Frozen peas (Does a client really need a building?)

Tony Carroll
20.10.09

Many years ago when I designed buildings for a living I had a client, Tim Hopwell, who owned a frozen food distribution business operated from a string of cold stores around the UK. Hopwell's needed a new branch in Sheffield so after completing their Nottingham HQ our practice, Crampin and Pring, was employed to extend and refurbish an existing site that they had acquired on the outskirts of the city.

The scheme that I came up with for the building was quite innovative.  The common problem of damaging ice build up in the inaccessible void between the inner insulated core and the outer weatherproof cladding was resolved by giving the building an external structural frame and creating high speed ventilation chambers between the wall and ceiling/roof layers.

So far so good. But this was a more expensive solution than Tim had been used to paying for so he rightly asked me why it was costing more than he expected. However, the solution made sense to him but he then went on to explain his thoughts on buildings and his business. It was an salutary lesson that has remained with me.

Tim explained that his business was selling frozen peas... and chips, fish fingers, etc. It paid the wages, and put roofs over staff heads and petrol in his Lexus. The only thing that made the profit was "selling frozen peas" and he didn't want a building. He didn't even want staff, computers or his distinctive orange lorries.

All he wanted to do was to sell frozen peas.

In fact, if he could sell frozen peas from the middle of a field he would. He needed a building, but he didn't want a building. My bubble was well and truly pricked.

There is a valuable lesson here for those of us in property when we consider what our clients and customers motives are for what we do. It is very easy to become tied up in the day to day issues of what is a complex business without ever seeing the core purpose  that we are fulfilling.

Tim died a couple of years after that discussion but that it was a valuable lesson in what motivates the people who use and pay for our buildings.