Life begins at 40
They say life begins at 40, but for Ayr-based contractor Clyde Coast Contracts, celebrating the big 4-0 is just another milestone in what has been a massive family success story over the years.
Much has changed at the firm over the past four decades. Old machines and ‘Postman Pat-style’ square vans have been replaced with modern transport and a fleet comprising of equipment no more than three or four-years-old; giant telephones have made way for smartphones and the latest technological software; and the business has evolved from running its operations in a residential living room to state-of-the-art offices.
The number and type of assignments the firm is capable of has also grown. While Clyde Coast Contracts still specialises in general groundwork projects, the business has branched out in recent years and is now delivering its own housing developments alongside its core services.
What has remained constant throughout all these changes, however, is the passion and commitment of the McLaughlin family.
The history of Clyde Coast Contracts can be traced back to 1979 when brothers Owen and Sean McLaughlin established the business, working out of a room boasting little more than a desk and a chair. The early years consisted of local civil engineering projects such as drainage, roads and sewers and the company gradually grew to around 20 employees in its first ten years.
As time went on, the scope of works increased. The business has landed contracts worth up to £3.5 million and counts blue-chip businesses such as Cruden Building and Renewals, Stewart Milne and Kier among the clients it has carried out jobs for within Scotland’s central belt.
Standout projects include groundworks packages for Ayr Central Shopping Centre, large-scale supermarkets and numerous housing developments. The firm has experience in most sectors from healthcare and education through to leisure and commercial.
Today there are three directors – Owen Jnr (owner/partner), Michael McLaughlin (contracts director) and Anthony McLaughlin (commercial manager). Several other family members also work in the business, which directly employs around 80 people.
Owen believes the family aspect has been crucial to the success over the years and will continue to be so in future. He said, “The family side of things definitely brings advantages.
We’ve got eyes and ears that are interested in what’s happening around them. “Clients are interested in production, on time programming, quality and health and safety. If you can tick the boxes in those four areas, you’ll get repeat business. That’s how we stand out. If we weren’t good at what we do, we wouldn’t be successful.
“We started keeping records of jobs in 1992. We’re currently sitting at job number 540 –and that’s not including all the projects carried out before that time.
“The company has 40 years’ experience. All our plant is up to date; our premises are up to date; we keep up to speed with health and safety. We’ve currently got three apprentices; we bring people into the business from an early age and recruit from local schools. The family side of things continues. Stephen – Michael’s son – is now estimating/surveying at a high level within the company.”
As well as becoming an important local employer, Clyde Coast Contracts also invests in local businesses. The most recent addition to its plant fleet are Turkish-manufactured Hidromek excavators, which were bought from Kilwinning-based Kattrak – a plant firm owned by other members of the McLaughlin family.
Owen laughed as he recalled some of the changes seen over the years. While he doesn’t believe everything in the industry has changed for the better, one thing which has certainly improved is the work/life balance as he recounted the days when hours were spent every evening on the phone, finding out what had had happened that day and coordinating movements for the following day. “Half the night was spent on the phone organising the next day’s work, whether that was shuffling men about or ordering materials,” he explained. “The whole industry has changed.
It’s health and safety-driven now. You grow with what you need to grow with. The industry dictates how you perform or how you update. “In the early days, jobs came from word of mouth. You were known for what you were good at and the next job came naturally because of the first job you did. It was about who you knew. One firm would speak to another firm and say they guys from Ayrshire always do a good job.”
Not surprisingly for a firm that has been around for 40 years, Clyde Coast Contracts has encountered several economic challenges and periods of political uncertainty – from recessions to Brexit.
The financial crisis of 2008 was by far the toughest period when, after a number of suppliers and clients went under, the firm had to cut back to just 16 workers.
Owen said, “We had to compact and were able to adapt. It’s easier to adapt with 16 guys than 80 guys. We tightened up our resources and expenditure, and then went back out into the market and grew again. We had to reduce prices to cost to keep work coming in. Everybody had to diversify and do things that they weren’t used to doing.
“That recession hurt our industry because it made everybody more aware of value engineering. It was stripped back to the basics. You have got to be super switched on in this industry. If you’re not, you’re in the headlines.”
Through good working relationships and quality of work, Clyde Coast Contracts successfully grew again. Seven years ago, huge investment was made in new premises, which has given the firm a modern and flexible workspace, which has not only been great for employees but also provides a positive first impression when prospective clients come to visit.
The business has become more ambitious in its projects and is well placed to take advantage of the housing boom being experienced in parts of the country. As well as continuing to complete housing projects for main contractors, the firm’s own developments stem from bespoke detached homes to a 24-house site in Darvel.
Owen says plans are afoot to mark the 40 th anniversary. When the firm turned 25, employees were treated to a long weekend in Crieff, so a precedent has been set.
Looking to the future, the plan is for steady and consistent growth rather than dramatic and potentially risky escalation.
“The plans are to keep doing what we’ve always done,” Owen concluded. “We will continue to invest in ideas that are commercially viable. We don’t want 1,000 people. We just want to stay small. We can adapt if we need to. The family aspect will definitely continue; that’s what we’ve always been based on.”