Real estate & construction

With the house-building market in freefall and the lingering effects of the credit crunch, it’s little wonder that Zoe Plummer doesn’t want to sing the praises of her firm, Fulford Builders (29th). Plummer was forced to lay off staff this year, a hard blow for the North Yorkshire-based housebuilders, which turned over £6.7m last year.

Oakgate Group (25th) has also been hit. The West-Yorkshire-based company has seen its properties written down by £800,000. But CEO John Grantham and MD Richard France are maintaining a sense of humour in the face of economic gloom: their respective email nicknames are “granny” and “froggy”. Like the rest of us, Granny and Froggy can only hope that the recession doesn’t last too long.

Some businesses have braced themselves for the downturn. Ken Kelly built up his furnishing company, The Furniture Practice (99th), without a penny of private equity, or even an overdraft. A&H Construction & Developments (62nd) also has the advantage of being debt-free. Director Martin Head says: “We are still recruiting and we’re bubbly and positive.”

ITM-Soil (11th) has yet to feel the pinch, too. The East Sussex-headquartered monitoring instrumentation firm has sister companies in China, Australia and Germany, taking the strain off the UK operation. Conversely, Belfast-based T&A Kernoghan (64th) has kept its focus closer to home. Founder Alan Kernoghan has used cutting-edge technology and public sector contracts to keep his firm in the black.

Research shows that family businesses are more recession-proof than most. And Nicholas King and wife Fiona are doing well out of their construction firm Nicholas King Homes (28th). King paid himself a dividend of £260,000 last year. Likewise, Harrow-based family firm Lancsville Construction (40th) has been going strong for more than 30 years. The company is currently working on impressive projects for the Chelsea College of Art & Design and City University.

ClubEasy Group (92nd) has ensconced itself in the student space, too. The property management firm makes finding and renting accommodation easy as pie for university students, charging zero deposit on fully furnished rooms and saving penniless undergraduates hundreds of pounds.

Abbey Pynford (21st) also has a pretty nifty business model. It builds everything, from family homes to sprawling office blocks – no job is too big or too small. Wordsworth Holdings (70th) is similarly maverick. From installing loos in prisons to manufacturing tipper trailers and supermarket trolleys, this jack-of-all-trades continues to grow under new MD Niall Wordsworth.

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