Posted on Tuesday 9 April 2013 by Ulster Business

Premier Electrics

Mark Scullion has come a long way in the 20 years since he founded Premier Electrics.

The Bellaghy-based company started life as a 'one man and his van' operation in 1993 completing small electrical jobs for local clients.

Today, it is a business that has annual turnover of more than £30m and has undertaken major retail fit-out, electrical fit out and maintenance contracts across Ireland, the UK and Europe for internationally recognised clients such as Marks & Spencer, H&M, John Lewis, Debenhams and Primark.

The jump from small business into the big leagues came around twelve years ago when Premier won its first work from Primark and had to meet their demanding deadlines.

"That was the point of no return, as there was nowhere to hide once we committed to their projects. The challenges were great but, if truth be told, we excelled. As a client they were exacting but fair and we were very appreciative of the opportunity they gave us," said Mark.

"They have a way of doing business and we had to follow their ethos. It was a culture change for us that made us up our game. It revolutionised the company and forced us to take a different view on everything from start times to the quality of the people we started employing, to our overall mentality."

Meeting all the deadlines for those early contracts has helped Premier Electrics gain further deals with large retailers for new and existing stores in a number of European cities in countries such as Belgium, Germany and most recently Austria. The company has also secured new contracts in the Netherlands, which are due to commence imminently.

"It hasn't been easy. We had a bad experience in Romania in the early days but we learned the lessons and went again. Invest NI have been brilliant in helping us with networking and finding partners to work with," said Mark.

Some 45% of the firm's work now comes from continental Europe, with Scotland, Wales and Greater London making up the remainder of its turnover. Tellingly, the company currently has no big jobs on the island of Ireland, although Scullion would like to see that change.

He is targeting further growth into Poland, the Czech Republic and France, but says this will be done carefully with its network of 200 staff and subcontractors.

The international expansion has thrown up its own challenges, among them operating in new languages, understanding strange technical compliance regimes, coping with different taxation and working under varying labour laws. However, all of these challenges are surmountable.

"When the hard work is done and you prove you are capable of doing the job on time and on budget, there is repeat business there to be had. It is a heavy investment but it does pay off for the future," said Mark.

The Premier Electrics founder also sees potential in the maintenance sector and has been developing its capabilities, both in the UK and Europe, to take advantage of this.

"Over the past few years we've found the maintenance and small works sector is growing. We've been successful in developing that side of the business to complement what we're doing in the main products. It has given us a tighter control on after sales and means we don't have to let go once the job is complete," he said.

But any success will be achieved without the support of banks, which Scullion does not believe are backing SMEs in the construction sector at present.

Where the company expands to next will also depend on the markets its clients see long term potential in. Wherever that may be, Mark Scullion expects the ethos which has led to the company's success to date to be the basis for any business wins in future.

"We stand in the shoes of the customer and we look at what it will take to get the project over the line, taking as much of the hassle out of it for them as possible," he explains.

"For the likes of the M&Ss and Primarks of this world, I would say we tick a lot more boxes for them than any other electrical contractor. It counts for a lot."

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