Building, Design & Construction Magazine: Interview with directors
125 years of setting the standard
Serving as one of the construction industry’s most prominent specialist interior fit-out contractors, EE Smith Contracts is a leader in the UK marketplace. Having worked across some of the world’s most prestigious hotels, commercial interiors, and private residences, the company is known to bring ambitious designs to life, often perfectly matching the vision of the designer. Based off this reputation, the company has been trading successfully for 125 years and has recently expanded and now has annual revenues of £ 60m.
As alluded to, this year EE Smith Contracts will be celebrating its 125th anniversary. Especially considering the many challenges that have existed within the industry over this time, we recognise the incredible achievement that reaching 125 years of trading represents for any business. Certainly, this achievement positions the company as one of the ideal role models for best practices in the industry and providing similar companies with a framework to follow for their own success. We’ll take a closer look at what has allowed EE Smith Contracts to succeed over the years as well as showcase some of the company’s incredible work to-date.
As of 2016, EE Smith Contracts has been led by: Neil Bottrill, Managing Director; John Richardson, Production Director; Dan Cashmore, Contracts Director; Richard Hollingsworth, Commercial Director , and Neil Simpson , Finance Director. Under the guise of these five, EE Smith Contracts has on the one hand stayed true to the historic expertise and culture of the company , while on the other hand the company has undergone a period of considerable reinvestment so as best to pave the way forward for a bright commercial future.
When it comes to the newfound vision for EE Smith Contracts, we see the company adapting to the emerging opportunities available within the marketplace. Although the company still undertakes projects of all shapes and sizes, investment into the expansion of the company’s factory facilities has enabled EE Smith Contracts to increasingly take on larger workloads and tackle enormous projects it might not traditionally have been able to handle alone. This has understandably opened up a whole wealth of new project opportunities which the company has been maximising on and will likely form a key part of the company’s future direction.
Further to the investment into its infrastructure, however, another crucial area of investment for EE Smith Contracts has been into the people that make the business succeed. Recognising the huge role that individual team members have in bringing innovative solutions to the table and adapting to the needs of the client, the company places a huge emphasis on the skills and happiness of its internal teams. To support this, the company not only operates its own in-house training scheme, but the company also has a long-standing internal apprenticeship scheme for bringing young talent into the business and developing it in the firm’s own way of doing things which is managed in conjunction with the local technical colleges.
While the developing of one’s own talent is already a praiseworthy aspect of any organisation, the crucial nature of this to EE Smith Contracts cannot be understated. Unlike many businesses within the interior fit-out market, EE Smith Contracts is one of the few high-end providers to employ a direct workforce that undertakes the vast majority of project works. Not only does this give the company incredible quality controls, but it also enables the firm to be more responsive and flexible to client requirements. That said, due to the skills shortages reported across the construction industry as a whole, it goes without saying that EE Smith Contracts’ dedication to internal training and talent acquisition at a young age has proven vital to the company’s ability to stand out in the marketplace and maintain the high quality standard it is known for.
John Richardson, Production Director of EE Smith Contracts went on to explain: “One of the big things that has always set us apart from our competitors is our staff. We have in-house training and our own apprenticeship scheme which we’ve always done throughout the history of the business, however in the last few years we’ve expanded this considerably across the whole group. It’s traditionally something we did in the factory at our head office, but we’ve since expanded that into our site operations and design department which has been a huge success. It certainly sets us apart because then a client actually gets our labour, our expertise, our skills, and our experience.”
“Our portfolio and experience is hard to match. If you look at our headcount, we’re looking at around 320 direct employees which is quite high when compared to our main competitors,” added Dan Cashmore, Contracts Director. “We believe in doing as much in-house as possible – we’ve always been a ‘doing’ company and while we’ve relied on our supply chain contractors more as we’ve grown, we’ve always remained that “doing” company.
Of course, it has also proven important that EE Smith Contracts is able to properly equip its teams with the tools for success. Alongside the aforementioned investments into the firm’s facilities, the present leadership of EE Smith Contracts has been pushing the adoption of digitalisation across the business, including the addition of 3D surveying and modelling systems to revolutionise how operatives can collaborate and highlight concerns or opportunities at the earliest possible stage. Given the large-scale digitalisation that has been seen within design and architecture, these investments have gone a long way in better integrating the company into how large-scale projects are increasingly being tackled.
Commenting on these investments, Richard Hollingsworth, Commercial Director stated: “In terms of technology, we’ve invested into high-end 3D surveying technology so that when we get a new project, we have a scanning device that can do a full 3D scan (with images) that can then create a 3D model in the computer. That means when the guys are doing the design, they have a full 3D reference and scan of the building that they can walk through.
We’ll now take a closer look at some of EE Smith Contract’s work as the ideal way of showcasing the excellence that the company is known to offer.
Case Study: The Londoner Hotel
The largest project that EE Smith Contracts has worked on, The Londoner Hotel project (on behalf of Edwardian Hotels) represented a £41m contract incorporating the full fit-out of 355 bedrooms and six floors of public areas at the world’s first “super boutique” hotel. Despite being built to the scale of a traditional premium hotel, The Londoner Hotel stands out in the market as being one of the few establishments to pair this sort of scale with a boutique feel – something which naturally incorporated an intensive approach to design and high levels of bespoke fit-out work across the establishment.
In terms of the public spaces, the project included the fit-out of the venue’s beautiful reception area, featuring floating reeded glass fireplaces, mirror-clad desks, and bespoke timber finishes provided directly by EE Smith Contracts. What’s more, the organisation worked across the six unique eateries at the establishment, as well as the wellness ecosystem, cinema, ballroom, and the venue’s state of the art meeting rooms. Notably, the project required a large degree of coordination and cooperation between the different teams on the project.
Designed by International Designer Yabu Pushelberg, The Londoner Hotel also features an array of loft-inspired, open-plan suites across eight floors of the hotel. EE Smith Contracts had to adapt to the bespoke nature of just about every room in the project. Through adapting its design and manufacture processes, the company was able to not only ensure the completion of these highly decorated and luxurious spaces within time and budget, but also to the highest standard – as can be seen in the finished product. The rooms additionally featured luxury timber panelling, produced from FSC materials and manufactured at EE Smith Contracts’ own Leicester headquarters.
The project came off the back of a long-standing working relationship between EE Smith Contracts and Edwardian Hotels, with which the company has now worked for many years.
“That is a culmination of a 35-year trading history with Edwardian Hotels, with the two previous company owners doing their first project for them at Heathrow back in the 1980s and we’ve done most of their joinery for them ever since. That led us into doing this huge fit-out for them as a negotiated concept that we completed last September.” Said John Richardson , Production Director.
Future Goals & Ambitions
As for the future of EE Smith Contracts, it’s interesting to see that the company is not aggressively chasing growth, instead prioritising organic growth so as best to ensure the continued delivery of quality services no matter the scale – something which is possible only due to the firm’s extensive use of in-house talent. Through maintaining this unique edge in the industry, we can only expect to see EE Smith Contracts taking on ever-larger and more complicated projects off the back of the successful handling of impressive projects such as The Londoner Hotel. We look forward to reporting further on the company’s success in the coming months.
Neil Bottrill , EESmiths Managing Director said ‘ This business has only had four owners in it’s 125 year history and I am proud to be at the helm during these challenging but exciting times. We still see ourselves as a large family business that merges tradition with the latest technology and this ethos I am confident will stand us in good stead for the future. The future projects that are being presented to us continue to offer us great opportunity for further growth and I am excited by what the future holds for the business.