Profile: Jeremy Spratley, Spratley Architects

Building relationships is the foundation for success. Professor Russell Smith profiles a small business facing a big challenge
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The fact that "architect" is recorded as the profession for the bride, groom and their respective fathers on Jeremy Spratley's wedding certificate gives a clue as to his passion.

After qualification, Spratley worked in large practices based in London. "The work was great," he says, "but not the commuting." And so, following his father's footsteps (Spratley senior still runs a practice at the age of 78), Jeremy started Spratley Architects in Henley-on-Thames. "The choice of location was vital," says Spratley. "This is my home and where my wife and I want our children to grow up."

Starting with space in a shared office, Spratley Architects soon grew, taking on its first employee after six months and moving to its own premises within a year. Two-and-a-half years later, Spratley has seven full-time employees. The success bodes well. But it also poses Spratley's biggest challenge: the rule of thumb for architects is that a principal can only manage 10 members of staff before needing partners. And with much of Spratley's success down to his "hands on" approach with clients, taking on the right partner isn't as easy as it sounds.

Results from a survey of 60 per cent of his clients have reinforced how vital his personal availability is. "It seems bizarre that many architects don't keep the client informed and involved at all stages," he says.

This "growth phase" challenge is common for small businesses built upon personal reputations but too few keep the customer centre-stage. "I'm coming to the conclusion," says Spratley, "that to maintain the personal relationships customers value, I need to delegate more. And the best way to do that will be to develop staff within my current business in order for it to grow effectively."

Common sense and customer focus - a plan for success that any small business owner could learn from.