With record profits and growth in both sales and margins announced in its half year report this September, the future of house building at Bovis Homes has never looked better. Keyhouse caught up with Christopher Evans, Associate Buying Director with Bovis, to find out what’s happening.
What’s driving the positive results at Bovis Homes?
I have certainly seen a lot of changes since I joined the business in 2013 but the big move driving efficiency has been made over the past two years and there are still more improvements to come. The first major change impacting performance has been the redesign of our house types. This came through research carried out with customers and launched last year under the ‘Phoenix’ banner. These new house types are not only more attractive to home buyers, but they have also been designed to optimise the build process, so we are experiencing real efficiency benefits onsite.
The Phoenix range includes 28 houses from 2 beds up to 6 beds and has been introduced to all our sites, including a number of existing sites on which we reapplied for planning.
Is new technology making an impact?
We have made some significant internal process changes with the adoption of the Coins ERP package which is delivering excellent efficiency to us. The key benefit is keeping information up to date so people can make the right decisions for the business at the right time.
On the customer facing side we are investing in an interactive home buyer portal which will really enhance the buyers’ experience once they have reserved a house. This brings us bang up to date with the latest technology, giving customers the sort of control they are used to in apps that they use daily for all sorts of things. So when Mr and Mrs Smith log into the new portal they will be able to see which options they can choose or upgrade to. The system will also have the ability to show the live progress of the house onsite.
How does Bovis differ from the other house builders?
I would sum it up by saying we have the scale and impact of a PLC but with the mindset more like that of a family firm. Our CEO Greg Fitzgerald has been spearheading major changes, utilising the latest technology, which has had a really positive impact over the past two years. We are now totally focused on improvement in every part of the business, right down to a new app based internal system which cuts out paperwork and streamlines all types of staff admin.
How did you connect with the Keystone Group?
Our connection with Smartroof is relatively recent and currently we are working on two sites. The relationship has got off to a great start and I have to say; from a builder’s point of view, from a commercial point of view and from a technical point of view it’s gone fantastically well. On the back of this positive experience we are currently looking at new opportunities to engage further with the Keystone Group across the whole range of group products. The potential for building a strong partnership is certainly there.
Is new technology improving the house building industry?
I think the housing industry is still a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to implementing new technology compared even to other parts of construction.
The good news is that Bovis is on track to implement more digital technology and obviously our new portal for home buyers is a big leap forward. We also see partnering with companies like Keystone, who are already advanced down the technology route, as a positive step.
On the supplier side, we are impressed by the way Keystone is using technology to enhance the quality and performance of the products they offer us as a house builder. We are now building smart homes where you can control things like heating, lighting and blinds from a phone, so that is a good example of how technology is benefiting the home buyer.
What is your approach to new product development?
Fundamentally, the first question we ask when confronted with a new product from a supplier is ‘show us the benefit’.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a cost benefit, it could be a benefit for us from a health and safety point of view or in terms of the speed of build. We look at the big picture and may spend a little bit more in one area if we can save in another. For example, savings on prelims and the safety of everybody on the building site are things we really value.
We are following the developments in new offsite methods closely because the range of options is growing every month, I think the first 3D printed house has just been built in London. At the moment we build either timber frame or with traditional brick and block.
Is the skills shortage in the industry real?
I would say it all depends on the trade and the location, in certain trades there is no skills shortage. For us, in the Midlands for example we are pretty well supplied, however I would say we suffer the same shortage of bricklayers as everywhere else. Our approach to the future skills shortage is to develop our own skilled trades through apprentices.
We work in partnership with our contracted trades, so they get a mix of college and onsite learning. We have also started a new Construction Ambassador scheme, focused on engaging with schools and colleges to promote the to change the perception that it’s just about muddy boots and present all the opportunities across the business.
What’s next for Bovis Homes?
We have ambitious plans based around acquisitions and growth in our regional businesses, regardless of the outcome of the dreaded B word! Our new Phoenix home designs and the customer portal will be central to our plans and our Customer Experience Director, Debbie Hugh, is leading the process on how we can maximise its impact on the customer journey. We have already completed the hard yards in getting the portal up and running, so over the next couple of years we will refine it to become the best home buying experience in the industry.