What is your business called? Caledonia Log Homes Ltd.
Where is it based??¯Bowhill Estate, Scottish Borders.
What does it produce? Traditional log homes, which are built using handcrafted techniques that include stripping a log of its bark and then carving the log in its whole form to fit a specific position in the building. The logs are laid horizontally one on top of the other until they reach full height. Each log is 'hand scribed', which is fitting the contours of the logs together and then saddle notches are carved in the corners to provide structural integrity and beauty. This stage is completed in our yard. The building is then dismantled, delivered and re-erected on site like a giant jigsaw. The building is insulated during the re-erection phase.
Who does it sell to? We sell to?¯people across the UK including professionals working from home who want a work space, retired couples who want a garden room or those needing an extra space for guests to stay. Our residential houses are largely sold to self-builders or landowners who want to build and run a holiday home.
What is its turnover? Around £150,000 in year two.
How many employees? Four, including my brother John.
When was it formed? We launched in?¯April 2011.
What were you doing before you took the plunge? After completing my degree in American history at Sheffield University, I moved to Canada where I began to learn the trade of log crafting. It's an unusual career path to follow but it's been full of travel, excitement, hard work but ultimately fulfilment. For a few years I worked in Canada and then travelled to New Zealand, France and Austria to work on specialists builds. I've loved travelling and learning the craft but home is certainly in Scotland and it's been a great feeling being back.
My brother John on the other hand has been playing professional rugby since 2007 for both Edinburgh rugby and currently for the Scotland rugby 7s squad. He also began to study for his Masters in Construction Project Management in 2010 around the time I was thinking about starting up a business. As a result we decided to go into business together.
Why did you take the plunge? With eight years' experience, having studied at the Orkanaga School of Log Building in Kelowna, British Columbia and then travelling around the world applying my trade, I believed it was time to take a leap and go out on my own with the support of John. Log building is not a stable job and you can become almost transient, moving from company to company, depending on the amount of work. It's great fun but it gets very tiring living in tents, caravans, huts and occasionally the car! It was time to settle down and I wanted more control over the work I was doing.
How did you raise the start-up funding? We made a personal contribution to get the business off the ground and we also received a Scottish Borders Council grant.
What was your biggest break??¯Forest Pitch - a project that was part of the Cultural Olympiad in 2012. We built a changing room for a football match that was played in the middle of a forest. It was unique and allowed us to generate some momentum by highlighting the work we could do. They were also a great group of people to work for. The two houses we are completing in the Borders have also been a great break. But it doesn't matter the size of the job. For example, we built a large swing for a child in a wheelchair. It looked amazing and we continue to get emails from his mum saying how much her son loves the motion of swinging.
What was your worst moment??¯We got a scare when informed of the thermal properties of logs in regard to building regulations. It first appeared that the building regulations were going to make it impossible to build a log home in Scotland. With the help of a good architect, thinking outside of the box and a loan to import a special insulation product from America we were able to get our first buildings successfully through building control.
What do you most enjoy about running the business??¯ After starting out on our own and battling through the first couple of years we now have a super small team. Watching the team in action, working well together and building structures I think are beautiful makes me proud.
What do you least enjoy? I really don't enjoy doing the monthly receipts. However if you ask John he would tell you that he has a task trying to understand where I have filed the receipts. He spends a lot of time chasing me up!
What are your ambitions for the firm??¯To gain a reputation as an honest and hardworking company, that builds beautiful and quality structures across the UK.
What are your top priorities??¯Short term our main priority is to secure more work for the next six months. We are very close with a number of clients who are applying for planning permission. Looking further ahead we would like to generate a steady sustainable growth. With our current work force we could build four houses a year. We don't want to expand too quickly and good quality log builders are hard to come by. We would love to own our own yard within the next five years, with a cafe and visitor centre on site. This would help to educate people about log building and allow them to see the buildings actually progressing in the yard.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help? The government could help small businesses by reducing or deferring their tax bill for the first few years when they are in the early stages of development.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned??¯I remembered a great tip from the autobiography of Duncan Bannatyne. He claimed you could do most business related tasks yourself with a bit of research and self-teaching. The wealth of information available online has helped us to keep the running costs to a minimum and not face large bills for simple tasks.
How do you relax??¯ I really enjoy the outdoors and the Bo rders countryside. So when I get time off I enjoy field sports. John, on the other hand, when not working, studying or playing rugby enjoys spending time with his wife and their six-month-old daughter, with his phone switched off.