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The real Mackoy

27 Feb 19 The house-building boom has meant rapid growth for one aspiring Hampshire-based groundworks contractor. David Taylor reports

Mike Mayock is a man in a hurry. The company he founded, Mackoy Construction, based in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire, is not yet eight years old but he expects it to turn over £30m this year.

Interviewed just before Christmas, Mayock says he doesn’t know where 2018 went: “I’ve had a bloody busy year,” he says. “We’re so busy – it feels like we’ve been going 20 years, not seven!”

Even before he set the business up, Mayock was acting like his own boss – even when he was on someone else’s books. “I always knew that I would have a fleet of vehicles,” he says. “I had my own name and logo on the side of my van even when I was working for other firms.”

Now, at the age of just 34, he’s turned the business that back then had existed ‘just on paper’ into one of southern England’s fastest-growing groundworks contractors with a fleet of over 40 machines and a staff of 30 people.

Like so many of the people who have shaped the British construction industry over generations, Mayock has his roots in Ireland. Born into a farming family in County Mayo, on Ireland’s west coast, Mayock arrived in England in 1990, age seven, when his father, a “draughtsman and self-taught site engineer” left Ireland in search of work.

While Mayock’s immediate family settled in Torquay, on the south coast, his uncles and cousins continued farming in Ireland and the young Mayock returned frequently, helping out on the farm and on building sites for local residents and other farmers.

“We went back for three months every year after we moved to Torquay to earn money and help out the family we had left behind,” explains Mayock. 

His boyhood experience in the building trade laid the foundations for a career in construction and after leaving school, Mayock went straight out to work ‘on the tools’ for various contractors along the south coast. By this time his family had relocated to Hampshire.

Although a conscientious and reliable employee, Mayock always intended to be his own boss and it was his impatience to achieve this that led him to put the cart before the horse and drive around in his own liveried vehicle even before the business existed.

“I was going to name the business after my first house – Roselands – but in the end I didn’t like the sound of it,” he says. Playing around with his own name, he came up with Mackoy – an anagram of Mayock – which he felt had a certain ring to it.

“I had all this in my mind before I actually went out on my own. The brand was born!” he says.

When he did finally strike out on his own, Mayock simply freelanced for various house-builders, taking on small groundworks and site preparation jobs. He had no equipment of his own, no office set-up and just two or three casual workers he could call on when he needed them.

“Then one day I got a call from Bellway in Newcastle. A local Bellway director that I’d worked for had put a shout in for me,” recalls Mayock. Before he knew it, Bellway was offering him a £750,000 groundworks contract for a 24-unit development in Stubbington.

“Looking back, I can’t really remember how I landed that first job. I suppose I was in the right place at the right time. It was 2011 and house-building was taking off,” he says.

Mayock likes to think it was his honesty and no-nonsense approach that had impressed the man from Bellway. “I don’t like to say ‘no’, but at the same time I never over-promised and I never under-delivered – and there’s a lot of that goes on in this industry,” he explains.

The size of that contract was out of all proportion to what Mayock had anticipated when he started the business less than six months earlier. “That’s when the madness began,” he says. “I had to set up an office in my spare room; I was laying kerbs in the morning, dashing back to do the paperwork in the afternoon and then back out again on site.”

That first year, Mackoy shifted around 100,000 tonnes of earth; the following year (now operating from a proper head office in Chandler’s Ford) the company more than doubled that figure to 250,000 tonnes.

Going from nothing to £750,000-worth of work in its first year stretched Mackoy’s meagre resources to the limit and generated a cashflow crisis. “I had very low credit limits with all my suppliers, which held us back. I had to negotiate cashflow arrangements with my clients,” says Mayock. “It was a bit of a juggling act.”

In 2013 Mackoy landed its first £1m contract, to carry out earthmoving and groundworks on a 35-unit development in Romsey for Barratt Homes. That year it also made its first major investment in earthmoving plant, placing a big order for 14-tonne and 20-tonne Volvo excavators.

“I grew up with Hitachis – everybody in Ireland has them – and my first machines were all Hitachis,” says Mayock. “But I got to know the local Volvo guy and managed to get a roller on demo. I blagged it, really, because I couldn’t afford to buy it,” he adds.

Volvo’s willingness to supply equipment on approval and accept deferred payment was a significant help to Mayock, who says he also appreciated the quality of the equipment as well as the personal service he got from the supplier.

The company has continued to invest in Volvo equipment, although the fleet still incorporates a significant number of Hitachi machines.

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“We have over 40 Volvos and more than 20 Hitachis and between 80 and 90 excavators in total,” says Mayock. The company also has a fleet of around 40 site dumpers, cabbed dumpers (mostly Hydremas) and ADTs.

After evaluating a couple of Volvo ADTs on demonstration last year, Mayock placed an order for one of the machines which is scheduled for delivery this month.  “I’m awaiting revised 2019 prices for two or three more later this year,” he says. “I imagine we’re looking at three- to four-month delivery times.”

This month also sees the arrival of Mackoy’s first screening plant, supplied by McCloskey International.

The house-building boom has ensured that Mackoy has achieved rapid and sustained growth in its short life so far. After Bellway and then Barratt, Mackoy added Cala to its client list in early 2016 with a £3.4m contract for earthmoving and foundations work for 75 new homes at Medstead.

Later that year the company landed its first £5m contract, to deliver the full groundworks infrastructure for 148 new homes for Bellway in Ferndown, east Dorset. Then in 2017 Persimmon chose Mackoy to carry out the groundworks contract for a 120-unit development in Portchester and last year Mackoy carried out its first contract for Redrow.

“Last year we were invoicing £3m to £4m per month. Obviously, December and January are quieter months, but we are on for £30m-plus for Mackoy this financial year,” says Mayock.

Eager to continue this level of growth, Mayock says that he has decided to “up our portfolio”. With its track record in earthmoving, the company is pursuing opportunities for landscaping contracts. “Off the back of the housing, we’re now doing more sports grounds and amenity work,” explains Mayock. Golf courses are another possible source of new work, he says.

Reinforced concrete is a further sector Mayock is keen to develop. “When I was on the tools, I used to do a lot of steel fixing. We have a lot of concrete expertise in the company too,” he explains. Construction director Danny Bowers, who joined Mackoy in late 2016 has “massive” concreting experience, adds Mayock.

The company already carries out concrete foundations work, but Mayock is now branching out into concrete frame construction. “I don’t want to be a jack of all trades, but I do want more than one string to my bow,” he says. “The company is young and the average age of our staff is low – we’re very keen to get on.”

In parallel with his contracting work, Mayock is building up his own development business, Macra (‘acra’ is Gaelic for ‘acres’, he explains), set up two years ago. “We can pick up smaller sites that the likes of Barratt and Bellway wouldn’t look at,” says Mayock. “There are plenty of potential sites for developments of up to 60 units,” he adds.

With the government’s £1bn Home Building Fund, designed to help small to medium-sized builders, being launched only last year, Mayock’s timing appears to be spot-on, though he declares it’s just good luck: “right place, right time” again.

Macra could offer small turnkey housing projects of its own, though another approach might be to acquire the land and complete all the site preparation, including all roads, drainage and infrastructure but not actually build. “We could then offer the site as a blank canvas for other house-builders,” he says.

The house-building boom has provided Mackoy with fertile ground in which to grow and notwithstanding signs of a slow-down in the sector, Mayock is confident of continued growth and prosperity in the foreseeable future. Not even the unfolding drama of Brexit gives him pause:

“There’s so much talk about Brexit but I’m not reading too much into it,” he says. “I’m not worried about Brexit per se. There will be changes, but the work will keep coming. It’ll certainly have an effect but I don’t think it will be as serious or as long-lasting as some people seem to think.”

Not even the worsening skills crisis seems to faze him: “We will be recruiting this year. There’s no skills shortage around here – we get people ringing up all the time looking for work,” he says. As for training: “Two years ago we looked at starting an apprentice scheme. But we’re so busy that we haven’t been able to do it yet.”

The main stumbling block is the lack of space. “We need to sort out a proper HQ to take the apprenticeship scheme forward,” explains Mayock, who recently went to view a large new business unit in Nursling, a few miles outside Southampton. “We are currently looking at potential floor plans for this new unit to make it work for us,” he says.

A busy start to the new year

Mackoy celebrated the New Year by getting stuck into a new groundworks contract for 98 new homes on the North Stoneham Park development in Eastleigh, Hampshire.

This is Mackoy’s second contract on the 1,100-unit North Stoneham Park and comes hard on the heels of the first phase of work, laying the foundations for the site’s first 120 new homes.

This new phase sees Mackoy turn its attention to plots 119 – 177 and 297 – 335, casting the concrete foundations, laying blockwork, installing the beam-and-block flooring and carrying out works including internal and external drainage, paths, patios and driveways.

Ashley Beckett, project director at Highwood Group, says: “The Mackoy team has done a great job on the first phase of work, delivering to a high standard and to schedule. It’s good to have an experienced team on site for the next phase.”

When completed, the 120-acre North Stoneham Park will comprise two-, three- and four-bedroom houses, apartments and associated facilities including a community centre, primary school and retail units.

This article was first published in the February 2019 issue of The Construction Index magazine

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