Boutique Modern – Manufacturing Homes

We learn how Boutique Modern is helping to build communities with modular housing.

Boutique Modern is a modular manufacturer and design and build contractor that provides low-cost, affordable housing for local authorities and housing associations.

“We have a very effective build system. We have a locally focussed business model, and our scale is probably our USP,” says Lucas Shone, Projects Director at Boutique Modern. “We have a factory capable of up to 200 homes per year, and we work on local sites with local authorities. We work hard to have a social impact on the local community and spend a lot of time working closely with our customers to deliver their specific needs. Our business model is to provide quality homes as well as quality local employment and training for young people, and people who may have faced barriers to work in the past, or people who want a career in a growing industry and are looking for an entry-level role”.

Talking with Boutique Modern it is clear that the company takes its responsibilities to those communities very seriously. The build system the company offers is designed so that Boutique Modern can offer construction that suits the individual needs of its clients and their sites.

Dick Shone, Managing Director of the firm explains “We specialise in smaller local sites and non-strategic plots like garage sites. We’re good at getting those sites into use, developing them economically, and building something in our factory we can put on that site to maximise the potential of that site.”

This is part of the reason that Boutique Modern is able to work well with local authorities who typically have a land-bank of small sites which are difficult to bring forward economically.

Ahead of the Times

“We’ve built up a track record for delivering quality on difficult sites over the years and we’ve been successful in securing a suite of accreditations to appeal to and unlock those more established institutions, many of whom are now clients of ours” Lucas Shone explains.

Many in the industry would consider this ‘organic’ route a counter-intuitive approach, with other modular housing manufacturers opting for investing heavily upfront in product development before seeking out practical projects.

“We have highly financed competitors who spent a lot of time in R&D, building their houses and systems digitally before launching manufacture at scale” Dick Shone points out. “Before we got into our stride with local authorities we built 170 houses, mainly for private individuals and through different projects. We’ve developed an excellent build system, and that has come from experience.”

Of course, real houses have one very important advantage over computer-simulated ones.

“If someone’s been living in a house for seven, eight, nine years you learn a lot about that house, and we’ve had people in our houses for ten years now,” Dick Shone says. “When we’re building for local authorities we know the challenges that will emerge three, five- and seven-years in.”

Building Homes

Boutique Modern have not been the only ones to profit from the business. There has never been more of a need for affordable housing, and BM make it clear that they want their work to benefit the communities they work within.

This is why Boutique Modern is proud to be the first, and currently only, B-Corporation certified manufacturer in the UK. Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest global standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

“It includes how we interact with workers, the environment, our customers, right down to the quality of our employment contracts and how we manage the materials we use” Lucas Shone tells us. “It includes how we vet customers, the carbon output of our houses during manufacturing and while our buildings are in use, and how we invest in local organisations and employment. It’s a big body of work. We’re really proud to be the first one.”

“We believe in things being measurable in order to improve them,” Lucas Shone says. “We’re keen on any data capture we can get throughout the company. Once we have the data, we can audit and measure our performance against targets and improve as a company. We’re measuring as much as we can; output performance, waste, employee and customer satisfaction, everything. Schemes like B-Corp are great because they’re verifying everything and calling ‘bullshit’ if we aren’t doing what we say.  It’s very easy to say ‘We’re looking at reducing carbon’. What we do is walking the walk. We show what we’re measuring, how we’re measuring it, what our current measures are, and our agreed targets for reduction.”

It is an attitude borne not of the construction industry, but the manufacturing industry which Dick Shone hails from.

“I come from manufacturing rather than construction, and I thought modular construction was a great opportunity to apply manufacturing principles to house building, In my previous career I worked with IKEA on product development and I was knocked out by their approach to materiality, manufacturing and cost. I’ve tried to apply that to housing.”

This hunger for improving and refining the house construction process still drives the company today.

“We’re getting better and better, improving the quality of everything we’re doing in design, construction and manufacturing” Lucas Shone says. “We have an ambitious, fully organic growth plan. Really it’s a case of scaling the existing business model. We’re manufacturing to solve the shortage on a local scale.”

However far the company grows, however, Lucas is clear the company will not stray from its roots.

“It’s important to us that the company always delivers on its promises on employment and the environment, particularly in places like Newhaven where we currently are” Lucas Shone says. “We’re maximising that impact and duplicating it as we expand.”

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