‘I consider myself a custodian rather than an owner’
For its latest ‘spotlight’ feature of 2016, BLM met with Grant Jefferies, managing director of Bray & Slaughter, to find out more about the company and its 100 plus year history.
Spotlight on Bray & Slaughter
Bray and Slaughter’s offices are impressive – open plan, modern and vibrant but also reflective of the businesses’ glorious 100 year history.
The privately owned limited business started in 1900; and has been based at its current offices in Bedminster since 1946. Grant Jefferies is the firm’s current managing director and he is quick to clarify that he sees himself as a custodian of the business.
Following a degree at Loughborough University and an MBA from Reading University, he joined the business in 2000 as a trainee, quickly rising up the ranks and leading an MBO in 2009.
His tenure has been impressive – staff numbers have almost doubled, revenue is up and the business has been re-shaped and re-calibrated.
Giving an overview of Bray & Slaughter, Grant comments: “We operate in the residential, commercial and public sector space. We are focused primarily in the South West region and we will work anywhere within a 75 mile radius of our Bristol base.
“In recent years we have developed a strong pipeline of residential work, which has been driven by the permitted development rights relaxation; and government’s drive for an increase in volume of new homes.
“We pride ourselves on repeat business and developing relationships. Wherever possible, we always work with and support our local economy. We think it is sensible, prudent and sustainable to keep work local, rather than driving all around the country.”
Impressive client base
Historically the company had a strong focus on in-house trades but in the last decade Grant has worked to re-shape the way the firm does business; adding elements of professionalism and discipline into the operation.
He explains: “Typically, clients for us will be the likes of Dyson, Lucozade Ribena Suntory and the University of Bristol, alongside relationships with five or six of the region’s most respected developers.
“As a business we have also been a beneficiary of some of our competitors consolidating and leaving the region. This has allowed us to employ and access high-quality staff, as well as securing good and high profile contracts.”
With the construction sector hit badly during the recession; it is a minor miracle that Bray and Slaughter have doubled in size.
So what has been the secret?
Grant comments: “Of course the recession was tough and in 2008 we were quite heavily exposed as one of our key clients at the time was Nat West.
But two years prior to that we had started to re-focus the business and had developed some strong relationships in the education and healthcare sectors, which helped us to secure a strong pipeline of work which saw us through until 2014.
“Without doubt there was downward effect on margins but we were still able to trade because we had diversified prior to 2008 and we retained close control of overhead.”
He continues: “Our headcount has grown but we have re-shaped the typical person that works here; from being a trade based person to becoming a white collar manager of the construction and development process.
“The business has transitioned from being a general builder to becoming a more sophisticated manager and procurer of work. We needed to become more professional as the construction industry and our clients demand this. ”
The payroll shows that the firm has grown from 40 staff in 2009 to 85 now, with 40 per cent of the team graduates or professionally qualified. Grant says they have forged a strong relationship with UWE and take between two and four graduates per year.
“The academic and technical knowledge they come out with is far superior to what they could learn here but we focus on the business side of things; and the practical cut and thrust of managing the construction process. They also develop leadership skills here.
“We’re not a huge business so if you join us as a 22 year old you’re going to have a big impact here,” Grant explains.
Interestingly Grant says that they don’t struggle to find the skills they need due to a number of the major contractors leaving the region – allowing Bray and Slaughter to recruit some of the brightest and best.
Going forward Grant and his team are hugely optimistic, “There is a tremendous amount of opportunity in the market place. The relaxation of permitted development rights has made a positive impact because it’s brought forward so much obsolete office stock,” he comments.
Confidence is also filtering through to developers Grant says, with the firm involved in more speculative developments such as 25 King Street, which was successfully refurbished and sold on the market.
Good old days
On whether the market will reach pre-recession activity again, Grant is sceptical.
He comments: “There is movement around the office market and more confidence around speculatively fitting things out. It will never be what it was, as there was a lot of frothiness previously which wasn’t always a good thing.
“For us, we’re now trying to determine what a good enquiry is, as there are lots of enquiries to tender work that may have been put in the bottom drawer five years ago but are now back on the agenda. We’re looking for a set of balanced reasons to tender.”
Quality is king
From talking with Grant, you can’t help getting the impression that quality and service is in his DNA. Reeling off some of the projects they are working on at the moment reveal names such as Lucozade Ribena Suntory, Burwalls Mansion and Dyson – where his team is re-developing a former warehouse to create an 8,000m2 R&D and training facility with a staff canteen and cinema.
Grant comments: “We’re different because we offer direct access to the Directors and, as a leadership team we are very active and visible on-site.
“The genesis of the company is in re-use, refurbishment and re-purpose. We’re at the quality end of the market and we can’t add value to mass produced boxes and repetition.”
Custodian of the business
When asked about the next one hundred years Grant laughs, and says: “What I’ve tried to do is respect and acknowledge the traditions of the business.
“To retain its characteristics but change the culture to be more client focused and create a platform which can facilitate scaling the business.
“I consider myself to be a custodian rather than owner and I wish to pass on a strong and growing business to some of the graduates and staff that are joining us at the moment.”