Avalon - breaking new ground in a ropey business world
Editor, Global Trader magazine
Post date: Monday, 14th May 2012
While David Cameron and Nick Clegg would like to think that the only way is up for British exports, an Essex-based company believes that the only way is down, but in a good way and from a great height.
Avalon has cracked the Middle Eastern market, is up for a top European environmental award and been lauded by the City of London – thanks to one of the most unusual and specialist businesses imaginable.
Founded by Phil Boyce, who is the company MD, Avalon goes where no one has safely gone before with a team of professional abseilers who replace the need for expensive scaffolding on high-rise buildings for all kinds of work.
And so far their Spider-man like exploits have helped complete a whole range of projects including the installation of the lighting, PA and sound systems inside the Velodrome on the Olympic Park and hoisting the world’s largest ever bra, weighing 90 kilos and measuring 31 metres – for breast cancer awareness – from the ITV Southbank building.
Others jobs have garnered prizes, including London’s Sustainable City award, and making the final of the European Business Awards for the Environment, which is being judged in June.
Green technologies have helped boost the business, which has a relatively small management team.
“They come with a wide range of life skills that complement my professional training and ensure that we meet clients’ expectations,” says Phil.
While Avalon has hit the heights in London and the UK, it’s the move into foreign markets, notably in the Middle East, that presents the greatest potential – especially as cheap labour had previously been used, often with fatal consequences.
Untrained workers, tied only to a rope held by colleagues, would clamber down building for either maintenance or cleaning, and as a result deaths were frequent, followed by a paltry compensation payment to the deceased’s family.
Now, though, with health and safety – and more costly law suits – an issue, Middle Eastern countries are turning to Avalon, which has a full-time staff of 65 and last year saw a turnover of £4.2m, to do a proper job, such as sprucing up the new Hotel Missoni in Kuwait ready for its official opening.
It’s been a dizzy rise for Phil Boyce , 43, who is married to Claire – “who tolerates the demands of my business life like a saint” - and has one son, Odin, 10.
And his mum, too, has helped him every step of the way, too, never once advising him to take up something safe like accounting or law.
“She has always been very supportive of me and my brothers and sisters and the careers we have followed. We were encouraged to be ourselves and not allow anything to become an obstacle, and until last year my mum was still running my payroll,” he says.
Before forming Avalon, Phil was involved in surveying St Paul’s Cathedral, painting the QE2 bridge, climbing the flag pole at Windsor Castle to raise the Royal Standard for the wedding of Charles and Camilla and installing CCTV at the Treasury, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
His early childhood was blighted by medical problems, but they only served to spur him on to take up sport enthusiastically from the age of seven.
“I started with swimming and badminton and progressed to sailing and windsurfing at a very high, competitive level,” says Phil, who studied building surveying at South Bank University.
“But due to the recession in the construction market in the late 1980s I moved to Brittany in France to teach sport and soon became an extreme sportsman. As with all dangerous sports, I inevitably started to pick up injuries until finally I punctured both lungs and broke various bones in an accident, after which I felt it was safer to come home.
“I would be lying if I said I had never been in fear of my life. I think I am driven by a form of fear – fear of failure, my ambition is to continue to be successful, and to achieve this you often have to take a step into the unknown.”
Now that Avalon has made it in Kuwait and is looking to break into the UAE and beyond, Phil thinks that the region is crying out for such services.
“We believe that there is a need to bring a safe approach to the construction market in The Gulf States when working at height.
“Our main task for the next 12 months will be to build upon the work we have now started in the Gulf, developing relationships with our Joint Venture partners, grow our customer base and convert some of the many opportunities we have already identified. Not only are we looking at delivering projects in our own right but we intend to offer working at height training to local teams to ensure that proper recognition is given to site health and safety,” says Phil, who was bowled over by the European award.
“It is great recognition of the financial commitment and product development of a unique solution. We are keen to take the process overseas, specifically in Europe, and the public attention this award would generate is a significant boost to our chances of success.”
When Avalon picked up the Sustainable City Award from Lord Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency, at the Mansion House last February, it was in recognition of their innovative approach to insulating high-rise buildings in Camden, a first for the building industry.
The government spends millions a year to insulate high-rise council flats in London to reduce the excessively high heating costs for some of the capital’s poorest residents.
To provide access, scaffolding was the obvious choice, yet is the least green form of access. Thousands of tons of CO2 are generated during the production of the steel scaffold tubes and the heavy lorries required to transport the scaffolding are incredibly environmentally detrimental. It’s also incredibly expensive, dangerous and an open invitation to burglars.
Not only did Avalon’s method appreciably reduce CO2 emissions but also reduced costs by over 40%, which equates to between £1m and £2m for Camden alone providing the best value for local public funds.
Simon Mills, Head of Sustainable Development at the City of London Corporation, said: “Avalon’s achievement is particularly notable as they faced very stiff competition. Green technologies not only offer genuine cost savings, but offer businesses the change to diversify into new products and services that can give them a springboard for rapid growth as the economy thaws.”
And Phil added: “Our process is of benefit to every high-rise household by making it affordable for families to insulate their homes, keeping them warm in the winter and cool in the summer, saving energy and money.
“We are the first in the world to innovate and challenge traditional working methods of delivering such skilled work at height, avoiding the need to use very costly scaffolding or mechanical platforms.
“We are also now writing the training model for colleges to teach these new sustainable building techniques and processes to the next generation of apprentices.
“Our process is faster, safer and much greener. We have proved that complex jobs can be delivered by using ropes and skilled abseiling techniques not only for cavity wall insulation but now for the majority of building trades.
“We have opened up the possibility of a city with no or very little scaffolding obstructing walkways and obscuring the skyline, this will save millions of tons of CO2 emissions and also prevent hundreds of serious accidents and possible deaths associated with scaffolding.
“We are also aware that scaffold is also responsible for significant increases in local theft and vandalism.”
This article first appeared in Global Trader Magazine, Issue 4, Spring 2012. To read the entire publication, click on the ebook.