FORMER apprentice engineer Richard Brown believes there’s room for a different kind of construction company.
So now he is building up a business helping people extend their homes as director of Space+ based in Edgerton.
But Richard’s first career was a long way removed from the property sector.
Sunderland-born Richard moved to Huddersfield in 1984 because of his father’s work as a salesman and attended Fixby Junior School and Fartown High School.
Richard became an engineering apprentice at valve firm Hopkinson’s in Birkby – in the same year that the business was bought by Glasgow-based Weir Group.
Later, he moved from the factory floor to the sales department and spent two years working for a Bradford firm using lasers.
One of his biggest deals was to sell a five-axis laser to BAE Systems. The machine was used to help in the production of the Eurofighter.
But Richard was to turn his back on engineering in favour of forging a career in property.
Through his friendship with businessman Joe Cookson, Richard moved into the property industry – rising from sales negotiator to become sales director for Lanson Homes.
As a result, he was involved with some of Huddersfield’s foremost apartment developments, including mill conversion projects 1535 The Melting Point at Firth Street and The Lighthouse at Marsh as well as John William Court at John William Street in the town centre and Equilibrium at Lindley.
Richard went on to join Elite Homes, later bought out by Bovis, where he worked for 18 months.
Says Richard: “I developed a passion for property. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Everyone should have a job they enjoy doing – and I love my job.”
At the start of 2010, Richard got together with former Lanson Homes commercial manager Martin Parker to set up Space+ with a view to helping householders add value to their property by extending their homes.
A number of factors have combined to add weight to Richard’s business strategy.
A sluggish property market, tight mortgage lending and lack of buyer confidence have combined to encourage more homeowners to improve and extend their properties as an alternative to moving.
“We came up with the idea of putting together a construction company which would tap Martin’s skills and my skills to project manage developments,” says Richard.
“We wanted to do something a bit different.”
Space+ provides project management – liaising with architects and planners, setting on trusted sub-contractors and overseeing the work while keeping the client up-to-date throughout.
Richard says Space+ aims to provide peace of mind for homeowners who have watched “all those Builders from Hell” TV programmes” and are worried about letting builders, plumbers, roofer and electricians they don’t know loose on their property.
“We have put together a proposition to get over those worries,” says Richard.
“We give a guarantee that the work we agree to do will be delivered on budget, on time, at the best price and at the level of quality the client wants.
“Instead of dealing with a tradesman on-site, the client deals with a professional manager. We will always aim to give client satisfaction.”
Says Richard: “It takes a long time to build a brand, but you can kill it overnight. So we give our workmen instructions about how to dress appropriately and how to behave on-site.
“We will help to arrange alternative accommodation for clients who have to leave their property due to the nature of the work and we will help with matters such as sourcing architects and submitting planning applications.
“We can take a project from drawing board to the finished article.”
In its first 12 months, Space+ has completed projects ranging from small-scale domestic extensions to multiple unit sites as well as commercial and industrial sites in areas including Edgerton, Meltham, Liversedge and Dewsbury.
Richard and his colleagues have ambitions to develop Space+ as a regional specialist in building extensions.
“People are crying out for a brand that can do small extensions rather than relying on the Yellow Pages or word-of-mouth recommendation,” he says.
“If we can make this proposition work by operating out of one office, why not 10 offices?
“The construction industry is turning into a sub-contracting industry where tradesmen can earn more working for themselves than they can as direct labour.”
Says Richard: “We had a good year last year.
“There is a lot of speculation that 2011 could be more difficult than 2010 and I wouldn’t disagree. It is going to be a battle.
“But with Space+ we don’t have massive overheads. There are lots of tradesmen out there looking for sub-contract work.
“Through our experience, we are able to project manage effectively and efficiently.”
While Richard has put endless hours into building up the business, he has a hard and fast rule.
“I am a big believer in the idea of working to live – not living to work,” he says.
“My father was very ‘old school’ and was a big believer in living to work. He went to work at 7.30 in the morning and got home again at 7.30 at night. He was a hard-working bloke.
“To a certain extent, I have adopted his principles and work ethic.
“I have the same passion I remember him having.
“Unfortunately, that means my brain is always in work mode.
“The difference is I enjoy going to work at 8.30am and leaving work at 5.45pm.”
Says Richard: “I’m a fitness fanatic. I play squash and I’m often on the driving range at Bradley Golf Club. I also used to love windsurfing.
“I find sport helps me refresh myself.
“Exercise is a great way to keep the ‘demons’ at bay – in my case it keeps feelings of negativity at bay.
“It’s a good way to switch off from work. It’s like stepping through an invisible door.”
Given his business interests, its no surprise that Richard believes that everyone needs to find a little extra space now and again!