PHPD speaks to the MD of Goldstone Homes, Jon Over, about the company’s development, its grounding in its local community, and the challenges facing an SME housebuilder today.
Goldstone Homes was founded in the midst of the economic downturn. In 2011 Jon Over, a former site manager for Morgan Sindall, set-up the south-coast based company after taking voluntary redundancy the previous year. Being a life-long supporter of the Seagulls he named the business – as many football fans may have guessed – after the former home of Brighton & Hove Albion FC.
Based on the Sussex coast Goldstone Homes began life as a property maintenance contractor and has grown into a residential housebuilder. This year the company is predicting a turnover in the region of £4.5million with a geographical footprint that steps beyond its home ground of the south coast, up to Surrey and London. Currently employing 16 people the business has plans to double in size in the next 12 months.
During its five year journey the Goldstone Homes has faced challenges which are similar to many small but growing regional housebuilders. “The biggest challenge when growing a business is always finance, and we are no different from other smaller businesses in the sense that borrowing and financing our company is a difficult and lengthy procedure without overdraft facilities” Jon explains. Jon would like to see some form of borrowing available from government to aid small business as they grow.
Finance, skills & planning
Another key challenge during its growth has been the shortage in skilled labour – an issue familiar to most construction businesses. “The industry has a skill shortage. There are two aspects to the construction industry, it has a very bad reputation, a stigma, and the industry has a skill shortage. In addition to that, construction is a vocational business and there is general ignorance held by some, an opinion held by some that portrays the industry as not representing as important a job as one in other walks of life,” Jon observes. “We have expanded our sub-contractor base to help increase access to skilled labour.”
The company also took the decision to directly employ Site Managers at all its sites together with in-house trades. “We have the accessibility of our own labour which is invaluable when deadlines need to be met,” continues Jon. Alongside the added flexibility, Jon tells us, this also helps ensure the quality finish that the company provides can be delivered on each and every project.
Another issue for the business is one with which many housebuilders are familiar. “Planning issues contribute to delays and from our experience planning can be a long and arduous task. As an example he notes, “We have had work due to start and as a result been delayed as much as three months.”
One area that is not a concern is the supply of building materials. “The availability of materials is hardly ever an issue. We have a great working relationship with suppliers, it’s so important,” says Jon, explaining that he spends considerable time planning and getting the company’s material procurement in hand “well in advance” of a project. However he recognises that, “you do need to understand that some materials have longer lead times now.”
To secure the building materials it needs the business uses a large number of local suppliers, including many Sussex based Builders Merchants. Through supporting the local economy Jon believes Goldstone Homes will become increasingly recognised as a well-regarded local housebuilder. “We like to use smaller suppliers, locally based, because they provide an excellent service and they are as competitive because they have lower overheads.” He continues, “I think it is important if you work in the local community, you put back into the local area.”
To help build their local reputation Jon is a member of The Boundary Club, an initiative based at the County Ground, home of Sussex County Cricket Club. It brings together business for networking opportunities.
The company has been rebranding over the last couple of months to ensure all its vans, site clothing, site hoardings and so on carry the company’s purple, gold and white livery, and a new website is being developed. In 2015 the business moved into new premises at Dolphin Enterprise Centre Shoreham. “Getting our brand uniformed represents the promotion we are aiming for” notes Jon.
The company is also signed up to LABC, is a member of Considerate Constructors Scheme and is a chartered building company. It is currently becoming CHAS accredited and working towards NHBC accreditation too.
Goldstone Homes has identified a number of areas in which it will be able to grow further. Jon believes there are opportunities in the social housing market, working with Housing Associations looking to develop land new build. “There is a demand for it and there are a lot of Housing Associations operating in the South and South London and they are financially secure,” he notes.
The company’s location, on the South coast, will also help with the company’s growth plans. “We are in a privileged position of being in the South East,” says Jon, “because people always want to live here in the area because of the location.”
Jon is also keen on using currently developments to demonstrate the workmanship and quality that goes into a site built by Goldstone Homes. “The best way to demonstrate that we produce a good product is by taking potential clients to sites already completed. We are pushing on, the business is not standing still and continually produces exciting and innovative ideas that sets us aside from the competition.”
One latest venture was to set up a development company, Goldstone Developments, essentially to buy land and build new homes. “We have brought a piece of land in Woodingdean,” notes Jon. “We are currently building two semi-detached houses, competitively priced with high standard quality finishings. Being a joint venture, it gives us potentially better returns and more flexibility.”
Firmly rooted on the south coast and with aspirations of becoming a larger business, Goldstone Homes is an SME housebuilder that has successfully navigated the turbulent waters of the recession and is growing into an established local housebuilder.