Enterprising practice lays the foundations for a Super future
- Credit: Archant
If the construction sector is a bellwether for the UK economy, James Potter’s decision to launch his own structural engineering business in the middle of recession was more than courageous.
But it was a brave move that has already been vindicated in the four years since thanks to the continuing success and expansion of the firm, Superstructures.
James, 34, ran the company initially from his spare bedroom but within six months a spiraling workload necessitated growth. Former colleague Mark Hayward, 32, was recruited as a director, and the business moved into new offices near Giles Circus in the centre of Ipswich.
Today Superstructures employs seven people – but James and Mark already have their eyes on further expansion, both in personnel and geography.
“During the last two years the business has grown at a rate of about 50% per year and that’s the aim for the next five years,” says James, a former East Bergholt High School student.
“The target is to have a company with 15 to 20 people by then. And we think that’s realistic – after all, we have gone from one person to seven so we know how to expand.
“We also need more space. We will always be working in Ipswich but we might move into other areas, too.
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“We already work all over the country – as far as the Orkneys and down to Plymouth. But East Anglia is a good place to be based – we’re close to London and there is lots of work in the region.”
James admits that starting out on his own in 2011 despite the global economy showing few signs of recovery was a risk – but one which was worth taking. “The effect of the recession meant customers were looking more closely for value for money - but also our ability to deliver high-quality work within short timescales made us very attractive.
“Setting up on our own was nerve-wracking. It is stressful constantly worrying if you have enough work coming in - and also worrying if you have too much and feel that you can’t turn it down.
“But I always wanted to launch a business and I took the view then that I don’t have kids or a mortgage so now is the time to do it. I’d just turned 30 and I thought ‘it’s now or never’.”
Former Holbrook High School pupil Mark adds: “People are very demanding of you when you are on your own and have just started out. You have to do everything that everyone asks of you – and you have to do it really, really well. That’s the only way to launch and then grow a business.”
And it seems Superstructures is doing it ‘really, really well’. The business has attracted custom almost entirely through word of mouth, thanks to the quality of the projects delivered.
The company’s recent portfolio of work includes the major expansion of St Albans Sixth Form in Ipswich, the development of Frinton Swimming Pool and the regeneration of the former Bartlet Hospital in Felixstowe.
Superstructures, which also specialises in cutting edge and contemporary domestic projects as well as work on listed buildings, prides itself on offering design-orientated structural engineering.
James’s background in product design dovetails with Mark’s more traditional educational entry into the sector.
“The client is interested in the design aspect – they want the building to look great, perform well and utilise an economical structure,” says James.
As the firm goes from strength to strength, James and Mark have had guidance on how to write the next chapter in Superstructures’ success story.
“We received a government grant for business coaching aimed at start-ups,” says Mark.
“It has helped us to identify exactly where we are going. We knew we were doing well but there was no control over what happened next. Now we know where we want to be, we have defined targets.
“The coaching brings out the business mind in those with a technical background.”