Construction boss: “We win contracts by turning them down”

It sounds like a contradiction in terms: an honest builder. But Godfrey has found that by being upfront and clear with clients, never underestimating budgets or making impossible promises, customers bend over backwards to work with him.

He gives an example: “We were invited to tender for a design and build project. It was a high risk contract, involving very high upfront costs. I told the client that it wasn’t in their best interests to go ahead. They went to some other companies, who gave them some extremely high quotes, but they appreciated our honesty and came back to negotiate.”

Ellis Builders typically undertakes contracts worth over £200,000. When you’re talking such large investments, it’s worth fostering good relationships with clients so they come back again and again. Even if it means saying something can’t be done.

“The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne approached us to do a huge painting job with a timescale of three months,” says Godfrey. “It was winter, so the weather wasn’t on our side, and there simply weren’t enough painters in Eastbourne to fulfill the contract. I turned it down, but let them know they might struggle to procure locally.

“They came back to us, and we did the project over a two year period. This also meant the hotel could spread the cost over different budget years to make the spend more manageable.”

The contract was worth £440,000 and the Grand Hotel is now a loyal customer, working with Ellis on several projects since.

This “honest builder” strategy has worked wonders for the firm. When Godfrey bought into Ellis Builders for £3,000 in 1990, the construction firm was turning over £100,000. Today, sales have topped £5m.

And these days Godfrey owns the lot, having acquired the whole company from founder Carl Ellis for the princely sum of £50,000. A sound investment.

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