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buildersbreakfast


A five-star hotel in Edinburgh was a suitable place to meet Alan Brown. Not out of pretension, for there is not an ounce of pomposity about the affable Geordie who heads up CALA, but simply because his company knows all about winning five stars.


Housebuilders like to crow – justifiably or not – about a lot of things in their armoury; be it bold design, competitive pricing, rigorous training, sustainability initiatives, or innovative marketing. But without satisfied customers such qualities do not amount to a hill of beans, green or otherwise. For the second successive year, in the HBF Customer Satisfaction results, CALA Homes received top customer satisfaction ratings, with five (out of five) stars in both ‘quality of home’ and ‘recommendation to a friend’ categories. Further independent research by In-house also showed that 95.5 per cent of people who bought a CALA home last year would recommend to a friend. “I am delighted that our efforts are recognised by


our customers. These findings reinforce the fact that customer satisfaction lies at the very heart of everything we do,” said Brown. “They also recognise the hard work undertaken in every area of our business, from land buying, through planning, procurement, construction and sales to customer service.” “Customer service is a philosophy that drives our business, our products and our people. For CALA, the phrase is not an add-on service or a tick-in-the


box public relations exercise. It is a way of thinking and acting that the entire company lives and breathes every day, in all aspects of its work.” Brown has been at CALA 25 years. If you cut him


open it would read City of Aberdeen Land Association, although around the heart region you’d also find the words Newcastle United. CALA, which dates back to 1875, may be hot on customer care and health and safety and industry leaders in these disciplines, but three short years ago the company was in intensive care, as the recession sent shockwaves, redundancies and worse through the industry. “Yes there have been dark times and dark days, wondering if the company would survive. The worst thing was the redundancies and in particular having to close our Yorkshire business.” When Geoff Ball retired in 2009, Brown, groomed for


the job, was handed the mug that said ‘Boss’. Given the state of the market, the responsibility could have been seen as a poisoned chalice, but Brown, a glass half-full man, embraced it as if a bottle of his Newcastle namesake. After a restructuring and new funding arrangements, CALA is keeping Lloyds Banking Group happy by delivering and indeed outperforming on targets. While nobody saw the severity of the crash, CALA, which operates in Scotland, the Midlands and the South East, spotted the schism in the apartment market’s crust as far back as 2004 and realised being one of the biggest developer’s of apartments


in the Midlands was not necessarily the best mantle to carry. “The market was clearly saturated with investor buyers and we saw we had to scale back dramatically on apartments, although city centre schemes in Aberdeen and Edinburgh were fine.” Brown’s matter-of-fact way of talking about arguably the grimmest period in the industry’s history disguises the depth of soul-searching Brown and his CALA team went through. But while the company sought the rescue deal and the facilities to reduce debt and strengthen the balance sheet, out on site it was carry on selling. “Although this was a mortgage-led market collapse


you draw on the same bag of tools to fix it as any other recession, knowing that your purchasers are hurting and need help. I give our whole team a lot of credit for keeping the sales momentum going when the market was at its toughest.” One of the team is Sue Parry, national sales and marketing director and herself a 23-year veteran of CALA. Sue is married to Alan. Some say you should never work with children, animals or other halves, but Brown and Parry use their personal relationship as fuel for their professional partnership, without letting it invade or rule conversation and mood outside office hours. “We see it as really positive as we know the pressures the other is under and can share the load. If either of us wants to talk about work at home, we know we can, but equally we know when to switch


OPENING PAGE


The Campus, Aberdeen THIS PAGE


CLOCKWISE FROMTOP LEFT Ickenham Park,


Middlesex |Temple Gardens, Gerrards Cross |Sue Parry


|Robert Millar |Graham Reid OPPOSITE PAGE


TOP Woodilee Village, Lenzie, Glasgow


BOTTOM The Mooring at Ratho, Edinburgh


30| July 2011 showhouse


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