How James Frew is embracing modern technology while appreciating its rich heritage 

With an impressive 112-year history, James Frew Ltd (James Frew) is one of the largest privately-owned building services companies in Scotland, UK. It provides integrated property solutions, such as plumbing, heating, gas maintenance, electrical installations, and property upgrades for both public and private sectors. 

Headquartered in Stevenston, Scotland, the business has additional offices in Glasgow, Dumfries, and Airdrie, with a team of expert individuals on-hand to deal with property and customer queries. “Our core values of excellence, teamwork, collaboration, innovation, and integrity guide everything we do,” begins Roddy Frew, Managing Director. “We operate in highly competitive markets within challenging and volatile conditions, so we set ourselves high standards with these values at the forefront.”   

Originally established by James Frew in 1911, the company expanded into heating and plumbing services under the guidance of the founder’s son, Alexander Frew, who headed the business between 1946 and 1975. Richard Frew then navigated the company through its third generation – 1975 to 2009 – and, under his management, the company experienced tremendous growth, diversifying into new sectors like gas service and maintenance, as well as main contractor social housing projects. 

Today, the company is led by Roddy, Managing Director and great grandson of the original founder. “I got involved with the business in 1990, serving my time as an apprentice plumber, and I was eventually appointed Contracts Director in 2000,” Roddy recalls. “Back then, it was difficult to imagine James Frew without my father at the helm, but I spent nine years learning from his wealth of knowledge and experience, so that I was confident in my ability to lead the business through the next generation once he became Chairman in 2009. 

Comprehensive services 

“The company has evolved and changed hugely since 1990 and I’m extremely proud of our achievements, the people we have developed along the way, and the difference we have made to the communities in which we work,” he adds. “We no longer specialise in only plumbing and heating, but instead offer a comprehensive range of services in the public and private sectors, from property maintenance and upgrades to large mechanical or electrical installations.” 

One of the company’s core services is GasSure, James Frew’s private repair and maintenance scheme, which provides full breakdown cover, as well as new boiler and boiler system installations in South and Central Scotland. By offering three monthly packages, GasSure ensures that a home’s appliances meet Gas Safe Register standards at an affordable price.  

“Our business is split into three distinct, customer-facing units; mechanical and plumbing services (MPS); maintenance, installations, and electrical (MIE); and modernisations (Mods),” Roddy explains. “These units serve a range of sectors within the construction, maintenance, and refurbishment sector, but one thing is always the same – our vision to be the best in everything we do. 

Employee development 

“This has been the company’s vision since day one, and we remain committed to consistently delivering operational excellence,” he continues. “We believe our mission and values must reflect our 112-year trading history and rich heritage, while allowing us to explore new, modern ways of working. This is also essential to protect existing jobs and to attract more people into the workforce to tackle labour shortages.” 

Innovative systems 

With a passion for attracting new individuals to the industry, the business runs a successful, flagship apprenticeship scheme, the James Frew Academy. Established in 2017 to develop younger members of the workforce, the Academy encompasses bespoke apprenticeship training, employee development and leadership programs, and management training schemes.  

“Our apprentices and young people are critical to the success of our organisation going forward,” states Roddy. “So, we work collaboratively with colleges and have co-designed a specific curriculum that ensures individuals are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and experience they need to flourish. We have negotiated a dedicated high-quality teaching facility within our partner colleges and our development coach works closely with teaching staff to align college activities with site-based work to reinforce and consolidate learning. 

“We have also developed our own apprenticeship model based on three interrelated drivers; technical skills, customer skills, and meta skills,” he adds. “This T-shaped approach to learning provides appropriate challenges for our apprentices and means they rotate regularly to experience all aspects of the business.” 

Roddy reflects: “There is nothing I enjoy more than to go out on site and get involved in day-to-day operations. I love being able to contribute to problem solving in the field, and it’s a great opportunity to engage with site-based teams and understand some of the challenges first-hand.” 

Aside from apprenticeship schemes, technology is also salient to the company’s success. “We are embracing technology and constantly seeking new ways to enhance our productivity, processes, and customer experience,” Roddy details. “We recently carried out a strategic review of our electronic systems to identify areas in need of improvement or enhancement, for example. As a result, we’ve introduced innovative new systems that have transformed our working practices.  

Embracing the future 

“Our new end-to-end field management system, SimPRO, provides us with a strong foundation to build a new portal for social and private housing customers, who have welcomed asynchronous real-time data,” he elaborates. “Then, our integrated management system, Q-Pulse, has modernised our approach to compliance and quality assurance, while our new construction project management system, PriceWorx, has transformed the way we record productivity on our building sites.” 

The company’s latest technological development is its new partnership with Localz, which facilitates real-time customer engagement via location tracking and two-way communication. Roddy explains: “With customer expectations rising in the property services industry over the last few years, we must take the initiative to empower customers with enhanced visibility, communication, and tracking.”  

Technology will continue to play a vital role in the company’s future development. Roddy reveals: “We are currently working with a few innovative organisations to develop domestic building management systems, which will address fuel poverty, damp, and mould issues, as well as electrical, fire, and gas compliance. We expect this to be a key area of growth for the business going forward; it’s an exciting space to be present in, with opportunities to make a real, meaningful difference for tenants and occupiers.” 

He expands: “We also recently modernized our branding and commissioned a Marketing Partner to work closely with the Senior Management Team on designing a new, digital-ready brand that encompasses our past yet looks forward to the future. We wanted the new brand to reflect our trading history and 1911 formation, but with new, bold colour tones.  

“We’ve already received excellent feedback from stakeholders, and we believe our new digital-ready brand will help propel the company forward,” Roddy concludes. “With endless opportunities to enhance efficiency, technology is gradually redefining how businesses operate, and we are no exception.”