Surrey Lofts Blog
Happy Birthday! New Surrey Lofts
Top floor of Coppa with great views over the High Street. An old building with a new sparkling, stylish interior. A coffee bar, a restaurant and a meeting area. Very attentive staff. Shiny West – End chic has arrived in Guildford. Exactly the right atmosphere for celebrating the first anniversary of new Surrey Lofts.
It’s a small party. I’m meeting with Leigh Phillips and Sarah Dobbe. Leigh is the boss of new Surrey Lofts, and the man who bought the business out of receivership twelve months ago. Sarah is Customer Relations manager.
The smiles say it has been a good first twelve months. I’m curious to know the story, and to find out what’s next.
Leigh leads the conversation. His energy and drive come through immediately. He loves to communicate; he is very open. There’s a clear sense of ambition, achievement and learning, and of things still to accomplish.
His mission is clear. “I want to help people turn their house into the home of their dreams. I can do this by using space they’ve always had. Convert their loft into stylish living space. There is so much potential for this in Guildford, in Surrey. I want new Surrey Lofts to be the very best at doing this. From all points of view. Planning, on- site work, style in the finish, overall customer satisfaction. Yes, and at a competitive price too.”
From an early age, Leigh was determined to be a business success. He had a work ethic to match his ambition. He left school at sixteen and started in the building trade as an apprentice carpenter. From the get- go he was working on loft conversion. His eagerness to accept responsibility was quickly noticed, and he soon took on Project Management roles.
His first big break came when he was asked to manage a major development on Sandbanks. “I had to learn a lot of things very quickly,” admits Leigh. “Most particularly, people management. I had to lead and motivate team members who were much older than me. Much more experienced in the building trade.”
There were challenges and there was stress. Leigh was staying at Sandbanks all week. Travelling back to London at weekends. “I figured if I was working this hard, I might as well work for myself.”
So that’s what he did. He focussed on loft conversions in the London area. Business came in quickly, in part from previous contacts, in part from the Wimbledon showroom he opened. He was soon managing eight to ten projects at a time.
“In some ways, getting the business was the easy part,” he tells me. “The challenges were finding the right kind of labour, managing the finances, and most particularly finding a way to balance family and social life with a demanding business.”
After eight years, Leigh reached the “Tipping Point”. He needed to restore balance in his life. He decided to wind down the business, complete all his current contracts, and take some time out with his wife. Travelling and reflecting.
“As I look back, I feel good about the work I had completed. I had created a lot of stylish extensions for satisfied customers. And perhaps my biggest learning. Good reputation is an asset.
I learned a lot about myself during my “time out”. Above all, my desire to be successful in business was still burning bright. I reflected a lot on the business of loft conversions. I began to formulate several basic conclusions – principles if you like.
The fundamental of creating extra living space without using extra ground is a sound one. You only have to read the newspapers. Everyone talks about the need for more places for people to live, and the impact that can have on current open land. Loft conversion offers a positive contribution. You don’t need more land. You don’t have the cost and inconvenience of moving. A growing family can get more space without tearing up roots.
The conversion needs to be stylish. The home must look and feel overall better after completion. “Wow” factors should be looked for, and outside light brought in as much as possible.
And let’s be honest” adds Leigh with a smile, “having workmen around the house for eight weeks or so can get wearing. So, on-going customer relations is a key factor.
Then finally, the business has to be run without exhausting the energy and creativity of the boss. Good process has to be in place.”
With these thoughts in his mind, Leigh decided to get back into the building business. Small steps at first. He started by undertaking some freelance work, and he enjoyed it. One of his assignments was managing projects for Surrey Lofts. This was a long-established Company, undertaking about one hundred and fifty conversions a year. Leigh enjoyed his time with Surrey Lofts Most of their work was good, although Leigh did spot some negatives in their operation.
A key problem was that the management was failing to sort out difficult issues that arose on a few projects. Some customers became frustrated, and this boiled over into negative comments, clouding an otherwise good image.
Leigh also noticed a lot of money being absorbed in overheads. “In this business, you must be lean. Anyone looking to undertake building work will get competitive quotes. If you’re price is way high because of overheads, you won’t get work, however good you are.”
I hope you are getting some insight into Leigh’s personality by now. If so, you have probably sensed Tipping Point number two coming up.
Just over twelve months ago, the management of Surrey Lofts told Leigh of their frustrations. The finances weren’t working. They were really struggling with Customer Relations where conversions had issues. They just didn’t have the energy to sort things out. Was Leigh interested in taking over?
Leigh had to act quickly. It was a challenge, but there were positives. First, there was immediate business. Surrey Lofts had about fifty contracts where the work needed to be completed. And the Company had an established reputation, despite negative vibes from dissatisfied customers in the background
“So, I said to myself”, says Leigh, “this is an opportunity I want and can handle. There is value in the Brand name. There is existing business. I know where the issues are. I’ve worked on over two thousand conversions, so I know the ropes! And above all, I have thought through the processes my team and I need to follow to avoid me and my family getting swamped by the work. Let’s do this thing!”
TWELVE MONTHS LATER
The little first birthday party tells you that the new Surrey Lofts project is moving forward. I ask first Leigh and then Sarah to give me a snapshot of the first year.
“As a team, we’ve achieved a lot. We delivered the dream of more living space to all the customers whose contracts we took on. If we hadn’t taken over, those customers would have had a lot of extra difficulty and cost in completing their projects,” says Leigh with pride. “And at the same time, we’ve secured business for forty further jobs. We’ve been able to achieve this through bringing down overhead and making quotes competitive. We’ve reduced the size of the back office. We now sort and recycle waste materials produced on site ourselves, and avoid hefty tipping charges.”
I ask about his input on style and design. Has this been noticed by customers?
Sarah jumps in before he can answer. “Leigh is gifted – and modest – when it comes to design! He can walk into a space, and make suggestions – sometimes big, sometimes small- that make significant improvements to the finished job. Customers notice and appreciate this. And while I’m about it, I want to mention the top-class Customer Relationship management system we’ve installed. We’re only just beginning to see the benefits of this. It’s making life for current and potentially new customers so much easier.”
“Talking of an easier life,” says Leigh, “I’ve carefully manged my work/life balance through these hectic twelve months. I’ve begun to assemble a really strong team around me I’ve enjoyed the challenge, and I’ve spent time with my wife and our lovely baby daughter. So far, so good!”
Before we get to coffee and birthday muffins. I ask Leigh and Sarah where they want new Surrey Lofts to be in three years’ time.
“We’ve agreed our objectives. They are simple and clear,” says Sarah.
“We aim to be Surrey’s number one supplier of Loft conversions.
We know where we need to be better than our competition to achieve this.
- Keep the focus on turning the customer’s house into the home of their dreams.
- Work on outstanding design elements that give a WOW factor. Strive constantly to improve the quality of our work force.
- Make the conversion process as smooth as possible.
- Keep customers posted before work begins, and throughout the process.
- Maintain competitive pricing.
“If we improve our competitive edge in those five areas, our next Birthday party will be a lot bigger than this,” promises Leigh.
Would you like new Surrey Lofts to advise you on an extension that turns your house into the home of your dreams? Go to the contact form on the Surrey Lofts website (www.surreylofts.co.uk). For all Project Kick Start meetings booked before Christmas, two free Velux windows will be included in your quotation.
This is the first of a series of Blogs on home extensions and new Surrey Lofts, by Winning with Words*. If you have had a conversion by Surrey Lofts, and would be willing to contribute to a blog, please contact email@example.com
Look out for the next Blog this series. “Ten Top Tips for using space you already own to turn your house into the home of your dreams.”
Interested in Winning with Words*to write Blogs for you? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org