*As seen in The Logbook. Interview with Gary McIntyre & Monique Brown
Eco-Steel Africa is an innovative building solutions provider that specialises in Light Gauge Steel Construction. Their solutions have revolutionised the safari tent and glamping industry design and helped influence the modern wave of popularity within these industries. We spoke with directors Gary McIntyre and Monique Brown regarding this innovative solutions provider.
“This business’s entire focus is to provide solutions that work without compromising on quality or durability.” Gary explains, “Eco-Steel Africa creates a durable, fast build that helps utilise space, time and finances more efficiently.”
Their market leading innovations in steel frame manufacturing, design, detailing, construction and customer care have enabled them to provide solutions with noticeable improvements on traditional builds. The tents are faster to erect with minimal space for equipment required on-site and they produce far less material waste allowing for more accurate budget proposals.
Eco-Steel Africa has grown organically from an original partnership with East African Canvas, who now makes use of their Hybrid Build Solutions, and became its own company in 2011.
Gary says, “We started out looking for an alternative deck solution that was more of an eco-friendly-green option and found that Light Gauge Steel met all our requirements for such a build.”
He reveals that the business grew organically, one building at a time. Beginning, at first, with designing and installing LGS decking solutions for clients. Once they started seeing the installation accuracy and speed, it was not long before they were asking about the applications for different buildings.
ENCOURAGING INDUSTRY GROWTH.
One of the partners, Monique, also a Kenyan, reveals that when Eco-Steel Africa began, there were no materials locally available and they had to import everything. This was not in keeping with one of the things she wanted the business to stand for.
“We aim to Buy Kenyan and Build Kenyan,” she says, “Over the last seven years we have seen a movement of quality products available in Kenya and now import less than 5% of our required materials for construction.”
The introduction of a new building medium of LGS has also required quite a bit of educating with the public on its benefits vs. traditional build materials. A considerable amount of time and energy has been invested in teaching builders and buyers why LGS is the design technology of the future.
“We are pioneers of this design process and it’s up to us to help people become aware of its benefits,” Monique says.
Having been born into the safari lodge industry and grown with the rise of glamping style accommodations, Eco-Steel Africa has had from the start a fertile land to plant seeds. Since 2011, their business has grown to include a broad spectrum of clients, within safari, glamping and beyond.
“We have worked with owners of luxury lodges and camp sites, airport operators, private companies, landlords and individual private developers,” Monique says, “As well as a growing number of architects, designers and building contractors.”
CUTTING EDGE PRODUCT, CUTTING EDGE SERVICE.
Depending on the design and building requirements, Eco-Steel Africa still uses conventional primary steel where structural requirements are needed. However, LGS structural design also comes with an in-built custom-designed engineering software to ensure that the product meets their standards.
This software allows Eco-Steel to design and accurately predict costs. Saving clients from additional engineering charges.
Monique believes that to be cutting edge you must work hard and with the right people. This includes working with quality designers and staying in close contact with the LGS machinery manufacturers for updates and new training courses.
She adds that they also spend a lot of time working on their own R&D programs, including in-house testing of new design techniques and finishing materials.
“This is work that you must be willing to put in everyday to keep your business running at its most optimal level.” She says.
COMPETE OR COLLABORATE?
East Africa’s safari, lodge and glamping industries, are growing as an ever-increasing number of people are looking for the sort of “memorable experiences” that can only be found in the region. With the rise of demand on the product Eco-Steel Africa has taken a typically modern approach. Instead of looking to lengthen the lead-gap between them and their competitors they’ve sought to eliminate it.
“In East Africa and beyond there is more than enough work to go around,” she says, “We have started round table discussions with other builders, designers and developers. We find that these open discussions allow each of us to learn from previous failures and successes, plus learn new available techniques that might otherwise be missed.”
To encourage this, Eco-Steel Africa has opened training for traditional builders who would like to learn how to work with LGS in their build portfolio. Their aim is to build a strong future for Kenyan companies. To do this it’s necessary to create a firm foundation and an open-door policy to allow everyone to grow together.
The Company is proud that many of the staff who began with them when they were still under East African Canvas have remained. Together they’ve taken the business from just an idea to an industry defining company.
The number of workers vary from job to job. And as each job is bespoke, working out how many people will need to be involved is part of the planning stages. The number can shift from 40 people in the low season to upwards of 130 in the high season.
Staff development is just as important. Through in-house and on-site training Eco-Steel Africa has built up a team of skilled LGS craftsmen. Furthermore, by providing hands-on experience they have developed staff from general daily laborer’s into team managers.
“We have a low turn-over rate of employees.” Monique says, “Our staff movement is mostly between our two companies as they choose to either stay with EACC or to join up with Eco-Steel. It’s fine as we still work in the same compound. This way we have staff who have experience in working in both businesses, so we are always covered with that cache of experience.”
Interestingly Monique reveals that some of their employees have gone on to open their own construction and tent manufacturing companies using the skills that they have learn over years working with Eco-Steel, “Good on them,” she says, “We’ve even partnered up with some of these companies as well over the years.”
Although it would seem that Eco-Steel Africa has it all under control, it should be acknowledged that this is a fairly new industry. As the pioneers of this method and product in east Africa, they are often the first to be surprised by the new challenges they may need to overcome.
“We always finish a project and say that this was the most challenging,” she says with great humour, “And each project that we finish allows us to grow and experiment just a little bit more, so that we are prepared for a bigger challenge next time.”
“With that said,” Gary continues, “We absolutely loved the last camp that we finished for Lemala Camps, Mpingo Ridge in Tanzania.”
Gary explains that this was a perfect example of working with a Tanzanian Contractor that had never worked with LGS structures before. It was an interesting and aesthetically marvellous project that came with a very tight build deadline. The project incorporated beautifully curving decks and a modern public area that was designed to take full advantage of the breathtaking views. These views were thanks to the site’s particular remoteness which posed an exciting challenge.
“We had several training sessions with their team here in Kenya as well as having our Quality Control Management team at site in Tanzania assisting and training the builders every step of the way,” Gary says.
This was necessary as they are the only company who know how to work with their hybrid solution that uses the mixture of a tented wrap and solid structures.
Mpingo Ridge provided several challenges. Not only was it challenging to get to, with rocky ground conditions, no road access and no water access. But the client’s design had high internal ceilings, large open spans and the need for lots of windows and openings to showcase the expansive view.
It was as much a new managerial challenge as it was a building one, Gary says, “Transport of goods, tools equipment and crew had to be well organised as this was hundreds of kilometres from civilisation. We also had at site over one hundred builders, electricians, painters, plumbers, specialty contractors and general contractors all working at breakneck speeds to ensure that we did not finish behind schedule.”
Mpingo Ridge consisted of a full design solution for the client where Eco-Steel Africa designed their Back of House Structures and Luxury Guest Units. These consisted of thirteen guest sleepers of 76 sq. meters each. One Family Unit Sleeper which was 150 sq. meters and a modern open plan design for their Public Areas which was almost 600 sq. meters in size.
In total the project came in at just under 1700 square meters and was completed in under five months.
SEEK OUT CHALLENGES.
Eco-Steel Africa loves a good challenge and doesn’t believe their business would be where it is now without them.
“Mpingo was a great project and we love the result,” Gary says, “To have seen the site before and after the finished project and take stock of the challenges we had to plan for, and the ones we had to solve on the spot, is quite something.”
Especially, we appreciate the opportunity to work closely with clients and help them turn their ideas into something tangible.
“Our clients return time and again knowing that we deliver,” he says, “Definitely something to be proud of.”