Brett Awards 2012

The Brett Approved Installer (BAI) Awards night experienced its third outing in its current form on Friday night (March 16th) at the extremely plush and seductively luscious setting of South Lodge Hotel near Horsham in West Sussex.

As has become the norm, the host location was drop-dead stunning, and that takes some doing after last year's extravaganza at Luton Hoo. We could be in danger of becoming accustomed to all this 5-star luxury. Somehow, the overnight stay in an East London Travel Lodge in advance of next week's EcoBuild may turn out to be something of an anti-climax.

This year's awards are notable for the first big public outing of new MD, Alan Smith, who introduced himself to the audience of suited-and-booted contractors with a brief resume of career in the hard-landscaping trade and a nice line in highly topical ruggerby jokes. As Brett Landscaping enter the choppy waters of phase II of their plan to become a nationwide force in the industry, having Alan as captain of the ship is a shrewd move, and although it's very early days, there does seem to be a re-energising of the crew.

Alan Smith
New MD Alan Smith

General Manager, Rob Hardes, took over the MC duties and gave a explanatory introduction to the running schedule and an overview of the challenges facing the industry at large and the BAI scheme in particular. With CBP sales plummeting like a err..., well like concrete block by over 30% in the last 4 years, work is harder to obtain and the demand for quality and professionalism is ever greater.

BAI will be focussing on quality rather than quantity in the coming year and aims to help contractors by providing further training in two key areas: customer relationships (or “Dealing with Awkward Gits” as they stubbornly refuse to call it) and Improving Design and Installation. Given that the so-called official training body for the hard-landscape trade has all but disappeared up its own fundament, manufacturer-led training is all we have left…..or is it? Watch this space!

plans for 2012
The BAI plans for the coming year

There will also be four full-time BAI Development Managers to liaise with contractors, and a promise of bespoke web-design offers to qualifying businesses.

South Lodge Hotel

So, on to dinner, and as ever with these upmarket places, they struggle to fill the plate (which helps explain the emergency bacon and sausage butties at midnight) but what there was was very good. The slow-cooked lamb was particularly tasty, if sparse, and was outshone only by the mouth-watering Lemon Possett (Posset is a bit like custard that hasn't set properly) which comprised just one quarter of the sweet course.

However, the real reason why dozens of contractors had travelled from the far flung corners of SE England (and a couple from further afield) was the awards. In several categories, there were two runners-up plus a winner, but as I was shanghai-ed into presenting the awards for Best Patio and Best Driveway, I wasn't able to jot down the name of everyone. I'm sure they'll be on the Brett website some time this coming week, but for now, here's a summary of the headlines….

Best Patio:

Terswin Paving Romney Marsh. Kent

Best Driveway:

Williams Block Paving South Woodham Ferrers, Essex

Technical, Creative and Environmental Award:

Paramount Paving Swanley, Kent

Special Recognition Award:

Carew Driveways & Patios Carew, Pembrokeshire

Customer Excellence Award:

Woods Paving Thundersley, Essex

Newcomer of the Year:

Installer of the Year:

A&M Paving Worthing, Sussex

Along with trophies, certificates and bottles of upmarket bubbly, winners walked away with iPads, digital cameras, theatre breaks in that London and an even posher/smaller dinner-for-two at an even swankier place.

And so to the revelry, which largely revolved around a free bar and a live band. Speaking to several distressed looking souls at breakfast the next morning, a splendid time was had by all, but for me, I can't cope with the loudness and hence I beat a retreat to the relative quiet of the upstairs lobby where it was easier to talk to people without making myself hoarse. It must be middle-age but I would love for there to be a quieter zone for those of us with a delicate disposition and a preference for conversation rather than carousing.

terswin paving patio
Winning Patio by Terswin Paving
williams paving
Winning Driveway by Williams Paving

So, another successful night. Plenty of smiling faces and widespread bonhomie. I'm sure no-one would challenge any of the awards but it would be nice to have a display showing photies and/or videos of the winning entries. As a judge, I get to see who has done what and to read about why and discover what the customers said, and that should be shared with the wider contractor community. These contractors have rightly won recognition for their work, so let's give them the chance to show it off.

Considering Brett Landscaping, for a company with national ambitions, there's a worrying trend for the awards venue to retreat ever deeper into the company's south-east England heartland with each passing year, but now we're this close to the coast, is it possible to go any further south? Jersey, perhaps? Maybe this is just the jaundiced view of a northern monkey who had to endure over four hours on the comedy network of motorways we have in this country, but to be regarded as a true force in the industry nationally, we need to hear some flatter vowels on these evenings and have representation from more of those that live north of the line linking The Wash to Bristol.