Business partners clean up the neighbourhood
Man standing next to van

The neighbourly spirit

Ever thought about going into business with the person living next door? Meet the men who did just that.

It’s always a good idea to make sure you get on well with the person you go into business with. Especially if, like Dan Hawkins and Chris Watkins, you live next door to each other.

The Caerphilly duo run External Restore, which offers all aspects of external cleaning and pressure washing to the domestic and commercial sectors.

Dan is a former armed forces communications engineer and windscreen technician and Chris runs a mobile coffee service. They’d been friendly neighbours for eight years when, enjoying a beer outside one summer afternoon, they hit upon the idea of going into partnership together to pursue a plan Chris had been developing.

Chris had a background in large-scale construction projects and mooted doing something around gutter cleaning for large buildings. ‘I’d seen someone cleaning gutters with a telescopic vacuum at one of my customers’ properties,’ he says, ‘and I thought it had strong legs for a future venture.’

Dan was facing potential redundancy in his own working life and so the two began looking at the idea of forming an external cleaning and restoration company.

External Restore offers services such as cladding, cleaning, window cleaning, block-paving cleaning, stone and brick cleaning and external restoration, as well as bespoke packages when necessary.

Chris is the ideas person. I complement him by putting his ideas into practice

Working with a friend, family member or neighbour isn’t always plain sailing but Dan and Chris say their respective differences dovetail well.

‘Chris is the ideas person,’ says Dan. ‘He’s the one who pays attention to detail, while I complement him by putting his ideas into practice and making them happen.’

What they do have in common, though, is a desire for good customer service.

‘Having helped Chris occasionally with his coffee service, I’d grown to understand his strong customer and service-based work ethic,’ says Dan. And External Restore’s customer base is crucial. ‘No business can survive without customers so we place potential customers and existing clients at the heart of our business. Our number-one priority is customer satisfaction,’ adds Dan.

Being neighbours, we don’t have to wait for email replies and returned phone calls

Because the two live next door to each other, unlike many other start-ups, there are no inconveniently scheduled business meetings or annoying transatlantic mis-timings. Everything can be done in person, limiting the tech overheads quite considerably. It also means the two can get ahead when the rest of the world is asleep, or catch up on important business over their morning coffee.

‘Being neighbours means we’re able to get together at the drop of a hat, rather than waiting for email replies and returned phone calls,’ laughs Dan.

It's also meant the two can recruit on their own doorstep. Another neighbour: a gas-safe engineer and mechanic is about to join the team, saving on recruitment fees and interview costs. There’s nothing quite like neighbourhood watch.

The two are dead set on fast growth and since its launch last year the company has become a recommended supplier to Costco. They’re also about to recruit a regional business development manager outside of the Wales and West region.