The Business Magazine asked the CEOs and leaders of the Thames Valley SME 100 Growth, which celebrates the region’s high-growth small and medium-sized enterprises, to share their experience of managing a business in 2021. We asked Simon Newton, the managing director of Darke and Taylor the following three questions:
This year, Darke and Taylor was listed among the top 50 companies in The Business Magazine’s Thames Valley SME100 Growth listing. The building services company, based in Hanborough, reached number 30 on the Growth Index and had a turnover of 16.6%, which is 3.7% higher than in its previous year.
Simon Newton: In many respects, we were lucky that the construction industry was allowed to continue operating in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic as it enabled the business to continue to trade, grow and provide employment. However, managing the health and safety issues around working during a pandemic was a huge challenge. We made significant investments in PPE, sanitisation, signage and staff awareness training to help with that. In the early days of the pandemic, the company directors would also meet every evening (on Teams, of course) after the government press conference to enable us to react to the latest advice and to ensure we implemented systems and procedures to protect staff, clients and members of the public. It was a huge effort but it helped us as a business to improve communication with our staff.
Another challenge was managing our growth in a sustainable manner. Over the last year, we have had many opportunities to tender for, negotiate and secure work, but was vital not to grow too quickly. As our business develops, our range of services is also increasing every year. It now includes electrical, heating and ventilation, hot and cold water systems, fire detection and alarms, security systems, network cabling, renewable energy and EV charging. The services we provide depend on us being able to send qualified and experienced engineers and their apprentices to construction sites and clients' premises. So we need to ensure that they are sufficiently trained in undertaking work safely (including taking measures to combat coronavirus) and that they are able to provide the fit-for-purpose technical solutions that our reputation as a business relies on. If we were to grow too quickly we could damage our reputation – it is vital that our growth is sustainable and manageable in order to maintain our reputation.
Finally, addressing the skills shortage in our industry was another challenge for us. There is no doubt that our industry is facing a skills shortage as it's not always seen as the most attractive working environment. This has been the case even more in recent months when many of our staff have not been able to work from home because our work takes place in buildings and on construction sites. Overcoming this skills shortage and finding the right people to fill all our employment opportunities is a real challenge for us. One of the key strategies we use to address this challenge is through our apprenticeship scheme which is how we employ, train and develop the talent of the future. As we develop a broader range of services, we are increasing the range of apprenticeships we offer, which is a challenge and requires significant investment, both in terms of time and money. However, we believe that we get a fantastic return on investment from our apprentices, and provide them with real career development opportunities which helps us a business overcome the skills shortage issues we face.
If we were to grow too quickly we could damage our reputation – it is vital that our growth is sustainable and manageable in order to maintain our reputation.Simon Newton, managing director at Darke and Taylor
Simon Newton: Our biggest win over the last year has been our ability to deliver a turn-key building services solution to our clients. Last year saw us make big strides in integrating various technologies that we install into a “one-stop-shop” approach which means our clients benefit from being able to use one company to provide electrical, mechanical, fire, security, IT and renewable energy solutions. This means they are able to have one contractual relationship to cover all of their requirements with one point of contact and responsibility. We look to form long-term and trusted relationships with our clients and the feedback on how we have developed has been very positive, resulting in very high levels of repeat and referral business.
Simon Newton: Our wildest ambition is to see a huge change in the drive towards a zero-carbon economy. Our industry has a huge part to play in reducing carbon emissions as it contributes to around 40% of the UK's total carbon footprint. In recent years we have developed our service to incorporate the latest advances in green technology including low energy lighting, heat pumps, solar PV, battery storage, EV charging and energy monitoring. We are now in a strong position to design, install, commission and maintain these systems and we are very keen to engage with current and future clients to find innovative ways to really improve the green credentials of the buildings we work on. We can’t do this alone and we look forward to engaging with other innovative and forward-looking organisations to make a real positive difference.
Darke and Taylor is a new entry on the Thames Valley SME100 Growth index. To qualify businesses need to be based in the Thames Valley, have a turnover of no less than £1 million and no more than £20m, and to have grown their turnover significantly in the past year.
All Thames Valley SME 100 Growth members are now invited to enter the nominations to this year’s awards, which will recognise outstanding achievements in six categories.