Viewpoint: Chris Price

January 17, 2020

In this issue of Viewpoint, North East Times’ property writer Chris Dobson talks to Chris Price, commercial director of Aptus Fit Out, about the challenges faced by such a niche practice

The most recent years must have been a challenge for a relatively young business. What have been your strengths to enable you to grow the business?

Having established the business in 2007, this was indeed a challenging time, and I think that most people in the property sector and wider business community would agree that the years following the recession have been odd to say the least. As a fit-out contractor delivering projects across multiple sectors, we have watched as each sector has evolved and adapted.

There’s been a lot of inconsistency across each of our sectors, however, where we have seen some great wins is focusing on the sectors that are benefiting from organic demand, while dedicating less resource, time and effort to those we see as more challenging.

This has kept us focused on the growth areas and has ultimately resulted in Aptus being a very agile business that provides a clear and strong service. With more than 12 years’ experience in delivering projects nationally, we have a wealth of expertise in retail, leisure and healthcare projects, however, our core business is now delivering national office fit-out and refurbishment projects through our turnkey service, design, fit-out, furniture and finance.

I see you have undertaken a number of office projects on Grey Street, including the impressive 71 Grey Street. How do you start to visualise a solution for a historic listed building?

We always start a project by working closely with our clients to produce a really strong brief, and from this we develop our concept design. Our design team then tests the concept with our clients and at this stage it is very clear if we’ve nailed it, or if it is back to the drawing board. This process is invaluable as it quickly helps our clients see what it is they want, even if they didn’t know it at the beginning. The concept leads the way to the full design, build, furniture specification and overall project delivery.

The 71 Grey Street project we delivered, on behalf of Hanro, involved the design, vision and creation of a beautiful reception space to create a ‘window’ into the building, which sets it apart from competing office buildings. We consulted extensively with the client and the letting agent to understand what ambitions they had for the space and to establish the mood they wanted to create for those working within the building.

The style needed to reflect the Grade II-listed heritage of the building while working within the restrictions this imposed upon us. We worked with the character of the property to retain and enhance many of the original features, including the high ceilings, exposed stone, brickwork and beams. The introduction of bespoke lighting and furniture, as well as the use of distinctive finishes really complemented the age of the building while creating a much more contemporary feel.

You are now a 20-strong team. What qualities did you look for when growing this vital part of Aptus?

Over the years it’s become absolutely apparent that attracting and employing the best people possible delivers the best results, strengthens relationships, reduces obstacles and shapes a better business all round.

When we grow our teams, we look for people who are passionate about what they do, focused on how they do it and are a pleasure to be around.

We’ve grown to take as much time as needed to find the right person for a role and don’t rush into appointing people. I see interviews as nothing more than an introduction to somebody and think it’s important to remove any structured, traditional stereotype surrounding interviews as quickly as possible. This can quickly result in a person demonstrating who they are as opposed to who they think we could be looking for.

In a business where there aren’t hundreds of staff, every single appointment is so important to get right.

As a regional business, what is your market area? Are your clients largely regional, or have you managed to win business from national, perhaps international, clients?

The North East as a region is without doubt enjoying a period of increased confidence and strong activity within the commercial property sector right now, with no signs of slowing down. We have a really healthy pipeline of projects at all stages with North East companies, as well as global companies that have regional offices in the city. That said, I would estimate that around 75 per cent of our turnover is generated from projects elsewhere in the UK.

We currently have live projects in Newcastle, Mansfield, Harrogate and Sussex, with new projects about to start in Ipswich, Hastings, Chippenham and Brighton.

It’s fantastict that we can deliver design-led projects and still remain competitive in any area of the country. While we cover all areas of the UK, our project team always love to see a postcode on a drawing that starts with NE.

Could you summarise the Aptus work ethic?

It’s always busy, that’s the first truth. We’re not a business that enjoys a leisurely pace, as every aspect of what we do has a deadline and we’re therefore constantly working to something. It could be a design process, which leads into the pricing process that will inevitably be required by a given date. It could be a value engineering process that is vital to making a project viable, or even a competitive tender to be returned
in a really tight timeframe. Work ethic is quite
a particular thing. I suppose it’s shaped by an organisation’s culture, which will have been created by its experiences and decisions.

I’ve never been asked this question and once I started to think about it, I was more curious what one word the wider team would use to describe our work ethic. This is what they told me: ambitious, precise, thorough, organised, diligent, creative, forward-thinking and competitive.

I was happy with those.

Aptus Fit Out