Top 50: How to construct your own market

Rotrax is the `one-stop shop' for specialist work in the construction industry, and this distinctive approach has successfully set it apart from the competition, as Roger Trapp discovers

There can be few better examples of a company breathing new life into an old industry by challenging the way things are done than Rotrax Engineering Services. The Middlesbrough-based specialist engineering business has taken third place in the 1999 Independent on Sunday ranking of Britain's fastest growing private companies through achieving an annual growth rate of 116 per cent over each of the past five years - and it achieved that through coming up with a new way of serving its customers in the construction industry.

Essentially a building services company that carries out electrical, mechanical installation work and other specialist jobs for construction companies, Rotrax has differentiated itself by offering a "one-stop shop," whereby contractors go to it for a range of specialist work rather than have to split it up into three to four packages, and by providing a "design- and-build" capability. Unusually for a company of its type, Rotrax does a lot of the design work associated with projects in-house.

Doing this took more than just announcing an intention to the world. The company has in recent years invested heavily in computer-aided design and other information technology systems, so that, according to joint managing director Alan Robson, "it looks like a company that's been around for 30 years," rather than just a decade.

In fact, in its present form, it has existed for a somewhat shorter period. The company began the transformation into the assured, ambitious organisation of today six years ago, when Mr Robson bought into it after a career managing other people's companies.

As a result, he became an equal partner of Ian Rennison, his co-joint managing director. Mr Rennison had founded the company in 1989 after working his way through the ranks and into management in other companies within the industry.

Though Mr Rennison, who was 29 when he started, had done reasonably well working on a small scale, the company really took off with the arrival of Mr Robson. By his own admission, "a late starter" when it came to starring his own business, the 52-year-old has played a significant role in shaping the direction of a company that has gone from a turnover of less than pounds 700,000 in 1993 to more than pounds 13m last year. In the financial year just completed, the annual sales figures have moved on to pounds 24m and, according to Mr Robson, the business is "still growing strongly".

With offices in Newcastle, Derby and Leeds as well as the main operation in Middlesbrough's Riverside Park, Rotrax is well placed to pick up a good slice of business in the north of England. Among the prestigious projects Rotrax has been involved in is the Orange Call Centre in Darlington, for which it supplied innovative lighting. It will also travel further afield for favoured clients - that is, those that "treat us fairly and reasonably and pay us on time".

But both Mr Robson and Mr Rennison acknowledge that their aim of becoming a major player in their industry with a turnover of more than pounds 100m relies on more than just getting the business model right.

"I know everybody says this, but we're a people business. We're a service industry," says Mr Robson. And that requires having "a dedicated team of professional people".

In the early days, that was easier to achieve, since he and Mr Rennison brought together workers they had come across in their previous careers. "We'd met a lot of people, and we brought the best of the talent to create Rotrax," says Mr Robson. Latterly, though, the company - which now employs about 85 staff and about 200 pipe fitters and other operatives - has been forced on to the open market.

With a skill shortage making suitable people hard to come by, the company has also invested for the future by establishing an apprentice scheme at a time when such arrangements are largely dying out. Apprentices currently account for 10 per cent of the labour force and there are plans to increase that proportion to 20 per cent.

The company also makes itself attractive to would-be employees by operating a profit-sharing scheme. "The whole idea is to reward people for the success," says Mr Robson.

The challenge now facing him and Mr Rennison - who together retain the lion's shares of the equity - is to keep up the growth without losing sight of the principles that got the company to where it is today. "It's important to us that we don't outgrow what has made us successful so far," he says.

Though they want to reach a significant size, they as yet have no intention of floating on the stock market and would have to be convinced of the benefits for their customers and employees if a trade buyer tried to take over the business.

"It doesn't figure in our plans," says Mr Robson of seeking a listing. And he points out that he and his colleagues have seen examples of companies like theirs that have gone for listings and not got on well. "I don't think construction is very attractive to the City. There are no immediate advantages," he adds.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Helpdesk Analyst

£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...

Senior Helpdesk Analyst / Service Desk Co-ordinator

£27000 per annum + pension, 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ind...

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London