Published: 09:30, 07 November 2018
| Updated: 11:36, 07 November 2018
This year's MegaGrowth 50 list has been revealed - listing the top 50 fastest-growing private companies in Kent.
Ranked by their increase in turnover over the last three financial years and produced by the KM Media Group, it was unveiled at a breakfast launch in Maidstone this morning.
And the 2018 edition showcases a vast variety of industry which is being nurtured and grown right here in the county.
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Once again, the construction sector is well represented as many look to capitalise on the thirst for building projects to address the housing shortage. Few would doubt their growth will continue.
Worth noting is that this year, the fastest growing firms in both the overall list and that of exporters are companies who are heavily involved in the world of ecommerce - albeit in very different ways - with a dazzling array of brands on their client books.
Both have tremendous global growth and reach.
There will, undoubtedly, be challenges ahead, but as MegaGrowth 50 demonstrates once again, Kent is home to plenty of ambitious, fast-growing firms which are creating jobs and pioneering services which help put the county on the map.
Scroll down for the full list.
1. The Specialist Works
Rising from 2017’s number five position, The Specialist Works (TSW) stands tall at the top of this year’s MegaGrowth 50 list.
Launched in 2003 by Jim Lewcock, after he sold a car he won for being top salesman at IPC Magazines to fund his own venture, the independent media agency has flourished where others have struggled, delivering profit growth every year.
The Specialist Works bucked the agency trend last year with a 20% rise in revenues exceeding £119m, helped by new business wins such as AutoTrader and Beagle Street. And its reach today is truly global.
With its Kent site at Kings Hill, opened in 2009 to enable its Kent workers to cut out the commute, it also has offices in London, New York, Beijing, Atlanta, Dublin, Bristol and has just opened up in Los Angeles, with its growth fuelled in part by
acquisitions. The company remains registered at the Kent site.
Describing itself as the go-to agency for fast-growth brands, its client list includes the likes of Boohoo.com. OVO Energy, Rocket League and Photobox.
It now employs more than 200 staff globally.
In January 2017, its founder stepped aside as chief executive – handing the day-to-day running to then group managing director Martin Woolley.
And then earlier this year its ownership changed hands as Mr Woolley and Kings Hill-based chief operating officer Parry Jones completed a management buyout.
'Going forward, the focus will be on organic growth, growing our team in strategically important areas and doing a really good job for clients...' - Martin Woolley
They bought out Jim Lewcock and his family for an undisclosed sum – but it is thought the company could be valued at around £45m.
Their first act was to announce all non-director staff would receive a cash bonus and be eligible to share in a £2.5m future business growth bonus scheme funded by the exiting Lewcock family and existing shareholders.
Martin Woolley explained: “If you want to keep talented people who have choices, giving them stakes in the business is a really great motivator.
“The Specialist Works has grown through its independent spirit and laser-like focus on meeting the needs of our clients. Going forward, the focus will be on organic growth, growing our team in strategically important areas and doing a
really good job for clients.
“Then a little bit further down the line we’ll be thinking about potential acquisitions and partnerships because that’s worked really well for us in the past."
A key area the company is looking to push into will be across the pond.
He added: “Our biggest growth over the next few years will come from the US market. There is a gap in the media agency market for two big things; the ability and depth of knowledge to make TV and print media really work for digital
brands, and the ability to offer those services internationally.”
2. Chartway Group
It is perhaps little wonder that a company riding the wave of an enormous demand for housing figures is so high in this year’s list.
But the scale of growth for the Chartway Group in its relatively short life has been remarkable.
From working from his home when he first launched the firm, chief executive Ian Savage now presides over a company employing some 200 people and delivering an annual turnover of £90million.
With social housing as its core driver, the company with its headquarters in Coxheath, near Maidstone, is now looking at consolidating its position in the marketplace.
Mr Savage explains: “Turnover for the end of our financial year in May is around the £90m mark and next year we’re looking at that being closer to £100m.
“But we’re not looking to expand a lot more - it’s more about consolidation. We’re 10 years old next year and we’ve made some solid growth over that time.”
It has partnered with a number of housing associations and over the last year has built in excess of 500 houses – 90% of which will be affordable.
“We’ve tied up some fairly significant deals which will underpin the business for the next few years.
“We’ve worked really hard on building the team here and empowering our people to provide a one-stop service for housing associations. We’re involved in land acquisition, planning, construction of the schemes, sales and after-sales service as well."
Despite its growth, the firm has been cautious about expanding too far too fast.
“If you go too far,” says Mr Savage, “you can lose control very quickly.”
'Turnover for the end of our financial year in May is around the £90m mark and next year we’re looking at that being closer to £100m.'
Content to stay within the county’s borders, it is convinced the county remains the place to be. The CEO adds: “Kent is a very attractive market for housing and is one of the most affordable home counties but with good transport links to London. It ticks
all the boxes. We know the local authorities and the various people involved.
“We employ more than 200 people now and around 95% are from Kent.”
The company’s growth may have been fuelled by the need for housing, but it has spent 10 years in uncertain times. Brexit will present its own unique, and unknown, challenges.
But Chartway has got used to difficult times.
Explains Mr Savage: “We started in a recession in May 2009 and I thought we were going to come out a bit quicker.
“Although there has been steady growth, which has been great, it has always been an uncertain market.
“There’s much more of a push now towards genuinely affordable housing - housing for people who need it most.’’
3. Priority Freight
Flying high this year in the list is probably an apt description for a logistics company which has tapped into a lucrative niche market.
Priority Freight, based in Dover, sets out to provide the fastest, most cost-effective and reliable door-to-door logistic solutions – often in emergency and crisis scenarios.
By using road and air freight, it believes it has the flexibility to respond unlike many of its bigger competitors to the ever evolving needs of its growing client book.
The figures certainly back that up with growth coming from its exploitation of opportunities in mainland Europe.
Explains Neal Williams, group managing director: “Our overseas growth has continued at a great pace. Last year we had total group sales of more than £66million and for 2018 we’re on target for £85m. We’ve managed to really push the growth of the business and that’s coming from our existing and new customers we’re building on in Europe. We’re really quite excited about the opportunities.”
A key area of growth has been within the automotive sector – exploiting brands’ extensive supply networks to gather new clients. Adds Mr Williams: “We focus very much on time-critical transportation - services in particular for the automotive and aviation sector - and those sectors are growing; they’re sourcing their products globally and assembling and manufacturing globally as well.
“We realised there was a gap in the market to provide these companies with a global time-critical transportation back-up solution as the very largest global logistic companies don’t have that flexibility to provide those services quite so well.
“We’re building our clients and automotive contacts as it allows us to work with so many potential customers.
'We’ve managed to really push the growth of the business and that’s coming from our existing and new customers we’re building on in Europe.'
“You might work with an organisation that supplies 100 different companies which in turn gives you the opportunity to work with all of those other companies.’’
Of course, with Brexit on the horizon, the import and export markets are bracing themselves amid the uncertainty.
"The likelihood is there will be some supply chain disruptions that will require our services, so we may see a brief increase in the number of emergency calls we receive.’’ Mr Williams added.
“If there is disruption at the ports, moving goods in and out of the UK will slow down by road. So it’s likely there will be larger opportunities for the air solutions we provide.
“Because moving parts by air is more costly than road we feel we’ll probably get a short term boost until things resolve themselves.
“We’ll be there to win back a bit of time to keep their supply chains going.”
Now employing more than 200 staff, Priority Freight has offices in Germany, Spain, Poland, three in the UK, and has just opened an outlet in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Brexit, however, is likely to mean more investment in its European sites – Bratislava in particular – than would otherwise have gone into the UK operation.
“There are key things we’re doing. One is increasing our capacity to manage customs clearance fast and effectively. We’re also building our air freight capacity at Heathrow and other airports in the UK and we’re investing more in our European locations which we would probably have invested in our UK operations.”