From root to branches the still flourishing family tree of Tiffin Group extends from 1695 to the present day. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones talks to current MD, Robert Tiffin about his company’s extraordinary history.
“There has been a Tiffin family member constantly at the helm since the reign of William III,” explains the present owner of a concern that’s been trading for more than three centuries, as he treats us to a guided tour of the work his company has been undertaking at the Chiltern Open Air Museum.
It is fitting that a construction firm with just such a past has been charged with preserving and repairing some of the structures at a site where buildings come alive from history, but Robert has also been responsible for taking the business he inherited from his father in some very new directions.
“Since I took the reins, the renovation of old buildings has become a part of what we do and we’ve developed the skills and knowledge of how the materials of the past breathe, behave and should be renovated as a consequence,” continues Robert, “but that’s only one facet of the private domestic refurb work that we carry out.
“I’m also a thermographer, so many of the projects we undertake are about improving the thermal efficiency of a building, and we were quick to adopt the potential for sustainable building practices in general, both for our clients and for us as a company.
“Thermal imaging is a very powerful tool and we have used it to great effect. It can even tell you where insulation has been missed, or old openings have been infilled, and alterations carried out over the years, which makes it great for old and historic buildings.”
From the Eighteenth Century on, Tiffin Group was primarily involved in pest control, and can count the owners of many of the grandest palaces of London as amongst its former clients, but it was under the tenure of Robert’s grandfather, Harold that the business would begin to evolve to take on new concerns.
“Between the wars if we had a job to eradicate rats or mice and the client also needed their dry rot or rising damp removed then we’d take that on at the same.
“As a result the company got involved in the repair and installation of things like damp proof courses, and my father was actually one of the founder members of the BWPDA (British Wood Preserving and Damp-proofing Association), which was the forerunner of the PCA (Property Care Association). This then developed in turn into general timber treatment, and ultimately more general building work.”
With each passing generation comes new ideas, and it was Robert who saw the potential in making the leap to more general repair and maintenance projects, and the preservation of old buildings, whilst in the last twenty years he has actively pursued and promoted the trend towards eco building techniques.
“To be honest, I had no intention of joining the family business at all,” he recalls, “but I did feel under pressure to carry on what is, after all, a very long Tiffin family legacy.
“Although we do so much more now than when we were founded, the company has had an enduring and thriving presence in the remedial treatment of buildings sector throughout those long years, which made for a compelling argument for me to continue in that tradition.
“In terms of my own career it was also a natural step for me because I was already involved in the built environment sector as a quantity surveyor, which made my existing skills and experience easily transferable.”
We asked Robert whether trying to impose his own ideas on a family firm proved a source of confrontation in the early years?
“I never fought with my father Frank about the direction I thought we should take and we had a very good relationship,” he explains, “but I can appreciate now, looking back on it, that when I’d enthusiastically talk about the things I wanted to do, and he’d been running a business in a particular way quite successfully for his entire working career, it might have been a source of impatience for him.
“Although it was difficult when I first joined to get things to move on in quite the way that I envisaged, it was something that we achieved together ultimately.
“The core of the business is now good quality refurbishments and extensions of any building type, with a degree of diversification into more specialised skills and techniques to identify how moisture in buildings causes defects, dampness and decay.
“We’ve been using thermal imaging to highlight problem areas and modern insulating methods to save energy – and save our clients money.
“Our clients are becoming increasingly aware and concerned of how the very heavy rain due to changing weather patterns are affecting their homes, but I know I am best equipped to service them.
“We’ve built a good reputation through word of mouth and some local adverting. I am very proud of the testimonials our clients leave for us on WHICH Trusted Trader.”
So will the present MD be the last Tiffin to carry the company forward?
“I have a son who is a planning consultant and has his own career but, by referring clients to each other, we do work together.
“His focus is very much on property development, so if he does take the helm then I’m sure the business will take on a new dimension once again.
“Given that he’s already doing extremely well for himself I can’t see myself being in any way resistant to his new methods because diversifying is what any business needs to do to survive.
“Although we don’t have access to the full records of the company’s transactions since its inception in 1695 I strongly suspect that’s exactly why there has been Tiffin in business for that length of time.”
For further information on Tiffin Group visit http://tiffingroup.co.uk
For more information on the collection of historic buildings at the Chiltern Open Air Museum visit www.coam.org.uk