Business management

The success of a business with a local focus

Dan Ingall, co-founder of Daniel Charles Group, discusses his local-first approach to business.

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Not so for Dan Ingall, co-founder and managing director of The Daniel Charles Group. The civil engineering and construction business, which has been around for 18 years, is resolute on meeting the needs of local customers. It works on construction projects across Lincolnshire, straying occasionally into neighbouring counties, but not looking further afield.

Ingall founded the company with a colleague in 2005 (the Charles of the company name, who retired in 2018). After almost two decades, with a turnover at £30m and 180 employees, the experiment seems to be a success. Not that it was always inevitable.

The core philosophy

“When we launched, we wanted to stay local,” explains Dan. “To find local clients to build relationships with. It was a case of ‘let’s employ a few guys and make a living’. We wanted to enjoy what we did, do a good job and deliver an all-round quality service. It’s been organic and natural growth since then, without pushing or going to find work.”

The strategy of doing a good job and building relationships has paid off, with that £30m revenue coming from repeat business and word-of-mouth. 

Owning the supply chain

But keeping things local doesn’t mean lacking ambition. As Dan explains, while the original incarnation of Daniel Charles focused on local civil engineering and building services, they have moved into related areas, the most notable shift coming with the purchase of a quarry. 

“Len Kirk, who set up the quarry, was retiring. He approached us to say he was selling and would give us first refusal. We were his biggest customer, accounting for about a third of his turnover. And he was one of our top three or four suppliers,” says Dan. “From the beginning we were set on becoming self-sufficient. For example, we employ the people needed for a job, rather than sub-contracting wherever possible. So, when the opportunity came to buy the quarry, it made sense.”

Adopting a buy and build strategy

Dan has since followed a “buy and build” strategy for the quarry. While quick to make it clear he regarded it as a “well-run business”, there have been changes and investment. The two businesses had different cultures but, says Dan, the quarry didn’t require major surgery.

“As a supplier they never let us down, and they didn’t let others down. Some of the existing employees knew me and we’ve done what we said we would do. We’ve continued their employment, reinvested and improved equipment, safety and training. Nothing was wrong with it, just some general changes to bring it in line with the rest of the group.”

With humility, Dan adds, “We’ve had to learn their business, both quarrying and transport. And we’ve become a supplier to all existing customers, keeping that supply chain and those relationships with the original customers. It hasn’t been seamless, it’s been a challenge, but an interesting and rewarding one.”

The big wash-up

The most interesting shift came with a substantial price tag – “probably more than the cost of the business,” admits Dan. The installation of a recycled wash plant has improved the quarry’s ability to recycle construction and demolition waste into reusable sand and gravel.

“It was an investment we wanted to make as part of the quarry. We started research into the plant early, but it was a huge investment. It’s around £2.5m including the infrastructure, all of which we have completed ourselves.”

Dan says he’ll be happy if it pays back in the expected timeframe but this is a long-term investment that should keep producing for 20 years. 

Doing the right things, well

Dan has opted to connect the plant to the mains, rather than a diesel generator, and installing a water treatment plant.

He says: “It’s set up with a water treatment and a filter press. It recycles 90% of the water, so what goes into the plant is recycled.”

In terms of business models, supplying local construction sites with materials created from the waste of other local projects scores well. The aim is to send lorries loaded with aggregate to a customer and bring back waste material on the return journey. “Fewer empty lorry trips means less wasted diesel,” he says. “Our clients love that we can offer that circular service.”

Looking to the future

Asked what’s next for Daniel Charles Group, Dan almost grimaces. The wash plant is new into operation, and the immediate future seems to be consolidation and settling in. “This project has been exciting but stressful. It has taken a lot out of us as a business.”

He admits that when it comes, the next project is improving head office, because the business has outgrown its current space. It’s proof that staying local and low-key does not mean turning your back on growth.


To find out more about Dan and the business, visit daniel-charles.co.uk


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