Barrett Carpentry and Joinery
Growth of a skilled trade
Recently, we caught up with Steve from Barrett Carpentry and Joinery, a Devon based bespoke carpentry business. We reached out to Steve after being totally floored by his recent Instagram posts. They look like they’ve come from the pages of Ideal Homes magazine. After exchanging a few messages, I was sure that his story would be an inspiration to others.
Can you explain a bit about the history of Barrett Carpentry and Joinery please? When was it established? Where did you start trading?
After learning my trade at GS Haydon and Son (another local joinery business), I decided to become self-employed at 22 and begin to build my own business. I made the transition from being a bench joiner to a site carpenter working from the back of my van. I began working on building sites sub-contracting and learned, what I consider to be, a different trade in site carpentry. During my time on site, I always envisaged getting back in the workshop and making joinery, as I enjoyed it more. After around 5 years working as a site carpenter, the opportunity arose to co-lease some local workshop space with an old school friend. We built the workshop up together, investing in machines and tooling. After nine years of growing our workshop, my friend decided to leave to pursue other interests. I bought his machines and became the sole tenant on the lease. I’ve been trading here ever since.
Leaving a good job at twenty-two to strike out on your own must have been a big decision. What made you want to start your own business?
It was, but I wanted to do my own thing and be in charge of my own working destiny. I didn’t want to be limited in what I could achieve.
Can you tell us about the products and services you offer?
All the work we carry out here is bespoke. At the moment, the main part of our business is external joinery. Windows, doors, conservatories. We also make some kitchens and furniture, and this is something we would like to do more of in the future, especially kitchens.
How has the business grown since you started?
As I said earlier, I started on my own, working out of the back of my van before sharing a workshop with James, a space of about 100m2. After taking on a larger portion of the unit we work in, we have about 350m2 of workshop space. As the business has grown, I’ve also taken on staff. I have two full time employees now.
Going from working out of the back of your van to having your own workshop must have been a big step. How did you manage the transition?
By taking on a shared space, that was relatively small, I was able to keep my overheads down in the beginning. I knew that I would be able to make more money by selling bespoke products rather than just charging out my time as I had been as a site carpenter. This extra money was enough to cover the increased overheads. This way, I was able to build the business slowly without having to take on debt. I’ve been fairly cautious when growing my business, trying not to take on too much, too soon.
Tell us about some of the other challenges you’ve faced in achieving your growth over the last nine years.
For me, by far the biggest challenge has been finding good staff that share my attitude towards work. It’s a huge thing to employ someone, and you really need to get it right! It’s also challenging to know when it’s the right time to employ more staff. Sometimes it can feel like you’re really busy, but in reality, you just have a lot of deadlines coming in at once. Once you’ve met those deadlines, you find that you’re not actually so busy and vice versa. How busy you feel can be a state of mind.
Moving the workshop has also been challenging, ensuring the machines are sited correctly for efficiency, wiring in the 3 phase electricity and installing ducting for the extraction.
From what we’ve seen, the quality of your work is exceptionally high. How do you find customers that have the budget and taste to appreciate your skill? Your social media posts are very eye-catching. Is it fair to say that this how a lot of new customers find you?
You’re right, Social Media has played a big part in getting my name out there and letting people know about the services we offer. Most of my projects come from customer referrals, but I’ve also built up contacts in related trades that will recommend me for jobs. On the subject of budgets, I’m currently trying to get people to realise that bespoke kitchens represent far better value for money than off the shelf generic alternatives. Depending on the specification, bespoke kitchens are usually not as expensive as people think. Personally, I think off the shelf kitchens are hugely overpriced for what they are, and the quality of the materials used.
Doing a lot of bespoke work must mean that you have some quite complicated briefs. What would you say is the most challenging job you’ve ever had?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I guess the most challenging jobs are kitchens, mainly because the quality and finish must be consistently high throughout. Customers rightly expect perfection when ordering a bespoke, hand-made kitchen. But sometimes it’s the simple jobs that can be most challenging due to unforeseen issues that can arise!
What are your plans for the future?
I’d like to be producing more kitchens and furniture. I would also like to have one more member of staff, to give more time to spend on marketing the business, but I don’t want to become so large that our customer service and quality start to slip. We are also aiming to upgrade some of our machinery in the near future. Generally, we aim to be constantly improving the quality of our service and products.
Finally, can you give us an example of your typical day?
Our day starts at 8am. I usually go through what we need to get done in the day and answer any questions my staff members may have. I make sure we have all the materials and products we need to finish jobs and prepare for the next jobs coming in. I still play a role on the tools making joinery and also going out on site to complete fitting. I probably go out once a week on average to look at work and measure up. I also do all my own admin and paperwork, usually in the evening after work but sometimes if it’s building up, I’ll take half a day or so in the office to catch up. My staff finish at 5pm but I’m usually still around until about 6:30pm.
Growth Rocket Comment.
Barrett Carpentry and Joinery is evidently a successful operation. Steve has grown it from just himself working from the back of a van to a comprehensively equipped 35om2 workshop with two employees. His exacting standards of impeccably finished products and high customer service are obvious and are undoubtably responsible for his success.
Steve’s cautious approach to growth is admirable. Rather than taking on a huge overhead at the beginning of his business, he chose to share a workshop space. By reinvesting his profits over the years, he has built up his business without acquiring debt, something that puts his business is an enviable position.
Finally, his work ethic has played a large part in the growth of his business. By performing his own administration in the evenings, he has been able to save the wages that would have had to spend on office staff.
Growth Rocket wish Steve all the best with his business and are certain that it will continue to grow.
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