2015 was a huge year for Crest Nicholson, winning house builder of the Year and achieving record sales. However there are still bigger things to come from this house builder with new house types, innovative new products and a new drive for premium quality. We met Darren Dancey, Group Technical & Quality Director and Ian Johnson, Group Procurement Director to discuss their plans for the future.
What were the key highlights for you in 2015?
DD: Ultimately achieving the targets we set ourselves back in 2013 in this key transition period from private company to PLC. Quality has really jumped to being top of our agenda and we now have internal quality assessment at a group level for all projects. This internal team is focused on helping us a deliver the standards required to be a “five star” builder.
So what’s happening at Crest Nicholson in 2016?
DD: We are designing a brand new set of house types from scratch. These are not just updates, we have genuinely started with a blank piece of paper. Our process included interviews with leading architects to understand their “blue sky” thinking. This design process will ultimately influence the next 10 years’ worth of products, so potentially up to ten thousand new homes.
How does innovation impact on your role?
IJ: My role as Group Procurement Director involves looking at a wide range of new products and different methods of construction. We have been trawling Europe, looking for innovation along with the BRE to find alternative products and new ways of building. Regardless of whether its masonry or timber frame or SIPs or other construction methods, we want to find companies who can grow with us and are willing to work closely to find further advances in the build process.
What are the benefits of new technologies to house builders?
IJ: From a procurement point of view we obviously look for products which perform better and more competitively. Also technologies which offer a better way of running a house; assuming of course that the process can be applied at the scale required by a volume house building business like ours.
DD: Technical and Procurement functions really need to work hand in hand when assessing new technologies as they each bring different expertise. There is no point in writing the world’s best technical spec if it isn’t viable and similarly there’s no point in having a commercial spec if it doesn’t meet regulations or customer demands. We involve our staff from each region along with external consultants to sit on an interview panel where we decide on new products or a new supply chain so each region participates in group discussions.
How would you like to see manufacturers engage with you on new product development?
DD: For me it would to discuss the ideas early, before they are in manufacturing.
IJ: It’s about getting involved at the beginning, ideally at the concept stage rather than after you have designed it and then found out that it’s going to cost you a lot of money to build. If we are able to discuss the practical issues early then you can design around them which makes life a lot easier for everyone in the long run.
How can house builders really improve on quality?
DD: At Crest Nicholson, we have written a bench mark quality inspection which is about 250 items long. Our quality process looks at the design and the procurement to make sure these are the same, then we check construction to ensure it is in-line with the design and our quality manual. We introduced a really vital stage where my team reviews the first plots built on each house type. This includes the architect, technical manager and the site manager so it’s an interactive day where the site team get a chance to feedback what working and what’s not so the design or processes can be amended for the rest of the plots.
This has been a real step change for us over the last 12 months and we are continuing to tweak the process for further improvement. So far we have had really good feedback from site managers.
Matching the built performance to the design is something a lot of people talk about and for us it’s a process of learning that every single junction and material has an impact so we can make those incremental changes to close that performance gap.
What areas have Crest Nicholson implemented offsite?
DD: From the simplest terms we have done floor cassettes and roof trusses but we also have a portfolio of over 20% timber frame now. We have used SIPs and we have built several hundred plots with a light gauge steel frame. So we have done a good bit of offsite but we have not yet got involved in volumetric, modularised, or panelised build.
IJ: Quality and staff shortages are the biggest issues at the moment. If we can use offsite and get houses finished quicker, then our cash investment is being returned, 10 or 14 weeks quicker which has to be attractive to any business.
It is clear that 2016 has been a big year already for Crest Nicholson, but bigger things are yet to come. New house types and working closely with architects are and will continue to be at the core of the business. Moreover, innovation is key for the future of house building not only in terms of new, emerging technologies but also in business processes and collaborative ways of working with architects and manufacturers.