Comment – History repeating…

Regular readers will know that there’s little I like more than a football analogy. It is my personal belief that all human life is replicated and mirrored on the pitch; all of the highs and lows of emotion; the trials and tribulations; the successes and the failures.

And I have an especially timely one that will resonate with you whether your demolition company is flying high at the top of the industry’s Premier League, battling relegation at the foot of League 2, or struggling to survive at grass roots level.

It was recently reported that executives from Liverpool and Manchester United had held secret talks about how they wanted to reinvent the English Premier League. Although the two clubs applied some PR spin about how they wanted to facilitate investment into the lower leagues, this was plainly a land grab. They wanted to play in a smaller league with less matches and less competition. And with less dilution of the income from broadcasting rights, they wanted to grab more of the available cash.

Thankfully, the other clubs in the league saw this for precisely what it was: a pair of admittedly very big clubs attempting to rewrite the rules to suit themselves and requiring all the smaller clubs to abide by these new rules.

And if that plan and that proposed outcome doesn’t feel strangely familiar to you in a demolition context, then you are either a Liverpool-like demolition team enjoying life at the top of the table or – more likely – you are a much smaller demolition team that is just grateful that you’re allowed to play the game at all.

It is almost nine years since I predicted that we were heading for a two-tier demolition industry here in the UK. That pronouncement landed like the proverbial lead balloon, particularly among those companies looking down from on high in the top tier.

At that time, the UK demolition sector was locked in the savage jaws of a recession, facing reduced workloads, escalating costs, and a climate in which clients favoured larger demolition companies with the resources to ride out the economic storm that was raging all about them.

We had already seen Armoury Demolition, Border Demolition and Controlled Group go under. We had also seen the UK’s oldest demolition company – Goodman Price – walk away from the industry, bringing to an end a proud 156-year history.

History is repeating. Back in March, Scotland’s Forth Demolition threw in the towel. Last week, McFletch Demolition followed suit. And this past week we saw S Fallon and Sons appoint administrators ahead of a planned liquidation next month. Feels strangely familiar, doesn’t it?

Of course, the last recession was created by the greed of the financial sector while the current downturn has been caused by a global pandemic. But the cause is the only difference. Like before, work is becoming harder to find and, thanks to local and regional lockdowns, harder to carry out. While the amount that demolition firms are able to charge clients has barely shifted in the past decade, the cost of men, machines, fuel, insurance and legislation compliance have all risen inexorably.

Like before, through a mix of legislation, training, and increasingly demanding clients, the work climate for the smaller demolition contractor is growing less rosy by the minute.

In fact, here in London there is now a tier of demolition contractors that survive purely by providing their services on a sub-contract basis to larger and better-known demolition contractors. Those sub-contractors can clearly do the work to a high standard; a standard worthy of the name of a much larger firm.

But they get none of the glory, none of the kudos, and their income hinges upon what’s left when their big-name employer has skimmed off their cut.

Hopping back to my football analogy, this is like Liverpool sending out a team made up entirely by players from Accrington Stanley, paying them League 2 wages, and pushing them to one side when the trophies are being handed out.

One man cannot speak for the entire demolition industry. So while many have agreed with the views aired by Chris McFletch last week, his is not the voice of the entire industry. But there was unquestionably a great deal of truth in what he had to say. And there is now a very real feeling that – whether by default or by design – the UK demolition industry has found itself in a cul-de-sac.

When you’re in a cul-de-sac, you have only two options: you either stop because you have hit a dead-end; or you turn around and go back the way you came.

Turning back will not be easy. Many of the biggest issues facing the demolition industry have become ingrained over many years. It will take bravery to tell clients – even those that don’t pay their bills on time – that we’re done with their bullshit. It would take a collective will to seize back control over a training regime that demonstrably doesn’t work and yet fills the coffers of the training companies. And it will take enormous courage for smaller demolition companies to compete head-to-head with the big names of the industry.

But surely that is preferable to hitting a dead end? And besides, if football history has taught us anything, it is that sometimes – just sometimes – a minnow from the lower leagues can knock Liverpool out of the cup.

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