From humble beginnings more than forty years ago, MJ Abbotts has become one of the leading sportsturf contractors in the UK. With its roots in agriculture, and a team of just five, how did the Wiltshire-based company evolve? Pitchcare talks to Contracts Director Nigel Wyatt
Nigel has played an integral part in the growth of MJ Abbott. This year he will be celebrating his 30th year with the company, beginning as a trainee to Mike Abbott at the tender age of sixteen.
"There have been many milestones in the company's history where decisions have been taken which have shaped our future" said Nigel. "In the early days, our business was centred around agricultural drainage and borehole work within the locality. We've now drilled and maintain more than 400 boreholes making water engineering and abstraction a key area of our business."
"In 1977 we moved from our East Farm site to a 5-acre plot in Dinton, just outside Salisbury. We embarked on the expansion of the existing premises to accommodate purpose-built workshops, offices and stores for equipment and materials. Gaining in workshop space and having talented staff led us to innovate and we began to build our own trenchers to enable us to work on sites where we encountered rock and waste materials. We built them entirely from scratch and currently have six in service.
They were originally built for work on sportsgrounds but are now used at a number of different locations."
The milestone which has helped define the profile of the company as it is today was engineered by exploring the various ways in which their expertise and machinery could be applied to sports turf and amenity land.
In the early 1980s, a request from Avon County Council to assist with the drainage to one of its sports pitches led to the modification of trenching machines to work on turf. The company's engineers fitted a basic soil-loading conveyor to an agricultural machine and it did the job perfectly.
Most of the early sports pitch projects were carried out for local authorities, but word quickly spread and the company were subsequently awarded contracts to rebuild the pitch at the Recreation Ground for Bath Rugby Club, adding an irrigation system along with drainage works and completing other refurbishment projects on behalf of the local authority. Other projects included Swindon FC's County Ground and Bristol City Football Club. Now Abbotts construct and install irrigation and drainage to sports pitches across the country.
Around this period, Dave Thomas Architects suggested MJ Abbott tender for primary drainage works at Bowood Golf & Country Club in Wiltshire. The tender was successful and this relationship, along with Dave Young, Dave Thomas's project Manager at the time, flourished leading to the generation of other work on golf courses where the Abbott's team's extensive knowledge of water engineering led to provision of the design, supply, installation and maintenance of irrigation systems.
The following years saw them truly emerge into the sportsturf sector and begin to work further afield, retained as subcontractors with companies such as Brian D. Pierson Limited and Transcontinental Golf. Whilst working as subcontractors at The Belfry for Dave Thomas, the opportunity arose to take on a larger role in the completion of the PGA Course.
They developed a fruitful working relationship with Greenalls and De Vere over time and, when the refurbishments to the Brabazon Course for the 2001/2002 Ryder Cup came up for tender in 1997, they were successful. This was MJ Abbott's first major golf course project which included irrigation, construction of the tees and greens, upgrading of the drainage and feature moulding for spectators.
Also within this period, they began their relationship with Celtic Manor, thanks to an initial tender for a drainage project. This progressed on to the build of the Wentwood Hill Course and the successful tender for the recently completed Twenty Ten Course for the 2010 Ryder Cup.
2002 saw the company diversify by supplying the landscape and domestic markets with pumping systems, irrigation products and irrigation system design through its sister company, LWS.
Company founder Michael J. Abbott retired in July 2005 but remains as Chairman. Nigel Wyatt maintains that a company is only as good as its employees and that their success must be attributed to them, with committed, experienced and knowledgeable staff at all levels working effectively as a team.
"We have to be highly organised and spend a large amount of time planning and allocating resources. Add inclement weather to this equation and you begin to get an idea of the sheer scale of the task undertaken by Operations Manager, Mick Regan."
The logistics involved in having staff working at multiple sites are astounding. Five project managers oversee 12-15 gangers, with up to five staff in each. These teams are supported by two mobile mechanics, three irrigation support engineers, five contract support staff and fifteen office-based support staff at Dinton. Also based at the main site are three electricians and a comprehensive store which provides professional materials to both the contracts work and the sportsturf market.
The relationship between Abbotts and its clients is of the upmost importance. All work is carried out to the highest standard and no project is completed without the client's absolute satisfaction. They pride themselves on the quality of each and every project they're involved with.
98% of work is carried out in-house and, when the essential components are water, electrics and heavy machinery, Health & Safety is critical.
The company has invested highly in the Construction Skills Certification Scheme training, registration and assessment for all construction staff. But it also recognises that staff welfare doesn't just apply to the working day and that working away from home is a huge commitment for its large workforce.
The company's efforts to make this as palatable as possible by providing good quality accommodation, meals and time off for family commitments has paid off, resulting in a low staff turnover.
The company believes in the continued training and education of its staff in order to raise standards and by supporting education as a whole within the sportsturf industry.
Nigel is Chairman of the Land Drainage Contractors Association and is keen to promote the benefits of its quality standards to the industry and end-users. The company's management team works hard to maintain relationships and build new ones, showing their support for other associations including the BTLIA and EIGCA.
Nigel added: "It is important to us that our clients see the people behind the success. The dedication and hard work of many individuals has transformed MJ Abbott over the years and I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly thank all our staff for their contribution."