London office in 'next two years' for growing Carrick fit-out firm

 McCue completed the fit-out of the three Signature Suites in the Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London
McCue completed the fit-out of the three Signature Suites in the Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London

A LEADING Northern Ireland fit-out and specialist joinery firm has revealed it would be out of business by now had it not changed its primary market following the recession.

Les McCracken, managing director of Carrickfergus company, McCue Crafted Fit, believes a move into the British and European markets saved the business back in 2008 and has ensured it is now a major player within the hospitality and retail sectors in the UK and Europe.

"In 2008 we were doing 60 per cent of our business in Ireland. If we had stuck with that we would have been out of business by now," he said.

"So we quickly changed and within two years we had established Great Britain as our primary market and from there we have developed relationships, expertise and a reputation, mostly within hospitality, so you're talking high-end hotels. We now probably do less than 10 per cent of our work in Ireland and then about 75/80 per cent in Great Britain and the remaining balance in Europe."

Joining the business over 30 years ago Mr McCracken has overseen a dramatic change at the company, not just in its operations, but in the number of contracts the firm now handles, ranging from local shops to world-renowned hotels.

"I started with McCue 31 years ago. They had 15 employees then, turnover of £600,000, doing very traditional, but very high end joinery. In those days it would have been more banks than anything else," he explained.

"Back in the 1980s everything was drawn out on the floor full-scale, there was full one to one plans called set outs, which were then made up on hardboard pieces and used in the construction of joinery items. Now we have a 3D joinery drawing system that is very similar to what they use to build aircraft, but the end result is still quality items."

"A lot of the work we were doing in my early time in the company was around banking and also a little bit of work in the public sector, court houses for example, because that was high-end joinery. It was all driven by the joinery content. We started to change it then slightly and moved a bit into retail and continue in retail to this day, but as well as that we fell back into other joinery-driven work like pubs, restaurants, hotels. We've went from £600,000 turnover back in the mid-80s to £36 million this year and we've gone from 15 employees to employing 120."

In establishing an exemplary reputation across the UK and now in Europe, McCue has completed high-profile projects including the Signature Suites in the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard, the iconic flagship Hamleys Toy Shop on Regent Street, both in London, as well as the upgrading and refit of areas of the luxury ocean liner, Queen Mary 2. Closer to home it has worked on the refit of Danske Bank branches across the north including the Belfast headquarters, helped transform a Victorian listed building into the boutique Malmaison Hotel in the city, as well as worked on a host of Belfast bars and restaurants, including The Perch and The Albany, while the fit-out has just started with long-standing client The Harp Bar on an extension of its premises.

Looking ahead the company, one of the few in its field that actually produces its own product, has plans to grow business in the UK and Europe through its existing customers and add a permanent office close to London "in the next two years", to add to the firm's 60,000 sq ft production facility in Carrickfergus.

"London is our primary market, it's the city that never sleeps, it's a city that was never in recession and through the recession we developed the business we're doing in London," he said.

"We are currently in the process of identifying a particular location that could be of interest. There's nothing really suitable within London so it has to be close to a transport network, both for our deliveries and for our people to get in and out of London. We haven't actually got anything, we're at the stage of investigation, but it will be on the outskirts of London."

While much has changed in the 31 years since Les McCracken joined McCue, some things remain the same, with the company retaining a focus on training with apprenticeships continuing to come through the ranks to this day.

"Back in the day we were training apprentices. We're still training apprenticeships, we're training everybody. We're people driven, we're Investors in People accredited and in that it's all about getting the best from your people and also giving the best you can to your people. You've got to make your people happy in what they do and they produce and perform better. It's not just about money, it's about the package as a whole."

"At the end of the day we're not out to beat the world, we're out to have a sustainable business and therefore our growth will be measured and controllable and that's important," he added.