Working lunch Chris Roche

onoffice March 10
Working lunch receipt
------------------------------------Location The Clerkenwell Kitchen,
London EC1
CR 10 minutes on the bus from
Shoreditch to Clerkenwell
DM 2 minute walk
------------------------------------Environment 3/5 (it’s not clear if
it is a café or a restaurant)
------------------------------------Food 4/5 (roast beef sandwich with
salad and horseradish x 2)
------------------------------------Drink 4/5 (bottled beer x 2,
bottle of tap water x 2)
------------------------------------Budget £20 including tip
------------------------------------Service 4/5
Good, tap water wasn’t a problem
------------------------------------Time 58 minutes
------------------------------------Health rating 3/5 (great sandwich
but the crisps are questionable)
------------------------------------Dean’s top tip for a successful
working lunch:
“Good company, good food and a nice
space” (That’s three – Ed)
Chris Roche, principal for 11.04 architects, digs in
to another working lunch to discuss the pressing
issues of the workplace design industry. After last
month’s jaunt to Hamburg, he’s back on home turf
My guest for today’s lunch is Dean Manning,
managing director of construction management company Structure Tone Ltd, and
responsible for the company’s UK, European and Asian markets. Dean has 24 years’
industry experience, starting his career
as a trainee surveyor within Wates Special
Works before working his way up to become
managing director of Wates Interiors.
We are lunching at the Clerkenwell Kitchen,
in the heart of London’s fit out marketplace
with more architects and suppliers per acre
than anywhere else in the UK. Up for discussion
today is the subject of client expectations.
For the benefit of readers, how would you describe
your role within the office supply chain?
I act as an intermediary, managing project costs
and trying to ensure the client gets good value. As
a contractor, I also ensure that we make a reasonable return on our efforts. We achieve this by taking
a balanced view of a client’s project, and delivering
what we promise.
How would you normally spend your lunch hour?
At my desk with a sandwich and a trade magazine,
catching up with market news and information.
How often would you have a working lunch?
At least twice a week, typically in a team meeting
with a sandwich, discussing projects or building
relationships with clients.
What is important to you about a working lunch?
Having a purpose, and some sense of achievement
at the end of it.
Economic pundits are forecasting a doubling of
investment in offices in the City in 2010 to £36bn.
Given the recent economic problems in the City,
do you see a lowering of client expectations within
the marketplace?
Absolutely not. We have seen client expectations
continuing to rise despite the downturn in the
economy. Clients want more bang for their buck, as
well as cheaper prices.
There was a time when clients’ expectations of
contractors was simple – to deliver a project on
time and on budget. Clients appear much more
demanding now – what’s your experience?
Contractors are expected to deliver much more.
Apart from time and cost, quality is critical and
avoidance of risk is fundamental.
Are clients realistic in their expectations?
Generally, they are. Contractors are having to work
that much harder, but nonetheless client expectations are being met. The market has had a correction, allowing everyone to refocus. The more mature
clients have retained realistic expectations.
Design-and-build contracting was introduced to
lower costs. Given where we are in the economic
cycle now, how do you see the role of design and
build in the near future?
The involvement of the contractor in the design
stages of the supply chain has improved dramatically
in the last ten years. Every job is a hybrid, with an
element of design and build within it. It is no longer
good enough to get the cost right within the right
time-frame, the quality has to be right also. Moreover the process has to be relatively stress-free.
Adding value is a well worn business objective. How
do you add value to a client’s objectives?
Meeting specific and exacting standards. As we
come out of a recession, I think that added value
Far left Yum yum. Structure Tone’s Dean
Manning tucks into lunchtime grub
Above The Clerkenwell Kitchen’s
external courtyard (lovely in summer,
but still a bit chilly this time of year)
Far right Where the magic happens
Below right A quick stroll through
Clerkenwell is in order to work off the
roast beef sandwiches
Right The cafe sits at the heart of
London’s design and architecture hub
will come from more effective procurement of
goods and services. In particular I see a return to
the provision of core services, as to opposed to
offering unlimited extras.
In the light of recent downward pressures on profitability and rising client expectations, do you feel
that profit margins are adequate and that contractors’ business models are sustainable
No. Certainly in the last year profit has been insufficient, and this does not reflect the value contractors
add to the process. Continuity of margin is arguably more important than rising and falling profit
margins. It needs to be commercially sustainable,
despite the uncertainty of supply and demand.
An added benefit for any client is the press exposure
resulting from a successful fit out, and any awards
which may follow. These benefits are often tangible,
if not quantifiable – how do you see these benefits
from a contractor’s perspective?
The biggest benefit is seeing a client’s business
doing well, and doing better. It’s a huge investment
for a client, and they are doing it for a purpose. It
is relatively new for clients to value their space in
terms of its impact on profitability and staff wellbeing. Awards help confirm you are delivering the
best in the marketplace.
It’s the start of a new year, and a new decade. What
are your short-term expectations for the year, and
your greater expectations for the coming decade?
Short term I would like to see a return to a normal
level of business. I think last year there were peaks
and troughs, but what we need is more consistency. My aspirations are to grow market share in
a competitive market. Contractors cannot determine the size of the market, only their share of the
market. In terms of the wider decade I would like to
see improvements in working practices, the way in
which we interact as contractors and consultants in
particular, and make sure that the contractor’s role
becomes more valued and recognised.
Although we met to discuss client expectations,
I come away with a greater understanding of
a contractor’s expectations – for the market to
grow; for Structure Tone to capture a larger part
of the market; for margins to increase; and for
contractors to be elevated in status. Great expectations indeed, and great to see a contractor’s
confidence and optimism continuing to rise,
despite the experience of the industry in the
last 18 months. So while economic pundits
are predicting ‘cautious pessimism’ for the
year ahead, I am happy to report unqualified
optimism for the fit out industry for 2010.