For many businesses their current story is one of battening down the hatches amid the seemingly endless economic crisis.
But for Liverpool property services group The Momentum Group, the opposite is true. The firm has just had its best-ever year in terms of revenue and profitability. It is booming in some areas and looking to expand in others. It has, you might say, momentum.
Momentum was founded by Chris Renshaw and Chris Bliss who both come with an impressive track record in the commercial property sector.
A qualified quantity surveyor, Chris Renshaw forged a reputation as a project manager and has worked with multiple clients including Heathrow Airport. He also worked on the £1bn Liverpool ONE development for Grosvenor and Golden Square in Warrington for Lend Lease.
Chris Bliss offers more than two decades of experience in the retail and leisure property sectors. He joined Grosvenor in 1997 and eventually became estate director at Liverpool ONE, managing a team of 160 people.
And Liverpool ONE is one of Momentum’s biggest clients. As the retail sector evolves and changes rapidly, the complex estate has had to adapt. In spring 2021 department store Debenhams closed its doors for the final time.
It left Grosvenor with a 180,000 sq ft hole to fill. With the help of Momentum it has reconfigured the multi-floor space and secured a 100,000 sq ft letting with Gravity Active Entertainment. Gravity will open a £10m leisure venue which will include a go-kart track. Retailer Marks & Spencer is also set to relocate to the building in 2023.
And in Manchester, Momentum secured a contract to fit-out and manage a new leisure concept at the Arndale Centre. It has helped deliver Urban Playground Manchester which features THE CUBE LIVE.
Those projects were delivered by Momentum’s construction division, by far its most successful strand. But the business is also growing in its three other specialist areas - an advisory service for property owners and investors, a building management service and a facilities management division.
And it is property management and facilities management where the two Chris’s are targeting growth.
Chris Bliss explained the distinction between the two: “Property management is where we look after the common areas of the building on behalf of the owner. We represent the landlord and look after the landlord areas.
Underneath the property manager you then arrange the facilities management. The property manager will set the service charge budget, they will send the specification out, they will employ the cleaner, they will employ the lift company and collect the service charge and rent.
Generally the model that we aim to do is both property and facilities management. But if you are working within RICS guidelines then you have to be fair and equitable in how you procure service charge services. We try to be very distinct between the two appointments.”
Momentum currently has around 12 facilities management contracts. These offer both what they call “soft services” and “hard services”. Soft services generally refers to cleaning. Hard services include mechanical and electrical maintenance.
Current clients include Appreciate Group (formerly Park Group), Oriel Chambers, The Keel, Temple Square and 18-20 Church Street in Liverpool.
Its current client roster for building management numbers four. This is double the number it had a year ago and Chris Bliss says the aim is to have eight building management contracts by the end of 2023. One of its latest contract wins is Aviation House, an 18,000 sq ft office building in south Liverpool.
“Facilties management is a very value-driven market,” said Chris Bliss. “This is particularly true in the cleaning world. Cleaning standards are an issue and you have the quality against cost conversation.
“The issue here is employment costs. When you are operating on margins as little as 8-10% then increased employment costs can quickly eat into that.”
Chris Renshaw agreed, adding: “When you talk about the service charge world and the buildings we look after for the landlords they are constantly under pressure to look at service charge levels to make sure they are getting best value. And it is our job to do that on their behalf. It is a constant challenge.
Winning property management contracts, added Chris Bliss, is a “slower burn”. He said: “It is more difficult to find properties and clients that are ready to change their property manager. This time last year we had two properties under management, now we have four.
“We know of at least two more in the pipeline in the next 12 months and we will be looking to have eight under management by the end of next year.”
He explained that to-date a lot of Momentum’s work in these areas has come via word-of-mouth, but said: “Now that we have got a business established with the roots in the ground we have to start getting out there and knocking on doors.
“Having marketing campaigns and actively seeking tenders - ferreting out those bigger opportunities, rather than the low-hanging fruit.
I think there is plenty of potential in the city region. That is not to say we won’t look at opportunities farther afield. There is plenty to go at here. There are an awful lot of poor property managers out there, and I think that is reflected in the residential sector more so than in the commercial world.
“Our task is helping people realise there are alternative, and better, ways of doing it. So how do we become more imaginative to get in front of investors when buildings are changing hands?
“We can provide more local, responsive services. There are property managers from other cities managing properties in Liverpool - locations such as Chester and Leeds.
“It is also about knowing who is in the market for acquisition and disposal and being around at that stage. Sometimes it is about doing some speculative work with investors. Generally they are buying an asset to enhance it in some form.”
Chris Renshaw expanded on the work Momentum is doing with owners of retail centres. The retail sector has been shaken up by the rise of e-commerce. And while there is life in the high street yet, the challenge of filling vacated space is growing.
“I think there is plenty of activity out there still,” he said. “Landlords are fighting hard to get the right deals and the right tenants into their places. We have found it very active still, despite the external pressures.
“Now the challenge for the bigger landlords is getting large space back from retailers who are no longer with us. Their challenge is what do they fill that with?
“And now we are seeing these competitive leisure tenants providing experiential offers. That is a win-win for landlords because there aren’t many retailers these days coming in and taking bigger floorplates.
“They are filling that void. Occupiers such as Urban Playground in Manchester or Gravity in Liverpool ONE are taking huge amounts of space.
“In shopping centres, many of which are distressed assets, it is about being imaginative and finding alternative uses for the space.”
On that side of the business Momentum has also worked extensively with Metquarter, originally opened as an upmarket shopping mall in Whitechapel. The centre initially prospered when it opened in the mid-2000s.
However, when the Liverpool ONE behemoth opened its doors in 2008, Metquarter faced a serious challenge. In recent years, with the help of Momentum, its owner Queensberry has successfully pivoted towards a more leisure-focused offer.
Chris Renshaw added: “Liverpool ONE is a big part of our business- we do a lot of work for them. And even somewhere as successful as that they are constantly looking at their asset to see how they can re-engineer it or shuffle things about to make it more successful.
“We have delivered activity at Metquarter for Queensberry. With our help they have completely repurposed that place from the shopping centre it was to now a multi-use development.
“We are fortunate with our background. We have a lot of experience looking at assets not just from a management point of view but also from a construction perspective. We have that experience when a landlord comes to us and asks ‘look at this big space, what can we do with it?’.
We can move with a bit of agility because we have done this so many times. Our four different strands cover the life cycle of a building - we advise, build, manage and maintain.
And we believe that suite is unique. There are plenty of people who will give you advice and others who will manage your building but they don’t build them. There are those that can build them but don’t know how to manage them.
“When a client comes to us we have lots of different options of how we can help them.”