Company Profile: Special delivery
It’s all about getting the product delivery right, says Odourvac director Vance Rowe. But, he tells HVR editor Paul Braithwaite, not everyone in the UK seems to share these high expectations.
AIR distribution is, insists Vance Rowe, director of Odourvac, his bag.
Odourvac is one of three firms that the New Zealander owns, and it is probably the one closest to his heart. He has the rights to the product in the UK and Europe.
Odourvac is used to vent lavatories, and it does what it says on the box. It is not, he assures, just a vented fan in the ceiling; the vent and fan unit is attached to the pipe which joins the system to the pan. It draws any smell up this pipe and vents it to atmosphere.
'It works on a sensor so that, when a person enters the lavatory, it turns on. The only time it is not working is when the pan is flushed.
'When one of these units is installed, it stops any smells,' he adds.
His problem, as far as this product is concerned, is that it is far removed from the usual vented fan in the ceiling.
The other Odourvac product, which so far has been much more successful, is the Eco Diffuser.
It is a diffuser which is designed with heating in mind. Most diffusers are designed to either cool or heat. The Eco Diffuser directs the heat right down to floor level leaving an even temperature across the room.
'Most overhead heating systems do not send the heat down to floor level but leave a cold zone a couple of inches by the floor - so, while the body may be comfortably warm, the feet are cold.'
Rowe believes the reality of most offices in winter with overhead heating systems is that staff have freezing cold feet but their heads and bodies are at 30˚C.
'If I had to work in those conditions every day of the week, I would be sick.' And, while he has no firm evidence, he is sure that many people feel just the same.
He insists air diffusers are the most important part of the system - but it is the most boring part for the consultant, who is much more interested in the big kit such as chillers.
However, 'if you do not get the delivery right, you don't have a system', he says. 'Delivery is all. I might have the best product in the world but, if I sell it and it doesn't turn up or it is broken or it doesn't do what I said it would, then I would go out of business. It doesn't seem to be like that in air movement. People in the UK expect less.'
But he insists that, if the air distribution was correct in one building and not so good in the other, then the one which was comfortable for staff would always be let first. Word gets around.
'To me, it is simple economics.'
His Eco Diffuser removes the problem of cold feet. They are made of plastic so they are cheaper than the traditional aluminium model. They are made of 20% recycled material, have low static, are fire retardant, come with their own fittings, are much lighter than current models, and do not need a back box.
Plus, they are self fixing, so it is a case of cutting a hole and pushing the diffuser into it.
He has had one or two notable successes with the Eco Diffuser: one with the Lancashire police and one with the Church of the Latter Day Saints, which is using the Eco Diffuser on all its new builds.
For the police, Rowe says it is about getting the right conditions in the interview rooms to make the interviewees comfortable.
He is currently looking for distributors for the Odourvac products.
Rowe's second company is Cyclone Commerce, which, since the beginning of the year, has offered a full facilities maintenance service. This is, for the moment, to just one client: the West Cornwall Pasty Co. This company has 55 sites - shops and kiosks - across the country and has plans for another 150 in the next couple of years.
When Rowe says full service, he means full service. Take for instance the new kiosk on Fulham Broadway, which has just been completed.
Cyclone was due to fit a new type of ventilation system, which he says was 40% cheaper than previous ones on the Friday night, ready for the opening on Monday.
But the sprinkler system had been put in the wrong place and the ventilation could not be fitted. Rowe's problem was the sprinklers were live. And, if anything had gone wrong when they were switched off, then they were on the same circuit as the London Underground system. 'I'm not insured for that.' Rowe worked Saturday and Sunday calling in electricians and sprinkler experts to change the position of the sprinklers. The company which installed the system was unable to have an engineer on site until about a week later. Eventually, Rowe found a fire sprinkler specialist who could be on site by midnight Monday/Tuesday).
The sprinkler system was duly moved and Rowe left his men to install the ventilation unit at 2am on Tuesday morning 'and that was only because I had an appointment with another member of the West Country team at 9am the same day at St Pancras to talk about work on another unit'.
Rowe hates the culture of 'not my fault, not my problem', which, he says, seems to permeate the construction industry in the UK.
'I work on the premise that, whether it is your fault or not, you do not leave clients in the lurch.'
And, while it matters now as Cyclone is 'the new kid on the block', Rowe assures this culture works throughout his businesses.
He has also had a two-year relationship with WG&R, a telecoms and electrical company.
Here Cyclone works mostly with Daikin (splits), plumbing and forced air ventilation.
Rowe's company was recommended to WG&R because the latter could not find a contractor which would do what it said it was going to do.
'Basically all WG&R wanted was an M&E contractor which would turn up, offer a practical design, and not wound it with the bill.'
Cyclone obviously fitted the bill. Its work for WG&R has gone from 'doing very small bank jobs to larger ones' (not that kind of bank job, ed).
'It is an honest relationship. I will go the extra mile for clients but not when I think the job will fail. If I cannot do it, then I tell the client as much. Because we are small, we cannot afford to get it wrong.'
He says that all the clients where he turned down work are still clients. 'The other contractors who said they could do the work failed, so we were right.'
Rowe adds he often offers clients alternative plans which save energy and space (such as the
ventilation unit for West Country) - although 'I feel many contractors just want a quiet life,' he says. Another source of his work is putting right other people's mistakes.
Plus, there is one more criterion. 'We like to work for nice people. When we find clients we can work with, we stick to them like glue.'
Cyclone has five permanent engineering employees with one vacant position as well as the office staff, sub contractors and labourers.
It is a Daikin D1 partner and, as well as air conditioning, it has been installing the Altherma heat pump system. He is just about to install an air-source heat pump system for domestic heating and hot water at a number of flats in Chelsea. And movie company Goldcrest is building a new studio with flats above at White City in North London and he is to install heat pumps here for the studio and the flats.
'An air-source heat pump is relatively cheap and clients can see a payback period.'
If there is no payback period on the horizon, 'don't do it' would be his advice.
But he is not too sure of solar thermal.
'It is the cheapest but it works most efficiently in the summer to give you lashings of hot water - when most of us don't need it. 'In the winter when the big energy draw is needed, solar thermal is of very little use. I think some consumers - and businesses - are being sucked in.'
If money were no object and he were to install any low-carbon products in his own home, he would have a ground source (bore hole) heat pump and a wind turbine.
He offers a five-year guarantee on all his work but he does not touch jobs where there is a retention clause.
Vance Rowe's third business venture was to buy a computer firm. He owns WSPC, which makes micro-computers. Strangely enough, when most computers are made in China, Rowe has a workshop in Tulse Hill in south London where the units are assembled.
Carrier UK has started to use them in building management systems. But, Rowe stresses, they are micro-computers, something that a business man (or woman) can carry around without too much trouble, and they will do the job as well as the computer on the desk.
The computer is also produced in a fan-less model, which (obviously) has no moving parts and therefore is less likely to break down.
He adds that the quality of the build is so good that not one of the PCs has been returned because of faults, and this is in an industry where 10% is about the best returns rate.
'And because we build them, they can be to any specification required.'
Helping prisoners to cool off
Vance Rowe, director of Odourvac, says that, when he was working on air movement within government buildings in New Zealand, he remembers a prison for the criminally insane.
The governor wanted a freezing room where the staff could put prisoners who were at risk from harming themselves or prison staff.
“As you turn down the temperature, the inmates eventually become calmer and as they become colder all they can think about is the cold and how to get warm.”
The police also used the cold room technique on violent prisoners with the same results.
When he told the police here about the technique, they told him that, if they tried it, they would probably be infringing the prisoners human rights.
“What is better, a couple of policemen in a cell trying to calm down a violent prisoner or a blast of cold air?”
11 August 2008