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Sparks will fly

Tricon Services is moving beyond its traditional electric installer role to reposition itself as a key lead contractor across the north of England.

After 24 years in the electrical installations game, Martin Firth could surely be forgiven for having grown at least a little tired of his chosen profession. Far from it however! As a visitor to his company’s Wakefield headquarters, Firth’s enthusiasm for his work is immediately evident, and with such apparently boundless energy trickling down from the top, it’s perhaps not surprising that the company has grown so successfully in its 12 years of operation.

Of course, it’s not all been plain sailing for Firth and his team. As with any business, the first few years of operations were at times fraught. By the time we last caught up with Tricon, almost exactly a year ago, however, the company had grown from an initial 10-man band into a major regional contractor employing around 130 people.

It was working on contracts across the north of England, not solely in the West Yorkshire region where it is based, and indeed had opened a Rochdale office to cope with the demand for its services in the Northwest. Furthermore, Firth was discussing his intention to take more of a leading role in the projects the company worked on, and was busy turning his plans into a reality.

“More often than not, the electrical side of a project is one of the most expensive, and complicated, parts of the job. None the less, the role of project management has traditionally been given to builders. The result of this is that when time is lost at the front end of a development, the services contractors are expected to make it up at the back end on the basis that ‘the plasterer is coming on Thursday,’” he explains.

“We feel that with our experience in a number of trades over the years, we’re more than capable of taking on a project management role ourselves, not just the core electrical side, and we are now moving into the role of lead contractor, co-ordinating a number of different trades through to completion of a project. We understand that all trades suffer when time is lost and expense is incurred. Each trade is therefore as important as the next and the management staff on projects must focus on this and plan accordingly.”

One need not look far from home to see evidence of Tricon’s ability to oversee the multiple trades required on a typical development. The company’s Wakefield HQ was itself a Tricon development, with the company, and its Tricon Developments arm, managing the whole new build development, from identifying land for purchase through to the team moving in. It is now in the process of completing two further commercial developments for rent on the remaining land, putting the company in the enviable position of acting as developer, contractor and landlord.

Firth is keen to point out to potential customers that his operation is perhaps able to offer a better service to clients than many of the bigger and more established main contractors in the field, thanks to his attitude towards both the service he is providing and the staff who will provide it: “In too many cases the big ontractors have become little more than ‘management contractors’ – company’s who are very good at marketing themselves and winning contracts, but actually have little hands-on involvement, simply contracting the work out. It’s understandable. Some of these companies have so many contracts that they couldn’t possibly employ enough staff inhouse to carry them out,” he says.

His own philosophy is the exact opposite, however: “Whenever possible we employ our own staff, and as we move into the wider sphere of development and lead contractor work we will continue to employ and train new staff in new fields wherever it is viable to do so.”

Firth is a great believer in the old adage that a company’s strength lies in its workforce, and to this end Tricon operates an extensive training programme, open to all ages and offering full, time-served apprenticeships and comprehensive adult training rather than the short ‘taster courses’ so beloved of modern vocational training.

Thanks to the company’s commitment to employing its own, fully trained, staff Firth believes that both clients and tenants themselves receive the best possible service from the company, as there is accountability and responsibility right down the line, rather than the endless buck-passing which can arise with the ‘management contractor’ model which Firth is so keen to avoid.

Tricon has a full support system in place to back up its staff. An £80,000 IT system ensures that the in-house tender, design, preparation and estimation department can account for every last nut and bolt to be used on a job, updating in real time once work is underway. Says Firth: “Our aim is to help estimators receive a competitive price for all their tender return’s electrical elements, including fire alarms, emergency lighting, lighting protection, CCTV, access control, data installations and audio/visual installations. In addition we can now offer pricing and incorporate further trades such as groundwork, structural trades of steel and brickwork, joinery, mechanical, and all finishing trades.”

Of course, as well as meaning that Firth and his colleagues always have access to up to date, well-managed facts and figures, the transparency and simplicity of the system lends itself perfectly to the modern working environment of partnerships and open-book accounting, allowing Tricon to work directly under the more modern forms of contracts such as the NEC family or PPC2000.

It is not only in terms of technical support that Tricon’s employees can be assured of the best back up available. Having recognised its additional responsibilities as a lead contractor, and bearing in mind its responsibilities to tenants, Tricon has taken on a dedicated resident liaison officer, Vicki Harrison, to deal with the often complex task of keeping residents informed and aware about and, hopefully, happy with, the work going on around them. As Firth notes:

“Workmen are not always the most diplomatic people, and quite simply they usually just want to get in and do their job, whether it be wiring, roofing or plumbing rather than deal with the sensitive issues of addressing residents’ concerns. By employing staff whose role is solely to deal with tenants and their satisfaction, we ensure that maximum productivity can be achieved by front line staff, and thanks to Vicki’s experience in the field doors are also opened in terms of the access problems that can sometimes slow down maintenance and refurbishment programmes, again improving productivity.”

Finally, the company is determined to remain focused on the operational requirements of the projects it undertakes, constantly reviewing site performance and looking for ways to improve productivity. Firth maintains that although sound financial management is crucial to a successful project, it is on site that results are ultimately achieved, and only by ensuring that all preparation and information is collated before work on site even begins, and that the work is then monitored efficiently, can improved and lasting results be achieved.

The company’s rapid recent growth has been pronounced not only in its own Wakefield hometown and the Yorkshire region, but also in the Northwest of England. Having initially worked in the region from a Rochdale satellite office, ideally placed for its work with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, the company realised it needed an improved regional office to reflect its increasing presence.

With extensive work also underway for local authorities and housing providers in Manchester, Trafford and Stockport, and further expansion in the region anticipated, the company has now decided to relocate to a more permanent base in Middleton, North Manchester particularly to service the Manchester Working and Northwards Homes requirements who Firth says they are delighted to be involved with.

The growing local workforce and training requirements will be managed from this office, which will in turn be linked by secure line to the Wakefield HQ. All costing data and job information will be handled through the main IT database, meaning that whether the company is working in the Northwest, in Yorkshire, or indeed nationally, the same high level of backroom service will support the frontline work, and the same results in terms of efficiency, value and performance can be achieved across the Tricon portfolio.

It’s an exciting time for Tricon, and Firth clearly believes that the future is rosy. Of course, few would expect him to say otherwise, particularly within these pages, but the enthusiasm with which he talks about his work is unmistakeable, and faced with such determination and commitment to the Tricon cause, it would be a brave man that would bet against the company’s continued success!

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