Celebrating 41 years as the Longest standing member of ‘The Guild of Master Craftsmen’
It was with great pride that we received the latest copy of ‘Guild News’ and a real honour to be featured in such a long standing and reputable magazine within the construction industry. We look forward to continuing to uphold the high standards of Guild Members for many years to come.
Take a look at the full story below:
A Family Framework
A Guild Member for the past 41 years, Gary Clark talks about the successful family-run construction business that’s built on good old-fashioned values
The longest standing member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen –recognised as a skilled and reputable business back in January 1976 – Clarks Construction Ltd continues to be a family-run construction company that prides itself in delivering excellent service to all its customers. Its work includes commercial and residential refurbishment and new builds. Based in Markyate, near St Albans in Hertfordshire, Gary Clark is at the helm today. However, it was his father Leslie who set up the business in the late 1960s. ‘My dad was working as a carpenter and doing well,’ Gary recalls. ‘Then I left school in the early ‘70s and started an apprenticeship. The first year I was taught plumbing, carpentry, brickwork, plastering; everything really, then after nine months we had to choose one area to focus on, so I chose brickwork.’ Although he didn’t go straight into working alongside Leslie, when Gary realised his dad was struggling to keep on top of all the work being commissioned, he suggested they joined forces. ‘It was a time when everyone seemed to be putting little extensions on their houses, so Dad, who sadly is no longer with us, did all the carpentry and I did the brickwork. The business flourished and that’s when we became a Member of The Guild.’
Fast forward 41 years and Gary’s wife Pat is now helping with the administration and financial side of the company and Sam, their son, who has been involved for the past four years, is managing more and more of the projects while Gary concentrates on pricing tenders and estimates. ‘Obviously, the business has come a long way since we joined The Guild back in 1976. We are a much more established company and now employ a fair number of people, although we’re still quite a small team. Over these past 41 years though, I’ve noticed that people want more assurance that they are employing, or about to employ, an accredited company. Seeing that we’re member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen is like a guarantee, especially as The Guild is well established and has been going a long time.’
Gary is only too aware that when people need the help of a construction company they often don’t know where to start. ‘I feel sorry for them. They look online and see so many builders and contractors, they don’t know who will do a good job,’ he says. ‘And everyone’s heard a story about someone who’s had a rotten job done. People want assistance and recommendations. If clients see The Guild emblem, that helps. They’re almost halfway there. We’ll also invite anyone round to take a look at a live site. I’d rather they do that, so people know what they are getting themselves into. If someone is going to be doing major surgery to their home, then it’s best if they see the reality. Some families want to continue living in the house while the work is done, even if it’s going to take six months. When they look at a property having a similar refit, they’ll realise it’s going to be a nightmare and they really need to move out.’
While Clarks Construction Ltd undertake all types of construction – new builds, refurbishments, barn conversions and extensions – Gary tells us the actual core of the business today and what they excel in is refurbishments, with about 70% of their work coming via architects, surveyors and project managers. The business has recently been involved in restoring a Grade 1 listed church, refurbishing a private school – a large-scale project and a challenge as everything needs to be done during a seven-week summer holiday break – and extending residential properties, many with modern twists such as bi-fold doors and clever lighting.
‘All the architects and surveyors we do work for come back to us time and time again. We maybe don’t hear from them for six months, sometimes up to two years, but then they contact is with a job they know suits our team and skills. Clients also regularly recommend us to friends and colleagues. Clarks Construction Ltd relies on our reputation to generate much of the business. We feel that we go that extra half a step to make sure the client is happy; that’s important to us. We really care. If I had to sum us up, I’d say were a little bit of an old-fashioned builder and we have those old values.’
Around eight years ago, Gary and the team were involved in the refurbishment of two cottages in Milton Keynes Village. He fondly recalls the task and is proud of what was achieved, so much so that he still smiles whenever he passes the properties. ‘The two little cottages had been sitting derelict for 20 odd hears,’ he says. ‘Our job was to go in and take them down brick by brick. We had to take them all apart but save everything so we could put it all back together again. We installed en-suites, extended the cottages at the back, landscaped all the garden and put little white fences along the front. Once we were finished, the cottages just looked so nice. I remember saying at the time that although it was probably one of the smaller jobs I’ve done it was one of the most satisfying. They looked great.’
Refurbish, repair and rejuvenate
Giving old properties a new lease of life is something that Gary is passionate about and feels that brownfield sites need to be revitalised. ‘Let’s build on this land before building on any more greenfield areas. I really like turning around a property that is falling down, making it look like what it was supposed to be when it was first built. These days in construction many people want to knock everything down and just build new. That’s great, but we also have a lot of beautiful old buildings in this country, many of them sitting there doing nothing. Let’s turn to the hundreds and thousands of properties in the UK that are sitting there unused, unloved and unkempt and go in and refurbish them. Someone can then enjoy the benefit for many more years to come.’
Putting the customer first and always wanting them to have ‘happy faces,’ Gary is also keen to see clients get a fairer deal. ‘I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but I’d like to see all contractors applying the same rules, whether that’s to do with pricing of health and safety. I think we should all be singing off the same hymn sheet. From our company’s point of view, we just want to do a good job, but we her lots of tales of people being ripped off or people paying money upfront and builders not coming back. I don’t like that and our industry needs to sort this out so clients know we are all comparable. The best thing you can do is get an architect or a surveyor to visit your home or site and check what work is being done. It’s worth spending the extra money for your peace of mind. ‘I am concerned about the client, because at the end of the day it gives us all a bad name. If somebody gets hoodwinked it gives construction a bad image. It would be nice to see all companies playing by the same rules. All of us should be in some sort of scheme or have to be accepted by the Guild of Master Craftsmen and be an accredited member. It’s all about trust and makes a lot of sense.’