When childhood friends Sam McCallum and Tim Green left St Bartholomews School they little imagined that their separate careers – Sam in Hatton Garden learning business skills, and Tim in Newbury using his love of carpentry – would one day bring them together into a business partnership which this year celebrates 21 years.
Hartwood Oak Buildings Ltd has established itself as the go-to company locally for bespoke, high-quality timber constructions from house extensions and outbuildings to simple but effective porches, pergolas and garden buildings.
Tim and Sam have built the business from a two-man band, working out of a small shed, to a thriving commercial operation which today employs 20 people and is now housed in a large, modern building with a suite of offices upstairs and a spacious workshop, the hub of the business, downstairs. Sam and Tim are still very much hands-on, however, and with their excellent site ops manager James Muir oversee each project to ensure the customer receives the high standard they have come to expect from Hartwood Oak. If you know someone who has an amazing oak porch or a beautiful oak-framed playroom, garage, office or granny flat, the chances are the work was carried out by Hartwood Oak. “We generally work within a 50-mile radius,” says Tim.
“We have an inbuilt aversion to the M25, partly because of the time it takes out of your day to get to site etc. and partly because there is plenty of business for us in the area, and so why create long-distance hassle for ourselves.” A lot of their business comes from word-of-mouth as satisfied customers pass on recommendations. “We also get a lot of business through our website, which is a very-effective tool,” adds Tim. Indeed, the pair recently built a frame for a customer in Shropshire (well outside their 50-mile rule).
“He found us on the web and was so keen to have a particular porch design that he asked us to build it and he would come and get it and hire someone locally to install it. In the end we sent it to him – a flat pack if you like – and he was delighted.” It is an example of the unexpected turn the business can take and of Sam’s and Tim’s ability to adapt according to what the customer wants. “We started out building sheds and outbuildings,” says Sam. “And then progressed to larger domestic projects. Porches have also become very popular. They are great fun to do, quite quick and easy – just a few days – and make a huge difference to people’s houses. “Whether they’re open or enclosed, what was a boring façade with an unremarkable front door transforms into a more grand entrance and gives the house a welcome lift.” Hartwood Oak are also responsible for training up skilled craftsman. “People with these types of skills are hard to find,” says Sam. “We take on an apprentice every two years and teach them the trade.
It is very satisfying to see a young person learning and using their creative skills.” And Tim’s son, James has now come on board as their CAD (Computer-Aided Design) manager. “James is definitely more tech-savvy than either Sam or me,” says Tim. “He keeps up-to-date with all the latest computer design tools and we let him get on with it.” They have an office administrator Michelle and have just appointed a workshop manager to oversee the production of the oak frames. Where do they get their oak from? “We use a saw mill in the West Country and they are brilliant,” says Sam.
“There is no shortage of oak for now but it is more difficult to cultivate in this country, partly because of available space and partly because it is an expensive business with little or no government subsidies as there are in other European countries to help with woodland management.” “Hopefully that will change,” adds Tim. “For now we can say that the majority of our oak is home-grown and will stay that way for as long as possible.”
Projects can take anything from a few days – as in the case of a porch – to six months or more. Hartwood Oak designed and built the oak frame for the Honesty School cookery school featured in OUT & ABOUT a couple of months ago and that was one of their larger projects. “We don’t do commercial buildings generally speaking,” says Tim. “Although we have built a few barn-style creations, where the owners want to hire the building out as a party venue or as a space where businesses can hold meetings.”
The team have recently finished one such barn frame in Wickham. Do they have a favourite? “Each one is different,” says Sam, “which means that you never get bored designing and working on a new project.” There was one commission in Ascot, however, which both agree was great fun to do. “It started with a stable complex and groom’s accommodation. That was a fine project in itself but the owners loved it so much they then asked us to build a swimming pool pavilion with changing rooms etc. as well as a tractor store. It was very satisfying to see it all coming together.”
So what next for Hartwood Oak? “We moved into the new premises a year ago and have expanded our team, so now we are consolidating the business and preparing for the next phase of Hartwood Oak,” says Sam. The workshop and office spaces are more than three times the size of their previous site. “We are getting used to not bumping into each other all the time,” says Tim. “Although the workshop is massive compared to our previous space it still fills up really quickly with all the projects on the go – makes you wonder how we managed before. “Once we’ve got used to our new surroundings, who knows where the business will take us next.”