Until we were sat chatting with Skansen Group Chief Executive Ian Pigden-Bennett and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatam, we had no idea where the name of the business originated. Okay, we could have guessed that it was of Scandinavian origin (that clearly doesn’t take a mastermind!) and maybe that it was Swedish and linked with Stockholm, but we wouldn’t have got any further than that.
‘The name actually comes from the owner’s favourite childhood place – Skansen Zoo in Stockholm,’ Ian informs us. For those (like us) who don’t know, Skansen was the first open-air museum and zoo in Sweden and is located on the island Djurgården in Stockholm.
The Skansen that we are really interested in right now though is an interior construction company that aims to set new standards in the high-quality refurbishment and fit-out of commercial properties.
As a leading office fit-out contractor and Design & Build company in London, Skansen is dedicated to creating outstanding working environments that inspire motivation, creativity and confidence in its clients and employees – and, as an award winning fit-out company, we want to know more about not just the business, but the people behind it.
As Group Chief Executive, Ian Pigden-Bennett is responsible for driving the vision of the business and achieving sustained growth. His background and experience is in both large corporate FTSE 100 businesses and in mid-market Private Equity backed businesses working within consultancy, construction, engineering and support services sectors.
Mark Tatam has over 25 years’ experience in the construction industry with a successful track record of both refurbishment and fit-out projects. He has a very good understanding of all aspects of the industry and by focusing on and exceeding client expectations, is also able to take pride in securing repeat business opportunities on a consistent basis.
‘Skansen was founded in 2001,’ Ian tells us. ‘We have a Swedish heritage and the company went on to do really well until around 2010 – at the end of the recession – when it had a bit of rough time. I came in as Chief Exec in 2014 to restructure and rebuild the business.
‘What Skansen is known for in the UK is largely traditional work but, along the way, did a lot of work towards sustainability and is actually the founder of the SKA rating – an environmental assessment tool for sustainable fit-outs. That is very much part of our DNA and is critical to our heritage and for us going forward with sustainable projects for our clients.
‘When we started to turn the business around and got it heading in the right direction again, we looked to enter into some new markets – predominantly Design & Build – and this is where Mark came in with his real skill of running such a business. We also started up a Mechanical & Electrical business – so we were in charge of our own destiny and offered a unique selling point.
‘So now as Skansen Group we offer Skansen – traditional, Skapare (Swedish for Creator) – Design & Build, Dalen (Swedish for Valley) – our in-house sustainability assessment and consultancy business and Teknik Solutions (Swedish for Engineering Solutions) – our own in-house design and delivery of Mechanical & Electrical solutions – which all hooks into the brand and heritage of the group. That has all worked very well.
‘We’ve won some very good D&B projects – some of which we’ll be entering into the Mixology awards!
‘The business started well last year but we did experience procrastination in decision making as we approached Brexit. It felt as though a lot of our clients who had international presence or larger investment funds took a deep breath before committing. Then, after Brexit, I remember there was a deathly silence in London. I think the timing of it really did impact – we saw huge delays as the aftershock rolled into the summer holiday season. We saw jobs that we were told were going to be awarded put on hold until September.
‘It did have an immediate effect on us – but the vast majority of those jobs hadn’t gone away, they’d just been put on hold. We lost three or four months of procurement initially, but that’s now catching up.’
“The design capabilities of most of the leading D&B firms are now equal to those of a lot of the architects – if not better. Firms like ourselves attract great talent as they get to be hands-on with major projects.”
‘Out of eight or nine jobs we were negotiating, there were only a few jobs that didn’t happen,’ Mark admits, ‘but the other five or six did go ahead.’
‘I’d say it’s a fairly buoyant market with just a touch of hesitancy right now,’ Ian adds.
Without wishing to disagree with our gracious, open and honest hosts, we’re not sure every business feels that way right now. The Skansen model is clearly an attractive proposition for prospective clients. ‘As Ian has already said, we are able to produce a tailor-made package, depending on what the client wants to do,’ Mark considers. ‘I think D&B as a phrase has morphed, depending on who you’re talking to. I’ve been in D&B since 1991 – so a long time now – and it very much was what it said; you took the project from cradle to grave. D&B today can be much more project management and architect led – and to a certain degree is then often thrown into the contractor’s lap with all the risk attached!
‘From the pure end user’s point of view we’re very happy to say that we design and build. We have our in-house design team, so we have the option to work alongside others or do the entire design package in-house.
‘The design capabilities of most of the leading D&B firms are now equal to those of a lot of the architects – if not better. Firms like ourselves attract great talent as they get to be hands-on with major projects. As an example, one of our talented designers, who is now part of our team, was working with one of the major architects and initially did not join us – some months later we had a drink and she said that all she’d been doing for the last six months was detailing small areas – the rest is history!
‘The D&B world has certainly moved on massively.’
How much of an impact does the addition of the M&E division have on the group’s offering? ‘It’s a huge USP for me – nobody else is really doing it,’ Mark enthuses. ‘It almost harks back to D&B in the 1990’s when firms would say that they have in-house design and clients were a bit skeptical.
‘Having the in-house M&E has been a real job winner. The biggest issues that you generally have with any fit-out project is with the M&E and we’re able to respond and react immediately and with complete confidence in our team.’
“The biggest issues that you generally have with any fit-out project is with the M&E and we’re able to respond and react immediately and with complete confidence in our team.”
‘It makes us even more sustainable, more efficient and more cost-effective,’ Ian continues. ‘We do a lot more value engineering – and this certainly gives us much more of a competitive edge.’
So, what are the major challenges facing the modern, leading D&B firm? ‘I think what has crept into D&B is the arrival of unqualified consultants that now try to ‘sit inbetween’ the D&B firms and the client,’ Mark reveals. ‘There is a type of consultant who lets the D&B business do all the work – exactly as they would have done if the D&B company was left to their own devices. They are there to give the client comfort, but to be honest, they’re not really offering real value – I think this is the biggest issue we’ve got in this market. They’re simply trying to facilitate the D&B experience but adding very little.’
Before we say our farewells, we ask our hosts where they see both the business and the market heading in the next 12-24 months. ‘I can see continued growth in the market – both in the traditional and D&B/turnkey marketplace,’ Ian tells us. ‘For us as a business, we’re seeing some of our work coming from outside of London now. Whereas we used to be almost exclusively central London, we now see London as being anywhere inside the M25 and we’re also seeing much more work in the towns outside of there – anywhere from the A3 round to the M40.’
‘We have seen projects emerging in other areas and the work might be out there, but it is still generated by London-based property companies,’ Mark adds. ‘If you talk to investment agents at the moment, there’s a real lack of deals being done. There’s quite a lot of stock that’s come to the market in the City in the last couple of years that’s still not full, therefore people aren’t spending as much on speculative work.
‘Over those past few years there hasn’t been a lot of speculative work done out in the regions. That stock is now getting tired and needs refreshing. They desperately need to do something to let it.’
We know a firm who can help with that!