Colchester: Sui Generis makes a mark at Chelsea
- Credit: Archant
A Colchester company specialising in fibreglass mouldings and anti-slip flooring has branched out into garden furniture manufacture, with remarkable results. Mark Went, managing director of Sui Generis, told Sheline Clarke about striking gold at Chelsea.
Visitors to this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, or indeed the millions of viewers who watched it on the television, may have noticed striking features in the centre of the Gold Award winning display by Hilliers Nursery.
The beautiful halo shaped water feature and curved seating were hand-crafted in Essex by Sui Generis, manufacturers specialising in fibreglass work who are keen to take their skills into new markets.
Hillers was looking for its 67th gold medal at Chelsea with their display ‘Risk’.
“I suppose using such a modern piece of furniture was risky for them,” said managing director of Sui Generis Mark Went, “and we are delighted that they won gold again. It was quite a responsibility but we were extremely proud to work alongside them to create the garden and the reaction we had was amazing.”
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For a bold new look to their Chelsea exhibit, Hillier chose Sui Generis’ serpentine seats in telemagenta pink as a key element. The fibreglass designers have also created a bespoke circular table to complete the innovative garden design.
It was the largest exhibit at the show and also featured two of Sui Generis’ Aqua Corona water features. The smooth-to-touch curved water features were chosen to create an area of calm within the dramatic display.
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“Watching the show come together was quite an experience,” said Mark. “The installation was relatively simple but we wanted to be there to make sure everything worked to plan. Seeing the gardens taking shape was fascinating.”
Being a part of such a huge shop window could also have a huge impact on this fledgling side-line for Sui Generis and Mark is hoping to maintain interest in the range through social media and marketing activity and that some of the enquiries will translate into orders.
“There is lots of interest, particularly on the commercial side as we can make the furniture in any colour so corporate colours are popular, which is one of the benefits of the fibreglass as well as being durable in all weather conditions. It is scratch resistant, has a highly polished finish and will pretty much last a lifetime.”
The fact that Sui Generis is making bespoke furniture may well be a diversification of the business but in some respects marks a return to its roots.
Those of you who remember your Latin will know that the company names means ‘one off’ or ‘unique’, which was characterised the work Mark and his step father Ron Stone were doing when they started the business in 1996.
Both had been working with fibreglass and decided they would rather work for themselves than anyone else.
Since then, the business has developed various specialisms including fibreglass linings and coatings, GRP mouldings, spill containment, anti-slip floor and grating.
In the Hythe Quay factory fibreglass linings and moulds take shape in various work stations while more routine manufacturing, including anti slip flooring and grating is manufactured in China and shipped in.
The recent high profile at the Chelsea Flower Show isn’t the first time Sui Generis has hit the headlines. Back in 2008, the company was responsible for a four-year multi-million pound contract to blast and recoat the iron work at St Pancras Station in London. Whilst the original contract was worth £4million, associated projects almost trebled that price tag and the company expanded accordingly to deliver the project. That came about after the acquisition of a smaller company in 2000 which added new skills to the workforce.
To complete the works, Mark expanded the workforce and was proud to be named best performing sub-contractor and remains responsible for the onward maintenance, his work again in the limelight during last year’s Olympic Games as sports fans poured through St Pancras on their way to the Olympic Village at Stratford.
The workforce has now settled at around 40 and the factory is undergoing a restructure to allow for more streamlined production and to upgrade extraction systems to ensure the team are working in a safe environment.
“We are expanding and getting ready for the future,” said Mark. “It’s been a full-on six months as we are improving the buildings whilst still manufacturing, but it is all coming together. It’s a big investment for us but it will create a much better working environment and give us extra space and hopefully make us more productive.”
Extra capacity will also be essential if the furniture line takes off as each piece will be manufactured and finished in the factory, hand-crafted by the team.
“Diversification has seen us through some hard times and we think the new furniture will continue that trend.
“The response we have had has been really encouraging and in the age of Twitter and Facebook it is surprising how quickly the message spreads.”
Mark is clearly enjoying exploring new uses for the materials he knows so well but is unashamedly hands-off in the workshops.
Having trained in kitchen manufacture, and still happy to lend his hand to a bit of DIY, he prefers taking a more strategic approach to running the business, exploring new markets across the UK and making sure his company is in the best shape for the future.
“The recession has inevitably had an impact but the plan is to develop the three areas of our business, any of which could be a business in its own right,” said Mark. “I understand the procedures and have worked at the bench but am comfortable now in my role of driving sales and reinvesting so we can progress.”