How to get into the contract market

Many retailers are considering undertaking contract work to make more money – but how do you start? Michael Pearcy, managing director of C&C Kitchens, offers his wisdom and experience…

A lot of KBB specialists already supply the contracts market in a small way, like the odd kitchen for a builder doing their own project, or maybe a project for a retail customer. The key to working with larger-scale developers is being involved as early as possible. The companies building these projects can be anything from a single property developer to a medium size regional builder. An independent’s greatest asset is their knowledge of the trends, design expertise and installation quality. The old adage that kitchens and bathrooms sell properties holds true, especially in a depressed housing market.

Finding and identifying upcoming projects can be as simple as watching for hoardings going up in your area, to buying acces to planning application data from companies. In my opinion, the best leads can come from local estate agents who are selling the sites for the developers. A sexy kitchen makes the sales agent’s job easier than selling a property with a sub-par kitchen.

Many developers in this bracket don’t have an interior design department, so they look to independent specialists for advice. Identifying who their buyers will be – and the proposed price of the properties being developed – will help you put forward the best kitchen to help them sell their project.


So, let’s say you’ve won the big order worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Your next worry is bound to be ‘what if I don’t get paid?’.

The biggest single loss I ever had was £ 50,000 – this was the only creditors’ meeting I have ever been to and it was a thoroughly depressing experience. My answer was to pay £7,000 a year on credit insurance which I promptly did for seven years never claiming once…

My advice is to identify the entity who will be paying you. If the principal is a single person, their building contractor may be the one paying you. Investigate the paying entity carefully on Companies House. Do they look like a financially stable company?

For a small fee, you can pay a credit agency for a full financial picture. Based on these findings, set your own terms, agree to them in writing, and stick to them. Don’t be afraid to withhold deliveries and question things if a payment is missed. If it looks suspicious, only trade pro-forma. I insisted on pro forma invoicing for a site of 16 houses once and was the only contractor who got paid in full.

Finally, be more careful if a principal contractor is used. Although there are many excellent building contractors, there are also a great many which are run on a shoe-string.

Sub-contracted individual tradesmen can be at risk in this type of payment structure. I have seen several instances of main contractors delaying payment to sub-contractors just long enough to get the final balance from the developer.


Installation on most sites won’t be able to go ahead until the project has been awarded a Risk Assessment / Method Statement (RAMS) document. This is a fairly easy document to create and there are many health and safety advisors who can create one for you for a modest fee. The good news is that the above requirements must be done just once and monitored for all sitework.

Most main contractors will have their own contract terms which you will be asked to sign. A retention is a likely requirement. Five percent is the industry norm, with the first moiety or half being released on practical completion of the site and the second either six months or a year later – following all defects having been remedied.

Making the decision to enter the contract market can be hugely rewarding. I still get a sense of achievement from completing a project – my largest being almost 600 plots.

It can also be a second stream of revenue for your business, counteracting ups and downs in the retail market. Like everything, there are obviously risks inherent to the process, but if you didn’t like risk, you wouldn’t be an independent retailer!

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