‘We work on multi-million-pound projects but we also fix boilers down the road’ — Apprentice-turned-MD discusses his journey to success

JBS Mechanical has seen impressive growth since it was founded by friends and business partners Jordan Smith and Sean Felice in 2012. Now turning over more than £5 million annually, Jordan describes the journey from humble beginnings in a two-man, one-van team to a reputable Gloucester-based force.

By Kaleigh Pritchard  |  Published
Jordan Smith (left) and Sean Felice started out as apprentices and now run a multi-million-pound business, JBS Mechanical.

SoGlos catches up with apprentice-turned-managing director Jordan Smith as he takes us through his business journey, turning money borrowed from family and friends into a multi-million-pound turnover; and gives us an insight into the business's employment opportunities — including hiring new apprentices this year.

JBS Mechanical has evolved from humble beginnings — can you take us through your journey?

My business partner Sean Felice was already self-employed and I'd just left my job with a national company — we started working together in 2012.

Sean had a van that his mum bought him, and as we grew and needed to expand, we borrowed money from my grandma to buy a proper, decent van to keep us looking professional.

We predominantly started off working for the public and our business grew mostly from word of mouth — we were local lads, born and raised in Gloucester, so people got to know that we were efficient and reliable; and it grew from there.

Eventually we started getting bigger opportunities, so we'd go from working on someone's mum's bathroom to a local build of six apartments — there's really no limitations to what we can do. Before we knew it, we needed more people to join us; and here we are.

Did you ever think you'd be turning over millions when you first started out?

Absolutely not! Sean and I both know our trade, but we didn't leave school with great grades and we didn't ever think we'd be on the path to where we are now.

It's all off the back of apprenticeship schemes, which is why we're so passionate about integrating those opportunities in JBS now.

What sets JBS Mechanical apart from its competitors?

Fundamentally, we are plumbing, heating, mechanical and renewable contractors, but what makes us different is the way we put emphasis on the fact that we can work on Mrs Smith's boiler down the road but also put our hand to working on multi-million-pound contractual projects in London.

JBS has three main divisions, we've got our new build section which we look after day-to-day, working with a lot of national developers in and around Gloucestershire and beyond.

Then we've got our general works team working for the public and local building companies on things like extensions, etc.

And our mechanical side specialises in the huge projects, like a block of 500 apartments, student accommodation buildings or care homes, for example — and that's all over the country.

I think a major part of what sets us apart is that all of our management team started as apprentices in some capacity, we're all off the tools, as they say, which makes us a very hands-on team — even us MDs, we help out on every level whenever we can.

You carry out a broad scope of work — how do you decide which projects to take on?

Honestly, we like to work with nice people.

We've learned a lot over the years — because it's not been plain sailing to get to where we are — we've learned the type of people that we like to work and collaborate with. People that respect what we do, people who pay on time, all of that counts.

You mention it's not all been plain sailing. What are some of the challenges that you've faced?

Gosh, all sorts! I remember going to my first big meeting and I had to Google some of the words that people were using because that kind of environment was something that I'd never experienced before. 

Also having to learn how to send professional emails, where to buy office supplies — we were just getting it all from Tesco!

Managing a fleet of vehicles, too — it's all been very much a learn as you go experience; things crop up and we dealt with them the best we could when they did.

If you make a mistake that loses you money, you learn very quickly how to not make the same mistake again.

Are you hiring any new apprentices this year?

We have an intake every year and we've got a good relationship with Gloucestershire College, so we bring in apprentices at all different stages.

At the moment we've got first years right up to fourth years, all across the three divisions within the business — we love to help people get their start.

There is a skill shortage in a number of trades, it seems like youngsters aren't as attracted to the industry as they used to be. Proof of that would be that we used to get, on average, around 20 to 40 applications per year. Now we probably get around 10.

But we'd very much encourage those who may not have ambitions to go to university to get into a trade, and apprenticeships are a great way to do that — and we're living proof that you can see the fruits of your hard graft.

Reflecting on your journey from beginning to now, what advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?

I'd say you've got to be very good at the service you're providing — before you start thinking about what you're earning or anything like that.

Concentrate on doing a good job and rectifying things when needed, because things do go wrong, but it's how you handle those mistakes that matters and that's how you build a reputation in your field.

Also don't be put off when challenges arise, I could've let the fact I didn't understand certain words derail me, but I let it fuel me instead.

Do that and the rest will fit into place — oh, and do it with a smile as well.

Finally, what are you most proud of so far?

The first thing I'd say is seeing one of our vans out in the wild, that still always makes me smile. Just driving past one and catching our logo in the city that we grew up in. It never gets old!

Jobs-wise, we've been lucky enough to have done some incredible projects and most people would probably expect me to say one of those, but honestly, the small ones are really just as satisfying and we take great pride in them.

In partnership with JBS Mechanical LTD  |  jbsmechanical.co.uk

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