda appears to be strong and we have struck up a bit of a relationship with Morrison so we'll be interested to see what their spending will be in 2006.' He also wants to drive the business into new areas, particularly social housing and intends to avoid complex health schemes, stadia, utility, rail and civils work.

There will also be no Private Finance Initiative work ? an area that Llewellyn had been involved with ? nor any other ProCure 21-type initiatives such as Building Schools for the Future.

Like many of his regional contemporaries, Mr Forrest is convinced there is a market for a strong local contractor but in his three year-business plan he sees turnover r ising only to about £170 million.

'I'm not interested in setting unrealistic targets as that's been done in the last couple of years and the business has taken one or two self-confidence knocks, ' he concludes.

'I want to be comfortable being a national retail contractor and a regional contractor.'