Increase in principal contractor work pays dividends for O’Brien Contractors

Construction News Magazine – SME Spotlight 16/08/2013

The business was established by my father, Tom O’Brien in 1958. I became Managing Director in 1980, aged just 24 and since then the business has grown substantially, with our largest contract now in the region of £8m.

O’Brien Contractors offers a wide range of services, from design and build through to plant hire, in sectors such as healthcare, education and residential. We work collaboratively on projects with our suppliers and a loyal range of clients, including JLR, the National Trust and Aston University. We’ve also delivered numerous contracts involving railway stations, commercial units and Olympic-standard sports facilities.

In 2009, after 50 years as a specialist contractor providing drainage and groundworks, our business started to feel the pinch of the recession. When turnover and profit reduced by £3.3m and £330k, respectively, my Board and I set about developing challenging but realistic objectives to turn things around by the end of 2013. These objectives have enabled the business to see unimaginable growth: Principal Contractor contracts accounting for 40% of sales and £900k worth of secured sports pitch contracts, are just a few of our successes.

The diversification strategy that we developed took considerable planning and analysis with close to £1m of company money being invested in it. But it paid off and 2013 has seen us achieve record-breaking levels of turnover. With an order book of £10m already secure for the coming year our outlook for 2014 looks even brighter, with turnover set to increase by 33% to £18m.

I am most proud of the fact that it allowed us to safeguard the careers of our 97 members of staff; 23 of whom have joined us recently as a result of our growth.

If I was to highlight one area to credit with our success, it would be customer satisfaction. We’ve all worked tirelessly to improve the service to our clients and are now seeing more contracts come through referrals from previous clients, while repeat business has increased from 60% in 2009 to 85% in 2012. .

Although our client base has grown from 35 to 50, I believe today’s market is a challenging place to be. I would encourage other companies to look at core competencies, use the capabilities and resources you already have within your business. Develop your staff, use in-house skills and create your own USP, this has been an invaluable strategy for us.

Over the years this business has seen many ups and downs, with the recent economic downturn being one of the toughest. However, I believe today’s team is the strongest we have ever had and having diversified to reach new markets, we have put ourselves in a very secure position. Never one to rest on our laurels, we will keep listening to our clients to continually improve and aim ever higher.