7 years ago

Hobnobbing with Melissa Kroger & Graham Fennell from Fenwood Estates

To celebrate Father's Day 2017, we hobnobbed with Melissa Kroger and father, Graham Fennell about their father/daughter work relationship, the advantages of working with family, advice for other small businesses and of course, finding out their favourite biscuits plus so much more!

How did the idea for Fenwood Estates come about?

Graham's initial background was carpentry, he worked on various building sites for other developers during the 1970s, by 1979 he decided to form his own building company and started to contract out his services.

When was the company first established?

The business was first established by Graham in 1979 and it very quickly grew into a major contracting company which constructed residential housing and large care homes up and down the UK. By the year 2000, the company started to evolve in to what it is today.. a land purchase and development company for residential housing in the Yorkshire region.

I joined my father at the company in the year 2000 as junior surveyor whilst studying a surveying course at Sheffield Hallam, over the years I progressed and now have the MD title at Fenwood.

How has working together affected your relationship?

I was always a Daddy's girl when I was little and nothing has changed throughout our working relationship, we don’t fall out or disagree about things, we have always had a similar mind set when it comes to running the business etc. so 99% of the time things have run smoothly. I would say that we have bonded more than we ever would have as we see each other nearly every day and spend a lot of time together.

How is the business doing?

Following the decline of the economy and the market crash in 2007, the building sector suffered so our business was scaled back in line with the reduction in demand for housing. Fenwood Estates continued to steadily build new homes throughout this period and by 2014 when the confidence in the market returned, we increased our production. By 2016 we were full steam ahead again and we now have a healthy land bank for continued construction over a 5 year period. There appears to be a ‘buzz’ back in the market where new homes and housing are concerned so we feel that there are some good times ahead!

How do you stop yourselves from taking work home to the dinner table?

We always tend to have a little catch up and a chat about business out of the office and when we are with family etc. but we have always managed to control not letting it interfere with that time too much… we have a very close family and we enjoy having fun times together, so in the main work stays at work and family time is still family time!

Since the company began, what has been the biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge to date was when the banks scaled back their lending to developers in 2010/2011 this meant that unless you could carry on to fund your own projects personally the only way for some developers was to cease trading!!

The biggest challenges that we still face are the difficulties of obtaining planning permissions in reasonable time scales and the amount of hoops we have to jump through to be granted development funding on favourable terms.

What makes you stand out from your competitors?

Fenwood Estates prides itself on providing a new home with no hidden extras… our homes are all fully equipped whether it's a first time buyer home or an executive property, they are all constructed to an excellent standard with carpets, alarms , turfed gardens and everything else that would be needed to ‘just move in'. Our customer service and aftercare is second to none, we respond quickly to any concerns that our purchasers may have.

We have been nominated and won several awards over the years for building in excellence by the LABC Warranty providers and the Design and build award with the local Doncaster Chamber.

What’s been your best business decision?

The best business decision for Fenwood Estates was when we decided to stop contracting for other people, to buy their own land and to build out their own developments, this took away the uncertainty of being held to ransom over payments for works carried out and completed for third parties. By developing our own land and selling our own homes we became in control of our own destiny.

What are the main advantages (or disadvantages!) of working with family? 

In our case as we get on well we see quite a lot of positive factors… the main one being that we can trust each other. A lot of relationships do break down when families/ friends work together and we have seen this happen to other people where they disagree and fall out, this then strains the relationship not only for them but for other family members.

Other advantages include; flexibility – as long as the work gets done we are happy and we don’t expect each other to be at our desks 8am until 6pm every day, we can also be flexible when it comes to holidays… we continue to run our business whether we are at home or away which means many extra holiday days to what a normal employer would allow!

What is next for Fenwood Estates Limited?

Fenwood Estates are currently in a transition process in terms of management, as Graham nears retirement and I take over with intentions of taking the business forward for many more successful years! I hope to grow the business over the coming years whilst the market is still recovering.

I'm really excited to be finally taking over our family business, the development world is my passion and I cant wait to see where Fenwood will be in the near future. I've watched my Father for many years, he's been my mentor and I want to do him proud by continuing to run Fenwood to the standards that he has set!

If you could help one business now with a single piece of advice, what would it be?

Graham – ‘Always be honest with your clients & customers, respond quickly to any requests from people for help and advice’.

Melissa – ‘Never compromise the quality of your product by cutting corners/ costs, it will only cause you problems in the long term! Reputation is everything!'

Finally, what is your favourite biscuit?!

Graham – Bourbons!

Melissa – Ginger nuts!