Master of the motoring revolution

Though an accountant by trade, Martell has always had an interest in engineering and in 1989 he set up his first venture, Trafficmaster, setting out to solve the problem of never knowing where a traffic jam would be. "We negotiated license with the department of transport to put sensors on motorway bridges and roads and providing real time where the congestion is," he says.

Martell stood down from Trafficmaster and sold most of his shares in 2005. "That's when I decided to get into the business of low carbon motoring and I formed Chargemaster three and a half years ago," he says.

His first success ensured that financing Chargemaster was not an issue. "Having the finance was crucial - a lot of small companies are constrained with finance, but we were able to start from our own sources and we are very focused on being profitable. We run a pretty tight and lean operation and we are very careful with our overheads."

As a small business Chargemaster puches well above its weight. It is the most successful manufacturer of charging stations in Europe, offering 27 different products ranging from equipment for charging your car at home to sophisticated rapid charge units that will charge a car in less than an hour.

Martell has overseen a rapid expansion of the company. "Because we were first to market we had to move very quickly to make sure we fulfil the market need," he says and adds most staff have had to do the job of two or three people due to the fast pace of growth.

While one part of the business looks after selling equipment to government, motor manufacturers and other organisations, another of Chargemaster - called Polar - oversees the installation direct with clients including Waitrose and NCP car parks.

"In terms of the Polar model we are the only player in the market and we are going through a stage of rapid expansion at the moment. We obviously have pinpointed the main locations and we have a bit of a land grab situation to make sure we get all the best sites," explains Martell. Over the next 12 months there will be more and more Polar charging units popping up in towns and cities across the country.

Foresight has been key to Martell's success. "The motoring industry is growing rapidly and is spending tens of billions on low carbon motoring because it has to. It may not be visible at the moment, but emissions regulation put forward by the EU means that by 2015 every motor manufacturer will have a range of some type of plug-on vehicle," he explains. "This applies to Ford, Vauxhall, Mercedes, VW and you'll be seeing BMW electric cars on the road within two years. There are 29 new electric cars coming on to the market in the next 18 months."

But the market is still quite small. Last year just 1,000 of all cars sold were electric but it is set to grow steadily. "It is expected that 5% or more of all car sales will be electric or plug-in hybrid by the end of this decade," says Martell. "We are not saying that internal combustion engine is going to die, it will still be there, but there will be a lot of development in the electric market."

He says there are few competitors and they are all small. "The big players, such as Siemens and GE, have not really got into this market because it is very fast moving and they can't develop the product in the timescale that the market needs at the moment," he says. "Our strength is that we are able to move quickly. Renault came out with a particular design of charging point last year; we won the contract, which is worth the best part of a million pounds and we could deliver the product with three months - a big company couldn't do that."

Today he employs around 40 staff and there are few signs that the growth will slow down. "Our current revenue is three times what it was one year ago. We are turning over currently about £600,000 every month and a year ago that was about £200,000 and we expect that growth to continue this year," he says.

While acknowledging that spotting market potential early was crucial for Chargemaster, Martell says the most important factor in his success was knowledge. "For any start-up, the key thing is to know your market and to become an expert in all aspects of the market place. My colleagues and I spent several years looking at the electric vehicle market and studying the technology to be able to know more about than the competition," he explains. "We now get car manufacturers coming to us to us to ask for advice on charging for their cars and we give advice to energy companies and government - it is very important to know your subject well."

With plans to float later this year and continuing growth Martell is upbeat. "We think we will be very busy, it looks very exciting over the next few years."

For more information on Chargemaster click here, www.chargemasterplc.com.

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