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Scaling back up: How contractors were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic

The second Dulux Decorator Centre webinar focused on practical guidance from contractors on how they have adapted to face the challenges of COVID-19.

Our panellists included Craig Bell, CEO of Bell Group, the UK's largest commercial painting and decorating contractors, Ben Doherty, managing director of Cousins Group, who provide painting and decorating to a wide range of public, private and main contractor clients. Alongside these two industry guests, we were also joined by John Henderson, managing director of Dulux Decorator Centre.

Here’s how each of their businesses were impacted by the pandemic...

The impact on Bell Group

Bell Group is the UK’s largest commercial painting and decorating contractor and operates across a number of sectors, including healthcare, social housing, local authority and education.

On projects in each of these sectors, their decorators are often working within occupied buildings and come into contact with members of the public. As a result, from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bell Group had to adapt quickly and take measures to protect their workers and those around them.

Immediately after lockdown was announced, the decision was made to close down all their sites except for the vital work that was still needed in the healthcare sector. In total only around 10 per cent of their workforce were still operational and a significant proportion of staff were furloughed.

Due to the concerns for staff safely and the concerns of clients, it has been a slow recovery from this point, taking a cautious step by step approach. Now around half of sites are operational and around 65 per cent of the workforce are operational, by the end of July, they plan to have all of their workforce active again.

The impact on Cousins Group

Cousins Group is a very different company from Bell Group, as their clients are predominantly major contractors based around London. In the past their projects have included the 2012 Olympics, Crossrail and the Battersea Power Station. Unlike Bell Group, their workforce is primarily made up of self-employed decorators, many of whom travel to work by public transport.

The impact of lockdown brought a number of challenges to their business and the construction industry as a whole, which, as Ben pointed out, wasn’t helped by the low level of guidance from the Government. In the first days of the lockdown there was a lot of confusion - certain construction sites closed down for a few weeks, others closed and almost immediately reopened, while others chose to continue working.

The main challenge through this early time was keeping their workforce safe on other people’s sites, while also safeguarding their livelihoods, and meeting the needs of clients. One of the logistical challenges was the transportation of decorators around London as movement on the tube and trains was disrupted.

Currently, with one exception, all of their clients’ sites are open and they are operating at around 75 per cent capacity. After a recovery over the past few months, Ben now expects work to plateau for a few months while the industry catches up.

The impact on Dulux Decorator Centre

As with contractors, the primary concern for Dulux Decorator Centre throughout lockdown has been for safety of its colleagues and customers. This led to many changes in operation for all aspects of the business, including signing for goods, receiving deliveries and on-site specification.

Acting quickly, Dulux Decorator Centre moved to a working from home model and temporarily closed its stores. Quite quickly, to serve clients who were working on essential construction, around 50 stores were reopened with new safety measures.

As of today, all stores are open for in-store shopping, as well as collection and delivery. A range of measures have been introduced to protect colleagues and consumers, including one-way systems, hand sanitising facilities, protective screens at tills and limiting the number of people allowed in store at any one time. This operating model will continue to evolve as the lockdown is eased.

Read more here on how Bell Group and Cousins have scaled back up.