777 Celebrates 50 Years
Long-standing NFDC member, 777 Group is celebrating its 50 year anniversary this year. From humble beginnings in the early 1960s, the company has become one of the largest and most well-known names in the industry. Whilst demolition and dismantling still remains a core part of 777 Group’s business, diversification into waste management and asbestos removal have added to its ever-growing turnover, which is expected to exceed in 20m during 2014.
777 Group was originally founded by Mr John Pearce who, having spent several years driving lorries for the military and as well as working for other demolition firms, was well-placed to start his own business in the sector. Within a few years of the company’s inception, John’s son, Michael joined the start-up, assisting his father in demolishing buildings and selling reclaimed materials. In 1981 Michael purchased the business from his father and started expanding, “When I bought the business it consisted of just two machines and one lorry. Turnover was less than a quarter of a million pounds a year. Soon after I set about expanding it, bringing new people in to work for me and building up a fleet of machinery. During the sixties and seventies the demolition sector was a fun and enjoyable sector to work in and we really focussed on making sure the company always delivered on its promises by keeping our word and completing jobs to the highest of standards. Although we now have over forty machines and employ ninety staff I think the ethos of those early years is still retained within the company today”, says Michael.
777 Group’s reputation for being able to deliver on large, often complex projects has led to it fulfilling some unusual and challenging contracts over the years. These have included the demolition of Gun Wharf Quays in Portsmouth during the mid 1990s; a project that encompassed demolishing the original naval base and excavating 10 metres below ground level. Portsmouth’s original harbour walls were discovered as was a significant amount of discarded ordinance from the last 500 years. In 2007, 777 Group was tasked with dispatching 4 wings at Lewisham Hospital, as part of redeveloping the hospital’s new treatment wing, ‘Riverside’. The project was fulfilled whist the remainder of the hospital continued to care for the sick.
The last fifty years has witnessed some marked technological improvements within the industry with machines growing larger and, some would argue safer. This evolution is something 777 Group has been at the forefront of having witnessed the days of manual demolition give way to the ubiquitous ball and chain followed by the advent of tracked excavators which in turn gave way to the giant ultra high reach demolition rigs seen today. “We originally started with two Cat tracked loading shovels and subsequently went on to run a Ruston-Bucyrus RB22 crane fitted with a ball and chain. The mid nineties saw us using some of the first generation high reach machines but the equipment that really reflects our drive to embrace new technology has been put our pair of Hitachi ultra high reach demolition rigs. The first one was delivered in 2003 and at the time it’s purchase was a bit of a jump in to the unknown being unproven and quite a large investment. It proved a success and we bought a second machine in 2007. Although ours are not the only ultra high reach machines being used today we were one of the first to offer that type of capability and remain synonymous with it”, says Mike. A project in 2011 saw both these giant machines working side-by-side on the banks of the River Thames dispatching a trio of concrete sugar silos on behalf of Tate and Lyle.
Investment in other equipment has seen the firm regularly deploy one of the world’s most powerful hydraulic breakers, Atlas Copco’s HB10000. Weighing 10 tonnes, the massive hammer has been used to good effect on several challenging projects since its purchase in 2011. These have included breaking-out some 50,000m3 of concrete as part of the redevelopment of Woolwich’s Peggy Middleton House and also assisting with the demolition of the former Snodland Cement works facility in Kent. However, not all of the company’s key investments have been on large scale equipment with mini-sized remote controlled Brokk demolition robots also featuring in the company’s equipment line-up.
Of course having the right equipment is only one half of the success story, with not only those behind the controls but also involved in every other aspect of the business including safety, finance, training and human resources all essential to the Group’s success. “We have a very progressive attitude to ensuring our staff are suitably qualified, for example all our labourers, operatives and supervisors are all enrolled in the NDTG qualification scheme. Part of our ability to ensure contracts are fulfilled to the highest standards is based on giving our staff the best training available. Failure to do so would mean upset clients, no repeat business and ultimately a contraction of the business”, says Michael.
Whilst demolition remains at the core of 777 Group’s activities, supportive disciplines that include waste management and asbestos removal have also been nurtured and developed under Michael’s tenure. Both have grown significantly in the last 15 years with asbestos removal and disposal carried-out exclusively in-house under a dedicated sub division of the Group with its own license. Likewise, the waste recycling facility immediately adjacent to the company’s headquarters in Croydon, Surrey, has evolved from a simple storage yard to a state-of-the-art recycling centre. Michael explains further about the growth of this facility, “We originally started processing our own demolition waste at the site but soon developed a market taking other contractors’ waste. The rising cost of landfill and environmental regulations have meant demand for this service continues to grow. Such is the success of the facility that six years ago we invested several million pounds in a Vecoplan-sourced processing plant which gives us the capability to turn incoming material in to refuse derived fuel”.
777 Group’s ability to invest in its employees and equipment, whilst being able to diversify and thrive in supportive complimentary sectors means the company is in an excellent position to enjoy another half century of success in the demolition sector, “The demolition sector has experienced its fair share of ups and downs and that in turn has taught us to remain flexible and not forge profit simply for the sake of revenue. With so much competition in the sector, remaining successful is still about keeping your word by doing what you say you are going to do to the best of your abilities”, surmises Michael.