Churchill Retirement Living, joint 67th on the Solent 250, is based at Ringwood and provides retirement developments nationwide. Managing director Clinton McCarthy and group finance director Dean Marlow spoke to Sue Hughes.
There are around 50,000 private retirement living developments or sheltered housing units in the UK, insufficient to meet demand. Churchill Retirement Living predicts demand for retirement apartments in the UK will increase by a minimum of 35,000 homes by 2020, when 19.3% of the UK population will be aged 65.
An extremely strong, successful brand, the company takes great pride in awards from industry peers. These include three trophies at the Housebuilder Awards in 2012, among them: Best Medium Housebuilder of the Year and highly commended in the Best Retirement Scheme 2012 for Dean Lodge at Southbourne. This illustrates the demand for quality retirement accommodation in beautiful surroundings – in the Solent region there are eight developments in Hampshire, seven in Dorset and six in West Sussex.
Group finance director Dean Marlow is focusing on the next three years: “It is going to be challenging, but we are optimistic and seeing signs of the environment becoming better for housebuilders. However, building regulation changes, tight timescales in implementing these and, as always, achieving planning permissions – including complications such as bat surveys which have to be budgeted for in every development – could be named as obstacles to growth this year.“
“The ability of people to buy and sell homes is a challenge, but we’re partnering with firms to help as people get used to more austere times – ’the new normal’ – when they make decisions,“ observes managing director Clinton McCarthy. “We are an FSA-approved lender for a Deferred Purchase Plan (DPP), which essentially is an interest-free loan, exclusive to Churchill.“
In 15 months, Churchill has grown from 196 employees to 304. It has new brownfield sites coming to market, keeping construction totally in its control. The turnover on a 300 unit sales mark is £65 million, with a unit selling on average of £215,000, but it takes five years to realise full profit from each development.
Churchill’s reach stretches as far as Manchester and having recently launched the eastern region it is increasing its national footprint when suitable sites come up. Trying to get the right staff is paramount, particularly as the downturn has led to construction site workers moving elsewhere.
A restructured finance package is in place for growth over the next five years and because Churchill believes in in-house training and promoting from within, there is scope for developing staff. “Lodge managers are vital to the success of a development. We’re adapting to include a far greater range of lifestyle elements, because the physical product does not alter significantly,“ continues Dean Marlow.
“These include wellbeing suites, a reception area, and television screen message boards – all elements which can be used to enhance lifestyle within a development. The focus is on lifestyle and service rather than bricks and mortar.“
Clinton McCarthy visited the USA to look at retirement living trends and was amazed by not only the scale of developments, but also the range of activities in communal lounges, gyms and gardens. “Customers recommend us, therefore we know we can use communal spaces for much more, such as fish & chip lunches, exercise sessions and local speakers.
“If just two people attend to a new reading group we reassure lodge managers that it’s a definite success, because a new activity has enhanced the lives of those keen to participate. We promote lifestyle in retirement with regular events which owners have the choice to take part in.
“This is a family firm and our lodge managers are vital in ensuring developments have a family feel. I hear, time and time again, from owners who wished they had moved in earlier.“
A family trust and restructured bank facility provide funding and a contemporary style new head office is being built at Ringwood, adjacent to the existing Millstream House HQ, which will accommodate the South West region as well as head office staff. Due to open in September, space is needed to accommodate 60 additional staff for the future. It represents much more than an investment in the company’s future though – it’s tangible proof of determination to grow despite market conditions.
Staff loyalty is strong. Churchill has a culture of looking after its own. Employees receive £500 cash when they have been with the company for 10 years and always enjoy a day off on their birthday.
Clinton McCarthy adds: “The team has pulled together. We had to make some redundancies and introduced a pay cut in 2008 – 10% for staff, 20% for directors – which was agreed because everyone could understand the measures necessary for us to become leaner and make a profit. Having done so, every penny has subsequently been repaid, so none of the team were out of pocket ultimately in 2010.“
Staff, the most valuable asset, are kept informed through Team Spirit an internal newsletter (while owners receive Retirement Living, the company magazine, and Millstream Management Services Newsletter, a bi-annual update for MMS owners). It’s not surprising that it has been named one of The Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For 2013, and for four years previously.
By moving into specially-built private retirement apartments, elderly people are taking an active decision to secure their quality of life and independent living.
This is a business which, like fine wine, can only age well.