A career with firm foundations

Features Posted 15/10/18
Following his father’s footsteps has kept Andrew in the building supplies trade for 25 years – and he still loves the job.

Andrew Cope’s career path was pretty much set from school, when he went to work in his father’s builder’s merchant during the holidays. He tried to diversify into accountancy, but wasn’t happy and returned to his roots.

“I left university with a degree in business management and joined a firm of chartered accountants as trainee, but discovered early that it wasn’t the right career choice. I didn’t enjoy it at all. I realised that this kind of work would not make me happy,” Andrew admits.

His next step was to join Hall and Co builder’s merchants as a graduate trainee, starting work in the yard, before moving into sales and on to a managerial position. Then in 1991, Andrew joined James Chandler as manager of the Ringmer branch of the builder’s merchants. It was a small company, started in Lewes in 1878, and had only three branches. Sadly, times were hard and it went into receivership the following year.

When the company re-formed as Chandlers Building Supplies in 1993, Andrew worked his way up the management ladder to become MD in 2000. He has continued in the role since and now has 225 staff, working at 13 branches, in Sussex, Surrey, Kent and London. Andrew attributes much of the success of the company to the loyalty and knowledge of his long-standing staff, many of whom have been with him since he started. The company’s latest accounts, filed in December 2017, show a turnover of £51.8 million, just under 20% up on the previous year. It was a finalist in the Sussex Super Growth Awards 2018.

“Our business relies on our relationship with regular customers, who like to see a familiar face behind the counter when they visit. They rely on us for knowledge and advice. It’s not just about selling a product, but about the know-how,” Andrew says proudly.

Asked about his management style, he ponders a moment and says: “I treat people as people. My door is always open and I like to encourage a team spirit. Everyone involved needs to understand what we are trying to do, why we do it and what’s in it for them. I find staff respond best when you explain what’s happening and why.”

An excellent illustration of this teamwork came in March this year, when part of Chandlers’ Brighton branch burned down. An entire warehouse, offices and trade counter were lost, but with some “pretty amazing” work by staff, it was able to reopen for business within four days.

An inevitable question in these uncertain times is how Brexit will affect Chandlers’ prospects. Andrew is understandably cautious, but balances this with the optimistic phrase: “There will be some solution. The world will continue to spin.”

When he’s not at work, Andrew enjoys spending time with his wife Jane and their two dogs, Hebe and Willow. He plays cricket and golf and goes fishing. He assures me that he also keeps the family home in good repair with regular DIY, an excellent advertisement for a man devoted to the building trade.

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