A common Sense solution to rising energy costs?

CircoSense launch - Gerry Kennedy and Martin Docherty-Hughes chatting
Gerry Kennedy (right) chats to Martin Docherty-Hughes MP at the launch of CircoSense

Gary Moug meets the Clydebank firm behind a new product tipped to provide businesses with huge savings on hot water

A Clydebank firm has developed a product it claims could dramatically cut energy bills in commercial buildings.

CircoSense works by learning the usage patterns of hot water within those premises and ensuring the water is only circulated when it needs to be.

Managing director Gerry Kennedy says there’s nothing else like it in the marketplace and a successful pilot scheme with Renfrewshire Council has already been completed.

“Most commercial buildings have a system that circulates hot water round 24/7,” Gerry explained. “It’s so inefficient as, most of the time, hot water is being sent around and no one’s using it. If you learn the usage pattern in buildings like schools, hotels and offices you can have that water circulating at the right time and therefore you’re not firing up the boilers 24/7. You can make dramatic savings in the cost of heating hot water for no reason.

“We’ve had this product independently certified and patented. We can approach clients and offer a cast-iron guarantee that they’re going to save on energy costs.”

The strategic installation partner for the product is Campbell & Kennedy. Gerry is also MD of that business and has helped it grow from a small TV aerial installation firm to a £15 million-turnover enterprise involved in the energy, electrical, technology and fire safety sectors.

“When we looked at CircoSense initially, we knew this product aligned so well with C&K as a business,” Gerry added. “We’re now UK-wide, we’re on lots of frameworks, we have lots of clients out there with the very type of commercial buildings that this product is an absolute dream for.

“We’re manufacturing the product ourselves here in Clydebank and we’ve already had great interest in it. We ran a pilot scheme with Renfrewshire Council and have already received our first order to install 77 units.

“We believe this is something that will go beyond the UK. There’s nothing else like it in the market. You can get boiler controls but this controls the circulation. It’s unique to this point.”

Gerry says firms could see a return on their investment in less than four years.

Given the way he’s built Campbell & Kennedy up since becoming managing director in 1996, it would take a brave person to doubt him.

Gerry’s father, Tom Kennedy, and Robert Campbell founded the firm in the mid-1950s.

Gerry, who ran a quantity surveying practice, became involved in the early 1990s when his father was trying to retire. He started to change the culture of the company and, for several years, ran both businesses at the same time before taking the giant leap of running Campbell & Kennedy full-time in 2000.

“We were seeing decent growth by that point,” Gerry said. “Turnover was hitting around £425,000 (up from £131,421 in 1996).

“I adopted a professional approach and started engaging the business in contract work. We got the opportunity to work with Sky and managed to get accreditation as a retailer. We became very successful to the point where, in 2005, we were named Sky UK Retailer of the Year. We were turning over £1.4 million then.”

While many firms suffered devastating losses during the financial crisis, the digital switchover that coincided with that period meant business boomed for Campbell & Kennedy.

Gerry explained, “There might have been depression everywhere but people still had to watch TV! We had lots of clients with a real need to update their communal systems.

“By 2010, we were turning over £5.8 million and had a lot of people on board.

“I Looked at that point and realised we were quite heavily dependent on Sky as a client, albeit they were an amazing client to be working with.

“I recognised we had to diversify. We’d either be a one-trick pony or had to do something.

“We decided to move into the electrical sector. We started by sourcing some people and, at the same time, tapping into various contractors and organisations we’d been working with to start to win small electrical projects.

“I was recognising that the way to win business in the right sectors was at corporate level. Whilst we would do lots of things domestically in houses, you can’t find 10,000 customers but you can find one customer with 10,000 houses. We had to find the right types of clients with big projects. We grew the electrical business from a standing start to a turnover of about £2.5 million and won the SELECT Electrical Contractor of the Year Award.”

As the business expanded, Gerry realised he needed to recruit skilled people into the company. “A big headache I had growing the business was that a lot centred on myself,” he said. “You can’t clone yourself. I realised there was a lot of people out there with different skills. I couldn’t do it all on my own back. The advice I received was that I needed to surround myself with good people and delegate.

“I started to build a team that could help the business grow to the next stage. We got a good FD on board and started getting good technical, health and safety and customer service people.

“It became so much easier to find the right business knowing we could deliver it. One of the most painful parts of growing a business was the amount of times we had the capacity not to deliver the right product just because we were in a growth state. We were finding it hard to control quality, customer service – all these things. We got it wrong a lot of times and learned some really hard lessons, some very expensive lessons.

“The main thing was to continually learn and come out the other end and set standards that you have to drive. We’ve got there now. We’ve got a great set of people across the four sectors we’re in. They all understand what I’m looking for in terms of attitude and can-do culture. It has to be quality, it has to be safe.”

Four years ago, despite doing “reasonably well” in the electrical sector, Gerry discovered it was a “minefield” of an industry in which to make money. He again set out to add to the services Campbell & Kennedy could offer clients – a decision that led to the firm becoming major players in the energy market.

“Electrical contracting was not the direction for this business because you’re at the behest of a lot of major contractors and developers,” he said. “You can get good clients to work with and terrible clients. Some of the not so good clients don’t run their projects well and the sub-contracting network pays for that. You have to either accept that or position yourself better again.

“We looked at the energy sector. We had an opportunity to deliver a big project working with Keepmoat in Glasgow – 500 houses of solar PV. We used all the skills in the business in the right way and delivered a very good project on time. I realised at that point it was about repositioning ourselves into an energy technology business with electrical contracting support. That’s what we’re trying to drive the business now.

“We built a marketing bid team as I noticed most of the best business was getting placed by big framework organisations. We knew we’d missed a few windows so we engaged in a process between 2012-15 where we’d wait for them to come along again and put in a super bid. We gradually ticked off all the big energy frameworks and built up in-house resource. Instead of just being an installer, we could become a supplier/installer and have designers on board, people doing surveys. We became a one-stop shop for entire PV Solar projects from feasibility to completion. Since we ticked that box, we haven’t looked back and have been involved in some high profile projects.

“We’ve got a team whose entire job is to keep accreditations on track.

“I believe we’ve got all the good building blocks of a business now in terms of quality, compliance, good financial mechanisms. At last we’re also good at chasing our money. The amount of times in the past we were too busy to collect our cash was a bitter pill. We now have good systems in place.

“The entire management team goes off-site every year and we plan the business for the next year. The management team present their individual plans and, as a group, we decide on final plans. The key people in the business now own each section of the business. Since we took that approach, because they are part of building the business plan, they’re so much more understanding of the costs and efficiencies.”

Campbell & Kennedy has also benefited from Sky Q, a new premium TV service which Gerry describes as “so advanced that it needs all the communal systems in the country to be upgraded”.

“We’re extremely fortunate to be the installation arm covering Scotland and Northern Ireland,” he said, “The sector I thought might get quieter – technology – is actually booming. At the same time, we’ve built up the energy sector and we’ve got a decent electrical sector. Now we’re looking at the fire protection and security sector as well.”