IN this week's SME Focus we hear from a former bridge builder who has used his engineering skills to develop successful businesses in an industry that is dominated by big firms.

Name: Jim Macmillan

Age: 54

What is your business called?


Where is it based?


What services does it offer?

Hand-made, quality wooden beds, produced to order with a lifetime guarantee.

To whom does it sell?

Anyone who wants a good night's sleep, really. We have been discussing supplying beds to hotels and to care homes, while overseas markets are showing an interest, too.

What is its turnover?


How many employees?

Four, including myself.

When was it formed?

In January 2006.

Why did you take the plunge?

I had a burning desire to work for myself. I had worked with ScotRail for almost 10 years building, repairing and maintaining bridges and, basically, reached a point where I needed a new challenge.

The bed making came along quite by accident. I knew any business I would run had to involve making something – what that was, at first, wasn't clear.

Initially, I made wind surfers and dinghies, but this wasn't getting me anywhere. One evening in my flat in the west end of Glasgow, there was a fair amount of spare timber lying around so I made myself a bed, much to the annoyance of the neighbours, who didn't enjoy the hammering and sawing involved. But it worked, and I still have the bed.

I was showing it off proudly to a friend who asked me to build one for him, and it began to take off from there.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I am a qualified civil engineer but gave up bridge building for bed making.

The first bed and furniture business I started opened two shops in Glasgow and was run very successfully. After 12 years, my business partner (my brother) and I decided to sell the business (for £250,000) and go our separate ways – Graham to a new life with his family in France and me to a year's transatlantic trip to the West Indies.

So I spent a year sailing around the Caribbean in my boat. I met Sophia Loren and just missed Mick Jagger. When I returned to Glasgow I knew I was good at making furniture so I set up Riverwood.

How did you raise the start up funding?

Self funded.

What was your biggest break?

Deciding to focus on making beds and opening our market to the whole of the UK via a successful (made it myself) website, as well as taking advantage of developing niche markets.

Our beds are extremely strong – in fact, I'm still using the same one I built myself 25 years ago.

As a result, I have been approached to build beds for very heavy people, some who have gone through two or three beds in a year because of their weight.

There is a growing need in the UK due to a rise in obesity. Some heavy people struggle to get comfortable in a bed and some break under the strain.

I didn't design my beds specifically for very heavy people, but I reckon my beds are the strongest in the world. I did a test where I drove my car, which weighs 1.5 tons, onto one of my beds in a stunt and the bed was able to support it.

What was your worst moment?

When I spent time on lengthy negotiations about potential export business with a potential "customer" who turned out to be trying to pull a scam to get my bank details etc. I was annoyed, but it showed me that getting excited too quickly over possible orders and deals is not a good idea.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I love it that customers come to me rather than the major and, I have to say, very good, bed suppliers that are household names.

Clearly, I'm not so high profile – but that's changing – so clients have to do a bit of digging before they end up here at my premises, or hit my website.

It's a great feeling when they want to buy something I have designed and constructed: they are paying me for an idea I've had and physically created. Good feedback from customers gives me a buzz, too.

What do you least enjoy?

Finding reliable staff and paperwork. The permanent staff I have are skilled and dedicated but, from time to time, we need extra people in the workshop.

Unfortunately, this has proved to be a bit of a hit and miss experience so far. That means I have to get the overalls on and put in a shift in the workshop, too, so the admin piles up – and I spend hours catching up.

What are your top priorities?

Boosting our order book, taking on additional staff and making a breakthrough into the American market, where Scottish wood products are hugely popular.

These are big issues for me at the moment. We have customers already in the Middle East and attracting additional customers there is important, too.

In the UK, the hotel, hospital and care sectors will also be targeted in the next 12 months.

What could the Westminster and/or the Scottish Government do that would most help?

Leave me alone.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

That the recession is irrelevant and good marketing is the key to success.

How do you relax?

I like spending time with my wife and young son and getting out on my boat when the time permits.

I also keep a guitar in the office which I pick up from time to time – usually after a stressful phone call.