Continuing our regular feature focusing on some of the most popular small businesses, we take a closer look at fit out specialists.
What do fit out specialists do?
Fit out contractors tend to work in office, retail, hospitality or industrial sectors transforming offices, shops hotels and warehouses.
Fit out specialists can be brought in during the creation of a building to provide the interior finishes or can be hired to renovate an existing building. The work covers everything from large projects like new hotels to smaller one off installations.
Work can be carried out before a new resident enters the building and even while the building is occupied, depending on the size and complexity of the project.
It can include fine tuning premises through removing walls, installing new lighting, adding new rooms and decorative touches, to bigger projects such as whole floor transformations, new heating and cooling systems, and even adding new floors.
People working in fit out firms tend to have a background in areas like construction, civil engineering or design. They will have usually qualified in one of these fields and have experience working for a larger contractor.
As it covers a range of skills, those getting into the industry could be qualified in a range of areas from architecture and quantity surveying to plumbing and interior design.
But any small fit out firm will need to be able to provide the full range of services to their clients, or at least know sub-contractors they are happy to use for specialist projects.
Many specialise in specific sectors – office, retail, industrial, sustainability etc – so gaining knowledge of your chosen area is key to being a successful fit out specialist.
The rise and fall of the fit out sector relies very much on overall construction figures. If the economy is performing well and new projects are being green lit, eventually fit out firms will need to be brought in. But factors like Brexit have led to a temporary slowdown in large construction project – especially offices – which is having a knock on effect.
As many fit out firms don’t have the full range of contractors needed for a project in their team, they are reliant on bringing in sub-contractors. At the moment, the cost of these sub-contractors is rising, adding to the cost of projects.
As many fit out projects are refurbishments of existing buildings, firms are faced with a number of challenges. These include transforming and dealing with previous firms’ work, and possibly working around people who are based in the building.
These can add unpredictability to jobs as problems can remain hidden while costing a job. It can mean that fit out firms have to either be prepared to take a hit when working on fixed cost contracts or that they need to be able to prepare clients for unexpected costs.
Changes and trends in how people use commercial buildings can also affect fit out firms. The move from cubicles to open plan meant the demand for office renovations rose. And as many firms are now looking to rationalise their property portfolio, it means fit out firms could be more in demand as even a downsizing project will need a new fit out.
As you’re effectively working within the construction sector you’re faced with the issues that provides – sometimes dangerous working conditions, long hours as you work around other people’s working hours, and lots of travel to projects across the country.
And there is the fact that often fit out is brought in towards the end of a project. You’re often constrained in what you can – or are allowed – to do, meaning creative freedom can be constrained slightly.
• Commercial offices constitute the largest market for interior refurbishment and fit-out, according to AMA Research.
• More than a quarter (27%) of projects are focused on Central London.
• The interior refurbishment and fit-out market in the UK was worth an estimated £7.1bn in 2013
• The market is estimated to have seen substantial growth of 8% per annum in 2014 and 2015.
Case study: A Principled approach to fit out
While much of the fit out world is about transforming the bones of a work space, what’s on the surface also plays a large part.
Fit-out firm Principle was tasked with reflecting ITG’s unique corporate branding style in its project in London.
It managed this through using large-scale data visualisation art installations throughout the building. These pieces were based on Principle’s research to communicate ITG’s corporate message.
The graphics were initially installed at ITG’s New York headquarters but were also chosen for the interior fit-out project in London.
One of the large installations was a huge illuminated word wall. This involved taking the concept created by ITG’s brand guardian Landor and turning it into a form that was ready to be manufactured.
Their innovative approach didn’t stop there – they used a material never used before in such an installation to provide a stylish and durable piece of office art that is guaranteed to have a longer life than if it had been constructed using a more traditional approach.
It shows that you don’t have to throw money at a project to provide something unique and innovative.