Posted on Monday 17 December 2012 by Ulster Business

McAvoy Group

Orla Corr shows visitors around one of McAvoy’s factories

The celebrations for McAvoy Group's 40th year in business have been suitably low-key in light of the problems facing the wider construction industry.

But Orla Corr, the company's Business Development Director, believes that while it is not appropriate to shout from the rooftops in the current environment, it is important for staff and those in McAvoy's supply chain to know that the modular construction specialists are doing more than just surviving.

Having switched its focus to the GB market five years ago, Orla says the company is cautiously optimistic about the potential for growth in its core sectors of health and education.

"We're starting to see some uplift in activity, probably because of the sectors we focus on. Education and health continue to be buoyant due to the need to service the population in rapidly developing areas within the UK and some parts of Dublin," she said.

McAvoy Group was founded by Orla's father Seamus McAvoy in 1972. Today it has 150 staff based at its two sales and manufacturing facilities in Dungannon and Lisburn making pre-fabricated modular buildings as well as sales offices in Dublin, Cork and Oxford.

It was the first modular construction company in Ireland to win contracts in other parts of Europe and a Tier One contractor to deliver accommodation associated with the basketball arena at the London 2012 Olympics.

However, until five years ago McAvoy was predominantly an Irish business which did the odd project overseas. Then, 65% of its turnover came from the Republic of Ireland, 5% from GB and 30% from Northern Ireland business. Now almost 70% of turnover is GB-based, with 20% from Northern Ireland and just 10% in the South.

"Driving that change was essential for us to survive. We did it through innovation, looking where market opportunities were, remaining focused – not spreading ourselves too thin on the ground, and harnessing the opportunities in niche sectors," explains Orla.

"Survival doesn't always go to the strongest company, but the company that can adapt to market changes and changing customer expectations. We have a fairly aggressive innovation strategy and are always looking at what we can do differently to create that USP," she adds. "You have to work hard to be innovative, not just in your product but in your processes, your supply chain, your IT strategy, your business development strategy, identifying your training needs. You need firm leadership and a strong entrepreneurial approach."

Orla lists the advantages of a modular build as: faster time to completion; greater ability to be on time and on budget; less enviormental impact; cost control because of no overruns; minimal disruption to others because of the off-site build; reduced health and safety risks; an enhanced quality control process faster returns on investment, and an adaptable bespoke design.

Current government policy is helping the company press home those advantages.

The drive to produce sustainable buildings as part of the carbon neutral strategy plays to the strengths of energy efficient modular buildings, as does the strategic priority to deliver new schools and refurbishments at reduced £ per square metre targets and tight delivery programmes.

"The key driver to reduce costs is by standardising your building footprint as much as possible and also by looking for some innovative procurement routes through frameworks and partnerships. The target is clear and everyone in the supply chain is aligned to deliver it," notes Orla.

"As luck would have it these targets come from government and they sit well with our portfolio. We create economies of scale and efficiencies by standardising the manufacturing process by building the same wall, the same floor, the same room in a controlled factory environment."

The Co. Tyrone company earlier this year announced deals worth £5m in London, which it described as a "breakthrough" in the English education market – building schools and other accommodation in the boroughs of Croydon, Enfield, Waltham Forest, Merton and Barnet.

While McAvoy competes with English firms, it also works with locally based sub-contractors and Orla is clear that being based in Northern Ireland is no barrier to success.

"Companies from Northern Ireland have had to work harder than England, Scotland and Wales but I think we have overcome that. A lot of our competitors are based in Northwest England and the bulk of our market is in London. We've worked with our supply chain to make sure we can ship to London as cost effectively as from anywhere else," she said.

"I believe there is work out there. And I believe the Government are recognising the construction industry makes an important contribution to the prosperity of the economy and to our overall competitiveness."

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