Published: 11:59, 01 November 2015
The MegaGrowth 50 table lists Kent’s fastest-growing privately-owned companies.
It judges this by measuring growth in revenues over the last four years.
Companies must have a minimum turnover of £1 million.
The figures have been taken from accounts filed to Companies House and those submitted to Kent Business by firms themselves.
Reliable Contractors, Margate
As Usain Bolt made it into the record books inside the Olympic Stadium at London 2012, Brian Greene of Reliable Contractors was preparing to set some benchmarks of his own.
His recruitment firm, which supplies civil and rail engineering staff, has enjoyed its biggest ever years of growth thanks to long-term work on sites like the Olympic Park.
The firm was one of the main suppliers for the site in Stratford, first providing labour in 2007 for a contract which only came to an end last year once legacy works had been completed.
Today the firm is one of the main labour suppliers for Crossrail and also for renovations of Victoria station and Tottenham Court Road.
Director Brian Greene said: “We have been fortunate to have the two biggest infrastructure projects in Europe in quick succession – the Olympic Park and Crossrail.
“A lot of businesses are coming to this country from Spain, France, Germany and now China trying to tender for work. It’s the place to be.”
Reliable Contractors was launched more than 40 years ago by Brian’s semi-retired father Patrick, 72.
Although it has been through several office moves, the firm has always been based in Thanet and houses a dozen office staff at its Margate head office.
They help manage nearly 500 engineering staff on the firm’s books, working on long-term projects like the Channel Tunnel Rail Link between Ashford and London St Pancras, where the firm was heavily involved.
Brian admits the company’s fortunes have been closely linked to the renewed fervour for development in the capital.
“A lot of businesses are coming to this country from Spain, France, Germany and now China trying to tender for work. It’s the place to be...” - Brian Green, Reliable Contractors
Turnover of £3.1 million in 2010 transformed into revenues of £18.5 million last year, prompting it to open its first Manchester office in June – another city with large development aspirations.
Brian sees HS2 as “the big one” in terms of future contracts and he wants to supply staff for the Thames Tideway Tunnel project, the new super sewer under London.
However, he says there will also be opportunities in Kent, like the construction of London Paramount and infrastructure works from building a garden city in Ebbsfleet.
However, with Chancellor George Osborne doing his best to attract investment from China and beyond, winning work is not going to be straightforward.
“That does throw up some challenges,” said Brian, 44, who lives in Broadstairs. “The challenge when other companies buy work on big projects is when they decide everything has to be cost-driven down the chain to improve profits. We don’t want that.
“We are one of the main training providers on the sites where we’re working. Upskilling the workforce is very important and that is how we get longevity on projects. We don’t want works to be purely about costs. There is a huge shortage of trade people and we need an emphasis on training and apprenticeships.”
Chartway Group, Coxheath, Maidstone
After a record-breaking top spot last year, bosses at house builder Chartway are still over the moon to have been named runner-up in this year’s MegaGrowth 50.
Its winning turnover increase of 1,302.9% in 2014 was never going to be repeated but a successful move into private sales from its traditional housing association contracts has kept revenues rising.
The company, based in Coxheath, Maidstone, shows no sign of letting up, having just signed off audited accounts for turnover of £33 million this year, up from £22 million.
It expects revenues to break the £40 million mark in 2016, making Chartway a likely MegaGrowth fixture for years to come.
“Overall business is good,” said founder and managing director Ian Savage, ever the master of understatement.
“Winning the work is not a problem. The market has changed a lot.
“The challenge now is about delivery, with the housing market having picked up everywhere. It is about making sure the resources are there to continue to build.”
Today the firm directly employs 104 people, up from 86 a year ago. It is working on more than 350 homes in Kent, both for housing associations and private sale under its new Westerhill Homes brand.
The firm has come a long way since it was set up in Mr Savage’s home in Sutton Valence, where he lives with his wife and two boys.
He and business partner Philip Cunningham, a lawyer at Tunbridge Wells-based Cripps, both remortgaged their homes to get the business off the ground.
“I managed to convince him to put some money in,” said Mr Savage. “It was a very shrewd move on his part, or so I keep telling him.”
However, some challenges still lay ahead for the firm, particularly local politics on where to build housing.
Director Stuart Mitchell said: “If you are doing brownfield development you would think that would be well received.
“But even when we do that for affordable housing, we don’t always get the political support you think you would do.”
RIFT Group, Ashford
Jan Post set up RIFT in 1999 to help Channel Tunnel workers claim back tax relief.
After many successful years, helping 35,000 clients, the entrepreneur has led a fruitful diversification drive at her Ashford-based firm.
This prompted the huge growth which has given RIFT the bronze medal in this year’s MegaGrowth 50.
Its new ventures have taken it into will-writing, accounting and offering help claiming research and development tax credits.
“As a company we are very keyed into what small businesses are looking for,” said founder and managing director Ms Post, who lives in Kennington.
“We major on our good relationship with HMRC which we have built up over a number of years..." - Jan Post, RIFT Group
“Everyone is after the same thing. They want good advice, a realistic price and to be able to grow and become successful. That underlines everything we do.
“We have to get that trust, otherwise companies won’t let us do any tax work for them.”
RIFT is notable for its triumvirate of female bosses, with marketing director Jane Doherty and accounting-arm managing director Jane Ollis completing the team.
Ms Post’s son Bradley is sales and marketing director.
It employs nearly 150 people, up from about 50 just three years ago.
Ms Post caught the business bug young, watching her father run Hellery and Lane estate agency in Ashford for 30 years. She sold the business to Mann & Co after he passed away in the 1980s.
RIFT’s growth was recognised at this year’s KEiBAs, winning the Customer Service and Commitment Award.
Ms Post said: “We major on our good relationship with HMRC which we have built up over a number of years.
“We have worked very hard at that and now we are very knowledgeable about how the Revenue works.”
Childrensalon, Tunbridge Wells
The runner-up in last year’s list has ranked highly again thanks to the growing overseas customer base for its designer childrenswear. It has twinned the appeal of its long-standing Tunbridge Wells store with a slick online operation stocking famous brands like Gucci, Burberry and Fendi. Especially popular in Arabic countries, bosses say the company’s success is due to unparalleled customer service.
Dovetail Games, Chatham
Established in 2008, this video games developer has made headlines this year with visits from David Cameron and a KEiBA trophy for being the county’s best technology business. Formerly known as Railsimulator.com, it has become one of the UK’s fastest-growing computer game makers branching out into fishing and flight simulation. Its chief executive Paul Jackson is chairman of the Medway Innovation Board.
Priority Freight, Dover
This logistics business manages air, road and sea cargo transfers for car manufacturers, global airlines and pharmaceutical giants. Its managing director Neal Williams has been vocal in the campaign to find solutions to Operation Stack but the disruption has not held up this company’s growth. Its success has led to the announcement last month it is ramping up its operations in Poland.
Cooper Estates, Longfield
The property investment and development company, founded in 1933, prides itself on a long-term approach to real estate. It has invested in sites across the UK, often holding and then bringing forward land and commercial property for development. It also forward funds sites and conducts joint ventures, as well as investing in long-term promotion and development projects.
Bower Contracting, Aylesford
Established in 2003, this construction company, known as BCL, began as a specialist civil engineering contractor. Today it offers a range of groundworks covering earthworks, infrastructure, drainage and substructure development. However, it is in demolition where the company has seen huge growth, securing a package of contracts in 2012 and setting up a dedicated team on the back of 18 months of successful sub-contracting.
Founded in 2004, the winner of MegaGrowth 2013 is one of the UK’s leading installers of solid wall insulation. The firm, which employs more than 50 staff and over 350 trained operatives, has benefited from a Government drive to increase energy efficiency in new homes. It has installed more than a million sq m of external wall insulation for housing associations, local authorities and large building and energy contractors.
Universal Meats (UK), Sevenoaks
Initially focused on meat imports, this business has grown into a group of companies with a turnover of more than £100 million. It imports raw and processed poultry, beef, lamb, pork, tuna and pastry products, mainly from South America, the Far East and Europe. It keeps up to £12 million of stock in cold storage. It also exports to European and eastern block countries.
Avalon Aero, Westerham
This business has been serving the aviation industry since the turn of the millennium. Based at Biggin Hill Airport they specialise in aircraft maintenance and ensuring the continued airworthiness of prestigious aircrafts. They also provide round-the-clock corporate jet parking, with both short and long-term secure hangars and aircraft parking. It also has maintenance facilities at London and Cranfield Airport, Bedfordshire.
Sparshatts of Kent, Sittingbourne
The first of four motor dealerships to make it into this year’s MegaGrowth 50, this Mercedes-Benz specialist sells new and used trucks and vans as well as servicing and repairing commercial vehicles. The group is spread throughout Kent, with sites in Ashford, Dartford, Sittingbourne and Tonbridge. The company was named Truck Dealer of the Year in 2014.
M3 Solutions, Folkestone
With the economy picking up, companies have carried out those long-overdue office revamps, much to the benefit of M3 Solutions. However the interior design firm has many more strings to its bow, installing solar panels, energy-efficient LED lighting and construction project management. About 70% of refurbishment projects are completed while clients remain in occupation, which has given it a customer base across the UK. It also works on railway infrastructure.
Founded in 2010, this firm is an importer, distributor and wholesaler of fresh fruit, salads and vegetables. It has found success by owning large parts of its supply chain, reducing costs with growing and production sites across the world. It has a close relationships with growers to ensure food is of high quality and reasonably priced for their customers.
Silverstar Foods, Cranbrook
This food supplies company sells to chefs and retailers across the UK. Its Turners Fine Foods brand is a £40m business supplying cheese, charcuterie and deli to hoteliers, caterers and retailers. The firm, founded in 1995, merged with Coastline Produce this year, establishing a business which employs 500 people and is set to create more than 100 new jobs between its bases in Dorset, Kent and Lancashire in the next two years.
Crown Products (Kent), Herne Bay
This family-owned kitchen seller, trading under the Crown Imperial name, has been a regular in recent MegaGrowth lists. It launched in 1946 and came to Herne Bay in 1959, where it has a showroom featuring more than 80 displays. It also sells living and bedroom items, having come a long way from its beginnings making children’s toys and furniture for the government.
Bapchild Motoring World, Canterbury
Trading as the Big Motoring World Group, Bapchild is the largest independent used BMW dealer in the UK, recently named Independent Used Car Retailer of the Year at the Motor Trader Awards. The firm specialises in used BMW and Mercedes-Benz and in August it revealed plans to create more than 300 jobs in Kent in four years. It sold a record number of cars in consecutive months this year and plans to expand its apprenticeship scheme.
Futures for Children, Maidstone
This company provides fostering placements for children and young people who have experienced trauma in their lives. Its first office opened in Maidstone in 1999 and it has since grown to run seven sites across the UK. It has contracts with local authorities across the country where it matches vulnerable children with foster parents.
When recruitment firms succeed, it is usually a sign of an improving economy. Rising two places this year, this firm forged a niche in supplying skilled technical IT workers since it launched in 1985. It has since diversified into accounting, public relations, recruitment and resourcing. It has expanded into London and serves many FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies.
Highway Care, Detling
This manufacturer of road safety equipment and crash barriers was named the top firm in Kent for export sales in last year’s MegaGrowth 50. This time around its international success has earned it a place in the main turnover list and a return to the export table as well, once again reaching the top spot. Its growth has been largely down to its portable steel barriers, snapped up by firms around the world.
Leyton Healthcare Group, Ramsgate
Entering the MegaGrowth list in its first year of eligibility since launching in 2011, Leyton Healthcare has 31 care homes across England and Wales. Its homes provide specialist care and safe, high-quality accommodation for more than 1,500 people. Residents have a range of needs, and include the elderly, people with dementia or Alzheimer’s, young people with disabilities, and elderly who need nursing care.
FC Stark, Fawkham
Part of the Billings Group of companies, this property and development firm has more than 75 years experience in the industry. It is family owned and run and has developed many landmarks from sports halls to hospices, nurseries to nursing homes. The firm also has a large investment portfolio, ranging from purpose-built apartment blocks to modern care centres across the South.
This multi-award winning textile supplier has established a range of customers from multiple retailers, independents, market traders and overseas firms.
Established in 2008, it is an ethically-sound distributor of textiles to international markets with its own production facility in Bangladesh.
It won Business of the Year at the 2013 Medway Business Awards and was named SME Business of the Year at KEiBA 2014.
Motorline Holdings, Canterbury
The last 18 months has seen huge growth at this family-owned car dealership group, which represents 10 manufacturers at sites across Kent, the South East, South West and Wales. Founded in 1972, the firm has acquired and turned around a number of failing dealerships in recent years and invested in existing premises. It has the only Maserati dealership in the county.
A multi-discipline subsea engineering and training firm, Jee has completed more than 1,500 engineering projects since founder Trevor Jee established the company in 1988. The business works in all aspects of underwater projects, from concept through to installation and decommissioning. Clients include major names like BP, ExxonMobil, Centrica, Total and Shell.
Netbox Digital, Rochester
Ranking high in the MegaGrowth turnover list for three consecutive years, Netbox has benefited from a growing number of small and medium sized firms looking for office copy, print and scan solutions, as well as IT services. It has a client base across the country and has forged partnerships with global leaders, allowing it to provide the latest technology at the lowest cost.
Gilray Plant, Erith
Established in 1970, this firm has been supplying the construction industry with scaffolding products for nearly half a century. In the teeth of the 2008 recession, managing director Ralph Wilson expanded the firm’s operation into manufacturing BSI Kitemarked scaffold boards, a move that has proved far-sighted and fruitful. It supplies mainly Kent, London and the South East from its three-acre base.
Architectural Decorators, Sidcup
As part of the AD Construction Group, this firm provides building maintenance and contractor expertise. Set-up in 1944, it carries out a complete range of decorating, building and repair work, together with extensive renovations and refurbishment projects. A good indication of its customer satisfaction is the fact 95% of the works on its order books is with previous and regular clients.
Fundraising Innovations, Maidstone
The firm behind the energyhelpline.com brand is an independent price comparison service offering customers free advice on the best gas and electricity deals. Its website and call support system gives many households and businesses a way of finding better energy packages and paying lower bills. Founded in 2002, the firm has benefited from political efforts to make it easier for consumers to switch suppliers.
DMA Group, Gillingham
This mechanical and electrical engineering firm was born from Denne, founded by George Henry Denne in 1803. It provides building services at any stage of the construction cycle having delivered projects to more than 1,000 building owners. Its expertise covers mechanical and electrical, air conditioning and refrigeration, energy performance and management, and soft service facilities solutions.
JM Recruitment, Sittingbourne
Founded in 2004 by Mike and Karen Bailey, JM Recruitment hires people in a range of sectors, including industrial, farming, construction, hospitality, transport and administration. With a wide variety of clients in Kent, it works in both permanent and temporary recruitment. It is the recruitment partner of Kent County Cricket Club and is accredited by various industry bodies.
Aston Scott, West Malling
This insurance broker underwent a management buyout earlier this year backed by private equity firm Bowmark Capital. It employs nearly 250 staff and operates from 12 offices around the UK. It looks after corporate, private and small business clients and puts its success down to a combination of organic growth, intelligent diversification and strategic acquisition.
Classic Filters, Strood
This manufacturer, established in 2001, makes filters for a range of industries and applications. Its products have been used in industrial processing, cement plants, steel manufacturing and automotive testing but also in brewing, food processing and paper making. They have clients in nearly 40 countries, built on a customer-led ethos and a high level of customer service.
TCS Screeding, Hextable
Formed in 2004, the firm is one of the largest floor screed and underfloor heating specialists in the UK. Its main work is in commercial and residential developments, where it applies a variety of different screeds – the mix of cement and sand applied onto concrete ground floors. However it has also carried out projects for the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice, at airports and in rail works.
MJ Allen - ENC, Ashford
Part of the MJ Allen Group of engineering companies founded in 1958, the division looks after the precision machining of the group’s iron, aluminium and bronze castings, as well as providing a comprehensive sub-contract machining facility. Its CNC (computer numerical control) machinery is used by a variety of manufacturers.
Take 1 Script Services, Cranbrook
This firm provides digital transcription, translation and subtitling services to major TV and broadcast companies around the globe. It processes thousands of media files every week via the internet. Although its head office is in Kent, it has international offices in Santiago, Los Angeles and New York. Clients include Discovery Channel, BBC, National Geographic, ITV, Sky and Endemol.
GPS Marine Holdings, Chatham
Operating for over 50 years serving the maritime industry, this company has expanded its activities and is now functioning throughout Europe. It specialises in marine civil engineering and construction, as well as dredging and hydrographic surveying, plus offshore demolition and salvage and wreck removal. It aims to provide clients with safe, innovative and environmentally-friendly solutions on time and within budget.
G.H. Dean & Co, Sittingbourne
This private farming business has continued to grow since it was founded in 1922. The business farms 1,200 hectares of cereals and keeps 2,500 breeding sheep on grassland of environmental importance in the Swale Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest. It supplies apples, cherries, pears and plums to major supermarkets as well as local farm shops and stalls, all with the Red Tractor logo.
1st Step Solutions, Dartford
Established in 2004 by experienced recruitment professionals, this firm provides staff to the building services, construction, rail and civil engineering industries. Its clients include multimillion pound national and international contractors. Its recruitment professionals help candidates to find their ideal role, with a focus on delivering quality at a competitive price.
R.J. Holland, Swanley
After starting business in 1948, this building contractor manages every aspect of projects. It has built residential sites in Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells, Oxfordshire and Camden but also worked on high-profile commercial projects like maintenance of the Savoy Hotel and Intercontinental Hotel in London plus the refurbishing of buildings internally and externally in Cannon Street.
This traditional construction, refurbishment and fit-out contractor carries out projects worth up to £6 million for both the public and private sectors. Its portfolio includes heritage and conservation works as well as educational projects, commercial fit-out, new build and private residential refurbishment and development throughout London and the South East. Once again making the MegaGrowth list, the firm has an 80% repeat business rate.
East West Ales, Paddock Wood
This cask ale wholesaler has seen its revenues soar as pub goers have grown a taste for niche ales. The firm is the purchaser for JD Wetherspoon and has become the place to go for independent brewers looking to broaden awareness of their local ales. Founded in 1991, the company supplies a wide range of beers and alcoholic beverages from independent brewers to pubs and beer festivals.
CSS Environmental, Strood
This refrigeration, air conditioning and electrical engineering business looks after clients like Swallow Hotels and Greene King. It works across London and the South East, installing electrical products, as well as retail shopfitting and interior refurbishments. The business also carries out maintenance, repair and servicing for electrical installations.
Founded in 1954 by Bill Hidson, the father of today’s managing director Nigel, this car dealership represents Citroen, Kia, SEAT and Vauxhall. The family firm, which has sites in Northfleet and Rainham, stocks more than 300 used cars, which remains the cornerstone of the business. It also carries out services and repairs for customers.
MC Personnel, Gillingham
Established in 1998 by Melanie Maynard and Claire Robson, this recruitment agency specialises in industrial, engineering, catering, office and driving sectors. Having opened a new Ashford branch earlier this month, adding to its other Gravesend office, it is yet another successful recruitment firm in the MegaGrowth 50 list as more and more companies hire staff.
Cook Trading, Sittingbourne
This family-owned frozen meals business began in 1997. Set up by friends Edward Perry and Dale Penfold, it has grown to have more than 300 customers and 400 employees, with more than 60 shops across the UK and a growing online delivery service. The firm became a Living Wage employer this year and joined the B Corps movement, a new type of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.
Diamond Point International (Europe), Strood
Founded in 1983, Diamond Point is a market leader in the distribution of embedded and industrial computers. In recent years the company has begun to design its own products, increasing on profit margins and security in the markets it serves. Its clients include Thales Defence, Selex, London Underground and Network Rail.
Otford Builders Merchants, Otford
Since trading commenced in 1972, this family-run company has become one of the largest independent builders merchants in the South of England. It supplies branded and high-quality products like bricks and blocks, landscaping, timber, plumbing, hardware and decorating materials. With another base in Ashford, it serves both the trade and private individuals.
MKE Engineering, Sittingbourne
Mid Kent Electrical Engineering began life in 1955 as a family-run business repairing electric motors. Fast forward a little over half a century and the company has grown to become the largest independent engineering organisation of its kind in the South East, operating from three sites employing over 100 people. They have an aging workforce but began an apprentice recruitment drive five years ago to ensure the business is still in a good place in 10 years time.
Avondale Environmental Services, Chatham
Established in 1992 as an arboricultural company – managing and studying trees, shrubs, vines – the firm’s core business for its first eight years was grounds maintenance and tree works for local authorities and housing associations. Today, under founder and managing director Andrew Back, it provides a range of land and vegetation management solutions and work for a number of high risk industries such as rail, construction and highways.