Acorn Aluminium is delivering on landmark schemes nationwide. We report on the companies strategic growth plan – and why it won’t be over-stretching itself.
Sitting in Acorn Aluminium’s smart Nottingham offices, Paul Stevens, its Managing Director, appears relaxed.
The curtain walling and aluminium window and door specialist has just reported one of its most successful financial years. Part of a larger group and with wider resource behind it, Acorn is enjoying a level of financial stability uncommon in the cycle of boom and bust of commercial contracting.
Paul explains: “We found ourselves in this sweet spot. Projects of between one and three or four million pounds.
“To take that sort of work on you need a certain amount of scale and the financial resource to do so.
“We’re accountable for our own profits and losses but we do have the backing of the Emplas Group, which has unquestionably benefitted us in the journey we’ve been on to get to where we are today”, he says.
He reflects for a moment, “We weren’t taking on projects at the scale we are10-years ago. We’ve had to invest in our infrastructure and our skills set but as we have, we’ve flushed out some very specific skills sets and capabilities.”
Perry Barr Residential Scheme
He cites Birmingham’s Perry Barr Residential Scheme as among the projects that supported Acorn’s management team in gaining a ‘true’ understanding of the company’s capability.
Headed by principal contractor Lendlease, Acorn Aluminium was appointed to supply more than 1,200 aluminium windows and 120 doors to Plots 8 and 9 of Phase 1 by main contractor Willmott Dixon.
At a combined value of £78m, the two plots include the construction of 430 one and two-bedroom apartments in four and six storey blocks designed by architect Corstorphine & Wright.
Appointed on a design, manufacture and installation basis, Acorn supplied more than 1,200 energy efficient windows in the in the PURe window system from Senior Architectural Systems.
“We were brought in early and adopted a highly collaborative approach from the start, working very closely with the main architect and technical advisors to support Willmott Dixon in maximising value.
“Given that much of the scheme was delivered during Covid, we also brought in a specialist planner and scheduler which allowed us to map product requirement, so that we had materials in stock ahead of time, guaranteeing supply at a time when disruption was placing the supply chain under significant pressure.
“Communication and collaboration were also key to the installation programme. This included locating a dedicated contracts manager and two full time non-fitting supervisors on each of the plots, to oversee delivery and installation and to liaise with other delivery partners.
“We were doing these things before, but during Perry Barr we refined our approach bringing more flexibility and agility to what we do.”
Investment in infrastructure and people
This was preceded – and also according to Paul, made possible by – Acorn Aluminium’s move to its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in 2019.
The move was accompanied by major investment in the latest cutting and machining centres and CNC capabilities, giving Acorn one of the most advanced dedicated architectural aluminium manufacturing facilities in the UK.
It also expanded its system offer to include window and curtain walling systems from Senior, Kawneer, Metal Technology and Technal.
“We have incredible capacity, highly skilled design, fabrication and installation teams, plus the support and project management expertise to make sure what we’re doing goes smoothly and is communicated effectively to everyone that we need to work with to get projects delivered”, Paul says.
“That has given main contractors the confidence that we’ll get the job done to the right standard, time frame and price.”
Big contract wins
This shift is reflected in the contracts which currently make up Acorn’s project portfolio. This includes a two-year programme to replace 18,000m2 of windows and doors at Nottingham’s Queens Medical Centre, again working with main contractor Willmott Dixon.
It started on Bowmer + Kirklands ‘Island’ development in the centre of Manchester in July this year, and is teaming up with Willmott Dixon, on Peterborough’s landmark Northminster development.
Other projects include McLaren Property’s £62million Leonardo Buildings student scheme in Leeds and True Student and Torsion Group’s conversion of the former International Hotel in Leicester’s Rutland Street.
It has also recently finished on site at the Coventry Indigo Hotel, appointed to the scheme by Bowmer + Kirkland – each sitting in the ‘sweet spot’ identified.
“This is where we want to be. We want to grow in this space”, continues Paul. “It’s a project size which we know we can deliver on and but also deliver real benefits to the main contractor and ultimately the client by drawing on our experience.”
A level head
The Acorn MD, however, is also realistic about what Acorn Aluminium can and should be undertaking. He makes it clear that despite the temptation of bigger contracts, Acorn has found its level and is comfortable at it.
“There’s always a temptation to go bigger or do more but we’ve decided as a management team that we don’t want to over-extend ourselves by taking on really big projects. We’d rather operate on a scale against which we know we can deliver against without putting our sales or manufacturing teams under excessive pressure.
“Far too many fabrication and sub-contracting businesses grow too quickly, push higher and higher to that £5million to £20million project space and fail because they don’t have the infrastructure to deliver or can’t manage cashflow.
“We won’t be one of them. We’d rather focus on doing what we do and doing it well.”