Contracting success in South Africa

BL Williams Construction was officially formed in 1969 but the foundation of the company was laid as far back as 1950 – that’s the year when 21-year-old Basil Lloyd Williams did what few others in his position would do – he built himself a family house.

Displaying uncommon management and construction skills, an incredible eye for detail, and a can-do attitude, it wasn’t long before people were lining up to secure Basil Williams’s services.  Now in its 45th year, BL Williams Construction is an acknowledged leading provider of construction management services in the Western Cape area of South Africa.

The company specializes in the construction of both upmarket housing and commercial projects in and around Cape Town. The thriving enterprise that Williams built has grown to about 100 employees and carries a sterling reputation for producing beautiful work that gets a place noticed.

BL Williams provides a full complement of construction services to meet clients’ needs – whatever they may be. As a construction company, their role is to initialize concepts, plans and ideas to stark reality. The company does this by drawing upon the best sub-contractors on the market – specialists in areas such as plastering, tiling, carpeting, plumbing, electrical work, air conditioning, joinery and carpentry. Staff at BL Williams have known and worked with some of these contractors for most their working lives. Their associate businesses, including a joinery and cabinet-making company, an electrical company as well as a plant hiring corporation ensure the quality of goods and services are provided for the business.

The BL Williams team consists of three Executive Directors: Financial Director Richard Williams; Contracts Director Howard Williams and founder Basil Williams, who is now retired from day to day operations. There are also 18 management staff, 20 artisans; seven office staff; and about 65 general workers.

Today, BL Williams is a leading provider of construction management services, with the option of design-build, and integrated project delivery in the Western Cape, specializing in the construction of both upmarket housing and commercial projects in and around Cape Town.

The company has acquired in-depth knowledge and understanding of the domestic sub-contractor labour market in both the Cape Peninsula and the Boland areas – which gives them access to a large labour pool with above average trade skills and experience. This vast knowledge base ensures the right people are selected for each particular job, along with an ability to match the wants and needs and budget of even the most demanding clients.

Because BL Williams is based in the famous wine producing region of Stellenbosch, the wineries of the region have given a high amount of their business to BL Williams.

“Certainly in my time,” says Richard Williams, financial director of the company and son of Basil Williams.  “We have been involved in four or five (wineries) but it is probably about 20 over the course of our history.” With about 150 wineries in the region, it represents a fair amount of the work available.

Contractors working with wineries have to consider a number of factors unique to the industry, such as paint finishes. The chemical content is very important because it will affect the wines that are in storage. Then there’s timing because you only get a window of one month for harvesting and that’s a crucial time for the wine growers. Also the industry is important to the Western Cape because of the tourist appeal that it has, attracting tourist and wine lovers to the area so the buildings have to look appealing. You need to have understanding and passion when constructing these buildings because they mean so much.

BL Williams has been responsible for renovating several old Cape Dutch homesteads in Stellenbosch. Heritage council laws in the area meant that some facades could not be changed which provided contractors with an extra challenge when renovating an old building.

Additionally, BL Williams was contracted to build a new wine cellar and office space for Neil Ellis Winery in Stellenbosch. The owner wanted a way of setting his establishment apart from other wineries in the area. He asked the company to construct a bulk “earth wall” – one as an office feature, and another at the main entrance. The client was sold on the idea after seeing one while on business trip to Australia. Incorporating an earth wall into a building’s structure was a challenge since there is almost no reinforcing used in its construction development. This job was seen not only as a challenge, but also an opportunity by BL Williams and a means of developing experience and expertise by undertaking new methods of construction.

The global recession hit the company badly. The turnover took a 25% hit between 2008 and 2012. However, that has since greatly subsided as many economies moved towards a slow but steady recovery in 2013 after the worst of the economic downturn.

Judging by the amount of enquiries the company has been receiving, BL Williams is now on an upward trend. Williams used the downtown extremely effectively by going back to business basics. Such actions included a full review of the corporate marketing plan, developing the website, rebranding, building new relationships and concentrating on existing relationships with clients and solidifying them. Now that the company is planning a move into more substantial project management efforts, it will be looking to hire additional staff to take on more projects.

In a prior interview with TABJ, Richard Williams said it doesn’t mean an expansion into other countries outside of South Africa.  “We won’t be opening more offices, at least not right now.”

“We are not so big that we can afford large overheads,” he said. “We’d rather maximize the efficiency of what we have right now. We work in the Cape Peninsula and the Boland – the wine region. That is a big enough footprint for us and our 100 or so employees. We’ve been around a long time. Our reputation is really important to us and bigger is not necessarily better.”

The company’s fantastic work ethic and solid results speak volumes – BL Williams Construction brings levels of excellence to everything that they create.