ABDA anniversary prompts expansion

ABDA High Res 103 crop
The ABDA team, led by MD, David Summers (seventh from right).

The future is very positive for Northampton-based ABDA Creative Design and Build in a year when the firm is looking back on 20 years in its current format. A doubling office space and an increasingly international remit are all pointing to further success for a company which started life off as Alan Bennett Design Associates.

Originally a consultancy, the owner wanted to retire and in 1995 sold the business to David Summers, who remains MD to this day. The firm began in its current format in 1997, when Summers incorporated the business, just taking the original initials to create ABDA. Therefore with November marking ABDA’s 20th anniversary, Summers reported that the staff will be celebrating with a day out at the Shakespeare Gin Distillery in picturesque Stratford-upon-Avon.

From first specialising in consultancy, the company made the leap into the design and build sector in around 2000. Summers recalled: “In the sectors we were dealing with, we were competing against design and build companies who would do a strong amount of speculative work upfront and it made it quite difficult for us to compete as consultants. So with the demand of clients we became more design and build, specialising in the food and beverage sector.”

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This also meant changing the staff profile, bringing in project managers and an operations team. From a roster of 10 at the time, ABDA now numbers 16 employees.

Over the years ABDA has worked with many different types of operators, from one-off high street outfits to corporate roll outs, staff dining, leisure venues such as museums and safari parks, education – including as a preferred contractor for some universities, and hotels. Summers sees the hotels sector in particular as being strong for the firm, having just finished an outfit for Hilton Hotels in Leeds and another for the same firm underway in Manchester.

He revealed that there has been a deliberate move to cross sectors too: “We have had years when the private education sector has been over 40% of our turnover but we have purposely tried to make sure the business is spread across a number of sectors and not reliant on one, though business and industry is one of our biggest sectors at the moment.”

This strategy is working wonders, as not only has ABDA recently completed prestigious projects for the latest Dinings sushi restaurant outlet in Knightsbridge and at the exclusive Arts Club members club in Mayfair, the firm will also kit out the La Parade restaurant and show kitchen at next year’s Hotelympia exhibition.

As testament to its success, the business is in the process of doubling its office space, which will enable a dedicated area for the design studio and separate areas for the sales, contracts, operations and accounts teams. The plan is to be settled in there for the New Year.

The firm has also recently invested in upgraded IT systems and BIM capabilities. “This means we can integrate easily with the architects within the new build projects we are working on. Hopefully this will become fairly seamless and a good way of tracking integration of different professionals,” said Summers.

Furthermore, he detailed that ABDA is looking at increasing its team with the “right” people, especially in design, project management and estimating. “We are trying to build a dynamic team with up and coming people in the industry,” he reported.

This includes welcoming Stephen Ryan as business development manager at the beginning of this year, along with simultaneously welcoming back Claire Smith as business development manager after an 18-month tenure at CDG. Furthermore, David Hones has just joined from Nelson Catering Equipment as ABDA’s senior catering designer.

To ensure that the design team remains cutting edge, at a weekly meeting they study a new design, whether it’s one they have just completed or reviewing an externally-created foodservice area.

Last year and this year have seen an increase in activity for the distributor, after a plateau following the 2008 recession. And although Summers detailed that some projects were delayed due to the Brexit uncertainty, these are now back in full swing. “At the moment people are still quite positive, now they feel a bit more confident and projects have been released.”

However, he cautioned: “Although it seems quite buoyant, we are sceptical that things may not be so good in a couple of years.”

In terms of working with manufacturers, as a member of the ENSE buying consortium, ABDA tries to support as many ENSE suppliers as possible. Brands including Williams, Precision, Falcon, Charvet, Winterhalter, Meiko and Maidaid are high up on the distributor’s list, with Summers emphasising: “The equipment we specify is always what is right for the project; we won’t compromise the design. We make sure that what we tell the client is correct, not what suits us.”

ABDA is looking further afield too, as it has just picked up prestigious international consultancy work both in Mumbai, India and also for a ship being built in Turkey. Summers reported these contracts were won through word of mouth.

He believes that ABDA’s unique selling points include: “We give good value and provide a full supervisory role for surveys and installations to make sure everything is carried out smoothly. We’ve always prided ourselves on our creativity and our ethos is to push the boundaries, whatever the size of project.

“We try to create foodservice areas which will inspire the chef and the client’s team to make sure they achieve a profitable business.”

Summers reported that operators are now considering sustainability more than ever. “More and more clients are briefing that they want equipment with a 10-year lifecycle. Everyone is very conscious of an era of looking after the planet and making sure they as a business are not deemed as being wasteful. We do a lot of research with our suppliers to make sure that we are performing for clients on a sustainable footing, whether it’s during the installation and our carbon footprint and process, or that of the equipment that we are specifying.”

Looking ahead, he concluded: “We will continue to make sure the creative team is strong. I think our reputation is growing year on year within the industry, and our client base is growing too, allied with that. We anticipate a strong future for ABDA built on our standards of service, creativity and value for money.”

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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