Bucking the trend in a difficult year for the commercial interiors industry

Shaun Watts, chairman of Chameleon (1)

Chameleon Business Interiors – a Yorkshire-based interior design, fit-out and furnishing business, specialising in commercial buildings – has been operating internationally for over 20 years. The interior design and fit-out industry has experienced a lot of challenges during this time, but none more so than in the last two years. As the sector continues to negotiate supply chain delays, inflated material costs and a national labour shortage, Shaun Watts – chairman of Chameleon – shares his reflections from the last 12 months, makes his predictions for the year ahead, and offers insight into the plans to secure continued growth.

It has certainly been a challenging time for our industry, and it’s incredibly sad to see firms in our sector close their doors recently. No one knew what to expect as we entered 2021. If you believed everything you heard at the time, you’d think that the office working model was dead and that we’d all be working from home permanently. Indeed, 2021 saw a slow-down in our Canadian business, despite delivering several projects successfully due to our strong management based in Toronto. 

But, overall, I’m very grateful and humbled that we have bucked the trend, starting 2021 on the back of the growth and success of 2020. We secured a number of large and complex contracts early on, with clients that took a long-term view to workspaces: they wanted to think creatively, design spaces their employees wanted to return to, and prioritise collaborative and safe working.

As a result, we doubled our turnover and we have our innovative and hard-working team to thank for that. I also saw clients’ confidence in us grow because we’ve continued to invest and recruit. But I do recognise that we represent a small proportion of companies that emerged from 2021 in a strong position.

2022: industry predictions

As we look ahead to 2022, I believe that:

  • Sustainability will continue to influence everything we do. Carbon neutral buildings will become more important to occupiers and we’re even seeing projects that are aiming to be carbon negative. It’s a phenomenal purchasing mindset shift.
  • Employee wellbeing is absolutely front-of-mind; the pandemic has focused everyone on this and they’re now investing significantly in their workspaces. It should be about putting people first and really considering how existing spaces can be maximised for the people that use it.
  • Safe yet sociable hubs that enable collaborative working is essential for the return to office-based working. The workplace has changed forever and we have seen this new model work well in 2021. 
  • Reducing the office footprint is not the right approach – you can’t expect employees to live their whole career in their bedroom. There’s limited personal development opportunities with this model and it’s short-termism, in my view.
  • British manufacturing has an opportunity to really thrive – with all of the delays and inflated costs we’re experiencing importing materials and furniture into the UK, now is the time for British manufacturing to make its mark.

2022: industry challenges

In terms of challenges this year, I predict we’ll be looking at:

  • The skills gap presenting us with ongoing difficulties – recruitment across the sector has been very difficult and there isn’t a large talent pool out there. To combat this, we need to be offering more opportunities to those entering the industry and enabling them to develop long-lasting and fulfilling careers not just ‘jobs’.
  • Cost continuing to impact our sustainability goals – unfortunately, doing the right thing comes at a price. If we’re ever going to move the needle, we need to find some way to appease both clients’ budgets and the sustainability agenda.
  • Motivating staff after a very busy few years becoming a bigger challenge – this is a challenge faced by businesses all over the world. The last two years have been stressful and we’ve all been working very hard. So this year will be the ‘Year of Fun’ for the team at Chameleon to give the team the opportunity to bond and have fun together again. It’s been well overdue!

Chameleon’s 2022

The year has begun well, with a number prestigious projects already on site across country that we’re all very excited about and new projects in design stage. With the addition of new talent and expertise to the business, we anticipate the size and complexity of our projects continuing to grow. Acquisition will be part of our growth strategy in 2022, and I am actively looking for the right opportunity.

We have some ambitious targets to meet that will stretch us all but we are up for the challenge. The infrastructure and talent we now have in place gives us the strength in depth to support our growth ambitions over the coming year.


Latest Issue

BDC 317 : Jun 2024