“Whatever our business issue, we know Fortus will have an expert in-house somewhere who can help us" David Dunkley, Director, SoiltechnicsFind out more
Ground investigation experts Soiltechnics have unearthed buried treasure: a 150% boost to turnover in five years. And Fortus have been at the company’s side to help it dig for victory.
When the teenage David Dunkley was working summer jobs with local Northampton firm Soiltechnics, he didn’t imagine a future with the business. And though his degree was in geotechnical engineering, he chose to move to London afterwards.
In 2002, however, he was tempted back when the company was recruiting. “I planned to stay a couple of years, but I’m still here because I found the work so interesting,” says David. “Every site’s different: our projects can range from a small house extension and factories, to roads and 50-storey towers.”
Today, David’s is director and part owner of the firm. And in a further twist he couldn’t have predicted, his responsibilities include oversight of the finance function – a role he was pitched into after the departure of a fellow director and FD.
“I had no formal training in finance – I just picked up the system we had,” David says. “So it was incredibly helpful that we brought Fortus on board at that time. Our advisor, Stephen Watts, has been a constant at our side ever since.”
FROM TARGET TO PLAN
Initially hired to guide the business through a difficult shareholder buyout, Fortus also provided day-to-day accountancy support, guiding Soiltechnics’ transition to new financial software. And David soon began to use Fortus’ expertise to help him plan for the long-term future of the business.
“We had a five-year plan inherited from the previous directors – but it was really a financial target rather than a fully-formed plan,” David says. “Stephen led me through some business development workshops that helped me to think more strategically about the business as a whole, rather than just as a financial model.
For example, we were encouraged to look at de-risking our business to ensure we were doing all we could to protect our long term position which involved restructuring our business.”
From a starting-point of £2million some five years ago, Soiltechnics’ turnover sailed past the £5m mark in 2020 – an impressive milestone given the impact of Covid-19. Income was boosted partly by business from a new Manchester office and winning new work in London, but mainly through quality of service for existing clients, who appreciate the company’s solutions-focused service rather than a ‘tick-box approach’ to soil investigation.
EXPERTS ON TAP
Besides strategic planning, Soiltechnics has called on Fortus’ expertise to tighten and professionalise other parts of the business as it expanded to a 45-strong team.
“We have Fortus on a retainer, which means it’s quite easy to pick up the phone and have a chat with Stephen and the team,” says David. “Whatever our business issue, we know they’ll have an expert in-house somewhere who can help us.”
Soiltechnics benefited from a Fortus tax strategy workshop. This invaluable session enabled the directors to understand the current tax position, both personally and business and then find opportunities that aligned with their goals. As a result many tax savings were delivered including in the directors’ remuneration strategies.
Lacking an in-house HR function, Soiltechnics turns to Fortus to fill this gap too.
“Fortus are now helping us to draw up formal contracts for everybody – until now we’ve only used offer letters, which developed over time and were inconsistent. They’re currently helping us to brush up our shareholders’ agreement too.”
INNOVATION PAYS OFF
Soiltechnics has benefited significantly through R&D innovation tax credits, thanks to Fortus. “When they originally mentioned it, we said, ‘we don’t do R&D’,” David recalls.
“But by this time Fortus knew our business and had the sector expertise to ask the right questions to tease out the R&D activity we were undertaking. They pointed out we’d developed some novel approaches to investigation work – using existing kit in a new way.
Those savings really helped. Fortus’ input brings money and financial security to the company, without our having to go out and earn it.”
INTELLIGENCE THAT COUNTS
David particularly appreciates Stephen’s deep knowledge of the built environment sector, which leads to valuable conversations about the industry’s outlook: “It’s background intelligence that helps our crystal ball-gazing, and it permeates through the rest of our business, informing colleagues’ talks with our clients. Stephen’s very solution focussed and is able to communicate in a way that we understand.”
That will continue to sustain Soiltechnics’ development: “We feel our growth needs to be sustainable, and allow us to weather storms like Covid-19,” says David. “We need to provide a good service all the time, so rapid growth isn’t something we aim for – but in fact our growth in the past few years has been quite fast.”
“We’ve enjoyed working closely with Soiltechnics in many areas since 2014. We were initially engaged to advise them on buying out a shareholder. That negotiation had become protracted: my advice to them, often in late-night phone call, was to do the deal and move on, because their focus on the sale was beginning to affect the business. One of the Directors later said it was the best piece of advice he’d had.
The transaction was successfully completed, with a restructuring facilitated the director’s exit in the most tax-efficient way possible.
“Soiltechnics is a service-driven business. Even though they’ve achieved some fantastic growth in recent years what drives them most is quality and making sure they can offer the right level of attention to their customers. That gives them a sound foundation for their next phase of growth.”
“Fortus’ input has added value to our business in many areas and their proactive nature gives us peace of mind that our affairs are in safe hands which allows us to concentrate on the business"
David Dunkley Soiltechnics