Laying the building blocks for success
September 7, 2022
As youngsters, Dale Smith and Gary Wood formed a partnership in their school’s football team that built the foundations for success. Years later, they’ve reunited to found WOODSmith Construction, the East Cleveland-based firm that works nationally on residential, commercial and public sector projects. Here, Steven Hugill learns more about their venture, the stellar contracts that have fuelled its first year, and why it is primed to continue expanding, despite ongoing market uncertainty.
Some things, they say, are meant to be.
When Dale Smith and Gary Wood lined up on the muddy pitches of the junior football scene, they were inseparable at the heart of their school’s midfield.
Their bond was equally as strong off the pitch, leading many to predict they’d remain forever as close.
Life, though, doesn’t always obey the script.
When injury curtailed his footballing career, having graduated to the junior ranks of Middlesbrough FC, Dale switched to golf, captaining his country at under-18 level and securing a US collegiate move.
Gary, meanwhile, having also caught Boro scouts’ eyes, swapped the bruises of on-field battles for the building site.
And for a good while, they remained apart.
Until last year.
With momentum growing at The SDDE Smith Group – the real estate organisation founded by Dale in 2017 – he turned to Gary, his friend and former football-playing partner at De Brus School in Skelton, East Cleveland.
The result was WOODSmith Construction Group.
And, naturally, for a duo used to winning on the field, the venture has already exceeded its primary goals.
Initially set up to service SDDE Smith Group’s Host & Stay holiday home arm, the endeavour has subsequently secured blue-ribbon contracts with Whitby-based miner Anglo American and British Steel’s special profiles plant in Skinningrove, East Cleveland.
Providing grouting, cleaning and support services on the former’s vast fertiliser development, it has delivered six projects to date for the latter, ranging from concreting work to office refurbishments and the replacement of broken doors.
The agreements, allied to other contracts, saw annual turnover at the Skelton-based firm hit £1.7 million in its first 12 months, much higher, reveals Dale, than projected.
He says: “The initial plan was to focus on residential refurbishments, with Gary running those while looking at bigger projects too.
“We set an objective of hitting £1 million revenue in the first 12 months, and ended up doing just under £1.8 million.
“What really helped us was the commercial work with Anglo American and British Steel.”
And managing director Gary – who, prior to joining WOODSmith Construction rose from apprentice joiner to project manager at Tolent – says much more stands to follow, with plans in place to push annual revenues beyond £8 million in 2022.
He says: “The business took off in March last year, and it’s still going off like a rocket now.
“I’d been running a project for Anglo American with Tolent, so we thought we’d get into the commercial side of things, but not in the first three or four months.
“And from our work at Skinningrove, we’re now getting opportunities to tender for work at British Steel’s plants in Lackenby, near Redcar, and Scunthorpe.”
He adds: “We’re not basking in the glory, though.
“We’ve got our CHAS accreditation – we gained elite certification – we’re working on ISO9001 qualifications and working on RISQS (Railway Industry Supplier Qualification Scheme) too, so we can look to expand into rail.
“Things are continuously developing.”
Dale concurs, adding: “Over the next three years, we want to become one of the top five construction companies in the North East, both in terms of revenue and profitability.
“And to do that, it’s important we keep a balance of work.
“On the commercial side, we have higher-value revenue jobs, but are working on lower margins, whereas on the residential side, we’re working on lower revenue jobs that have higher margins.
“Then we have our services work that brings consistent daily rate work.
“That mix is important, because we need sustainable, balanced growth.”
Another critical factor in the business’ rise, says Dale, will be its workforce.
Having built a team of 28 directly-employed staff, both he and Gary are keen to extend the number, with the duo eager to hire locally.
Dale says: “A lot of our staff are based in Redcar and Cleveland, and that is a big thing for us.
“Yes, we want to have an impact on Teesside and the North East more widely, but, as East Cleveland guys, we really want to drive employment and opportunity in that area too.”
And to help its push, Gary plans to visit schools to introduce the business, and the construction sector in general, to the employees of tomorrow.
He says: “We’ve got two first-year apprentice joiners, and a civil engineering apprentice will start at the end of September, but we want to bring more on board.
“I’m speaking to governors to get into schools and talk to students, to show them construction is a viable career opportunity.
“Some young people have a mental block around construction, but if you knuckle down then opportunities come and, if you take them, the world is your oyster.”
And Dale – who recently invested in Redcar Athletic FC, to boost on-field success while growing the club for the benefit of its local community – says WOODSmith Construction is handily positioned to provide such avenues for employment, despite ongoing economic and market uncertainty.
He adds: “The larger firms aren’t as lean and nimble as we are, and have overheads we don’t carry, which really comes into play when bidding for work.
“In a turbulent market, it’s about being smart, making quick decisions and, for example, being more creative on pricing to deliver jobs – and we’ve got the flexibility to do that.
“Gary and I make the decisions; there isn’t a management-by-committee approach like you might get with the bigger players.
“If we believe it’s right, we do it.
“There are plenty of opportunities out there – and we’re well placed to take them.”
Based on Skelton Industrial Estate, in East Cleveland, WOODSmith Construction Group’s multi-disciplinary team provides clients with end-to-end services across residential, commercial and public sector developments.
For more information on what it does, and how it could support your next project, visit www.woodsmithgroup.com, call 01287 221461 or email [email protected]
For more information about The SDDE Smith Group and its suite of companies, visit www.sddesmithgroup.com