Thanks to Marianne from the Herald for the article on the growth of Calma Group and to all of our clients for making it possible. ~ Andrew Lafferty
Original article appeared here.
Andrew Lafferty caught the entrepreneurial bug young.
While most of his fellow apprentices stayed on the companies they had trained with, the construction company owner took the plunge into self-employment on the day he qualified – and has never looked back.
“At the age of 16, I was working away from home for weeks, sometimes months at a time,” explains the 35-year-old, originally from Cambuslang. “That taught me life skills and made me independent at a young age. I learned how to solve problems and rely on myself. It stood me in good stead for running a business.”
After building experience as a sole trader – including work on the SSE Hydro in Glasgow – Mr Lafferty expanded from ceilings into partitions and got a taste for negotiating deals, which led to his first big job: a hotel refit.
Seven years on, Shawfield-based Calma Group employs 60 staff and works on full-scale refurbishments and refits for clients all over Scotland, the UK and Europe. Recent projects have included a flagship new gym in London’s upmarket Chelsea district for Gymbox – “a fun and quirky project” – and refits for global hotel chains including Holiday Inn and Premier Inn.
It’s an exciting time both personally and professionally Mr Lafferty. He expects to take on up to 10 gym refits over the next year, and he’s about to become a father for the third time. But he admits the journey from apprentice to successful managing director hasn’t always been smooth.
“It took me a while to get to grips with the importance of things like VAT, and also to make sure we had all the right accreditations,” says the businessman. “It can be tough managing big teams – it’s not unusual for me to take 130 calls a day. But once you get all the right systems in place you put yourself in the best position to deal with clients.”
Along the way, he has learned a clutch of new skillsets, not least of which is how to lead an expanding business.
“I’ve definitely learned how to delegate,” he smiles. “It’s also really important to make sure your camp is a happy one. In-house fighting is damaging to business. You have to find the right people and retain them by treating them well. Good communication is key. Some people become power-mad – I’ve seen that and it doesn’t end well.
“My first boss, my mentor, used to say to me: ‘be straight with clients’ and I still do it that way. You have to be honest and get the awkward questions out of the way at the start. Know what is expected of you and when you’re going to get paid for the job.
“Don’t over-reach yourself – never promise things you can’t deliver.”
Mr Lafferty has banked with RBS since the age of 15, and 20 years later he says it’s a partnership that works well for Calma Group.
“My relationship manager Linda has been with me for years – she knows me and the business inside out. That really matters.”
As someone who has successfully climbed the construction ladder, Mr Lafferty is in a good position to offer advice to apprentices and tradespeople thinking of striking out on their own.
“It takes time to be confident as a businessperson,” he says. “Absorb as much as you can from everyone around you. Know your trade before you go out on your own. And make sure you learn the business side of things.
“When you make a bad call, don’t dwell on it – take it on the chin and move on to the next thing. I’ve made mistakes and I’m sure I’ll make more. That’s the only way to learn.”