Expansion : Stone & Ceramic Ltd

London specialist contractor Stone & Ceramic was finding it difficult to break through a £5million turnover ceiling. Then John Rushworth joined as the new Managing Director and the ceiling flew away.

Danny Parker and Paul Giles, the founders of Stone & Ceramic Ltd near the O2 Millennium Dome in South East London, seemed to have hit a ceiling of about £5million turnover but were hungry to break through it.

Then they heard John Rushworth, who had moved to major stone contractors Szerelmey from being Managing Director of Croydon company Stonewest, was looking for a new challenge. He is now with Stone & Ceramic and the firm has crashed through the £5million ceiling and will earn £12million this financial year.

A major move in the expansion has been the establishment of a new company called Restore London. Stone & Ceramic had carried out some repair and restoration work but the name did not immediately convey that message. John Rushworth suggested the establishment of a separate company with a name that left no doubt.

Of course, given his background, John is no stranger to the restoration sector, but even so it is a fairly conservative and cautious part of the market and for a new company to make an impact in it in such a short time is unusual, to say the least.

But it is not just clearly setting out its stall in the restoration sector that has led to the growth at Stone & Ceramic. When John joined the company the directors sat down and looked at how the company was operating. They determined that too often it was working for specialist sub-contractors rather than the main contractor, adding another layer of profit to be removed and risk to be taken between Stone & Ceramic and the client. The directors could see no reason why they should not work directly for the likes of McAlpine, Mace and Skanska. Stone & Ceramic certainly had enough projects under its belt to be able to present a good case for doing so, not least in its expanded range of services, including underfloor heating, screeding and mat wells.

One of the first major projects the company got was with Vinci as the main contractor. It was worth £2.5million. Then came a £500,000 contract with Sir Robert McAlpine on Croydon Civic Centre, a £1million contract with Skanska at the Cotton Centre, London Bridge, and another £500,000 project on the interiors at Little Chester Street in fashionable Belgravia, London. Here, the project included a four-storey, curved staircase in Moleanos limestone from Portugal.

Another major project was the £560,000 contract on 60 Holborn Viaduct, where the main contractor was Balfour Beatty and the client wanted to use British Purbeck limestone.

Stone & Ceramic arranged for the project team to visit the Purbeck quarries in Dorset to choose the stone to be used for the project and agree the visual parameters for those selected.

The stone from the quarries WJ Haysom & Son were chosen for the project, with Purbeck Blue specified for the feature reception desk and Purbeck Spangle and Capstone for the walls – which included a three-storey atrium, floors and lifts. In the lifts the stone was mounted on to an aluminium honeycomb backing to reduce weight.

With the stone specification agreed, the next challenge was fitting the procurement process into the tight programme. Stone & Ceramic completed the stonework design in record time to ensure Balfour Beatty’s site programme was not compromised.

For several of the projects, especially those with shaped staircases (like the one at Little Chester Street) and panels with decorative cut-outs that architects are growing increasingly fond of, Stone & Ceramic found the best way of shaping the stone was on a waterjet cutter.

The directors realised they were spending more than £100,000 a year on contracting waterjet cutting, so decided to buy their own waterjet cutter, which they have just had installed at the premises of Stone & Ceramic and Restore London in Woolwich.

As the two companies will require the services of the waterjet cutter (a Flow Mach2) only intermittently, a third company has been formed called Waterjet London that aims to work for other companies – and not just stone companies because waterjets can cut pretty much anything.

With all the changes and the need for logos for the new companies, the directors decided it was time to refresh the image a little and have employed the services of a marketing expert to help them create a coherent approach to the market, which is including new websites.

John Rushworth could not be happier with the timing of all these developments, either. London has not suffered as badly as other parts of the country from the economic downturn, but there is every indication now that the construction market is picking up quickly with some major projects that have been on hold coming back on stream.

John is also delighted with his new role as Managing Director of the three Stone & Ceramic companies.

He says that after Stonewest he had found it difficult to adjust to the culture at Szerelmey and was looking for a different role with another company. He knew Danny Parker and Paul Giles because they had

sub-contracted for Stonewest in the past. John had become friendly with them and had stayed in touch.

John says what he likes about Stone & Ceramic is the speed at which decisions are made. He gives an example: “When I said we should start a stand-alone restoration company, Danny asked what it should be called. I said: What about Restore London? Danny went out of the meeting and when he came back he said: I have registered that company name.”

The name of Restore London was introduced to the market at the start of last year and, as John says, “in a ridiculously short time it has done remarkably well”.

John: “We’re doing a job at the moment in Cowley Street and we must be doing something right because they have put us on the tender list for the next job.”

The current project is the conversion into a seven-bedroom house of what used to be the headquarters of the Liberal Democrat Party in Westminster. The building is listed Grade II and the work includes putting a swimming pool in the basement, as well as cleaning all the facades and installing all the latest electrical gadgetry for computers and communications without any of it showing.

Restore London is the main contractor for the project, which is the way John Rushworth likes it and is, he says, what has put Restore London on the map. “All of a sudden Restore London has this great portfolio that we didn’t have before.”

Although there are now the three separate companies and the number of people employed has grown to 30, the skills are shared between Stone & Ceramic and Restore London. The companies also use labour-only sub-contractors. Two people have been trained to operate the waterjet cutter, which has a pillar crane above it to load work on to it.

Stone & Ceramic and Restore London are confident they can, between them, carry out most facade, interiors and even hard landscaping work. They have achieved ISO 9001 quality assurance system and ISO 14001 environmental standard. They also offer the Achilles Building Confidence online registration and accreditation standard and even Priority 1 fault-finding and snagging. “We were already doing everything we need to,” says John, “but these are a way of proving to customers we are doing it and giving them confidence in us.”

Paul Giles is delighted with the progress of the business. “I think people are definitely aware of us now – competitors and clients!”