Morrison Design | Safe and sound, simple objective for structural engineering firm

It’s number-crunching, head-scratching work, but the goal is always simple, says Morrison Design director David Morrison. “An architect comes up with a beautiful idea for a building or structure – and we make sure it doesn’t fall down.”

The Wellington firm specialises in solving structural engineering challenges in residential, commercial and education sector buildings, as well as temporary structures such as scaffolding and propping.

Some of its more recent projects include a concrete Japanese bathhouse in a Wellington garden overlooking the harbour – complete with a tree growing up through the middle of it, and a temporary roof structure over the capital’s famous The Backbencher Gastropub, which is undergoing renovation.

“Sometimes we need to design unique solutions to get a building built”, says David. “In one case we had to design a cantilever structure off the side of a high-rise hotel roof, so they could erect signage.”

Morrison Design goes beyond just ensuring a structure is sound, he says. “We want our buildings to be really livable spaces that just feel right. If everything goes well, you wouldn’t even know an engineer has been involved.”

The business is in demand, but the team still finds time to lend expertise to not-for-profit projects, including a recent house alteration for Habitat for Humanity.

David, who has 16 years’ experience as a structural engineer, and wife Anne-Marie – half shareholder and chief supporter – set up the firm three and a half years ago and have since employed two more engineers.

From the beginning they were intent on providing a high-quality service to clients, Anne-Marie says.  “We try and be very approachable and discuss with the client the vision they have as opposed to just telling them what has to happen. We work with our clients to find a solution.”

The firm also prides itself on its responsiveness, David says, as construction firms often need quick solutions to pressing on-site problems. “We have the ability to allocate resources to their urgent projects. We get a lot of repeat customers; our clients really value that service level”.

The firm’s clients are typically architects, and while it now has a strong customer base, marketing the start-up was a challenge. “It’s not like we have got a shop on the high street with customers going past.”

But Morrison Design soon built a name for itself and has earned the trust of clients. “We like our clients to know that once they hand a project over to us, it is in safe hands.”

For accounting advice, David and Anne-Marie happily put their trust in Abbey Warner, director at Moore Stephens Markhams Wellington. Abbey guided the young firm through its start-up phase, assisting with strategy, ensuring it had a sound financial footing, answering myriad queries and setting the pair up with software services such as Xero.

Abbey takes care of the accounting, so David and the team can focus on the engineering. “She understands that I’m not going to spend hours researching accounting terms. She takes care of all of that, but at the same time she respects us and doesn’t talk down to us.”

Abbey also reviews the firm’s accounts every quarter, so, for example, they can put aside money for tax. Anne-Marie says the regular reviews and projections are also hugely helpful in making business decisions.

The goal is to grow the firm’s client base while also maintaining a high level of service and strengthening existing customer relationships. But they are wary of growing too big, David says.  “We’d rather be providing a reliable service to fewer people than a lower-quality, mass offering.”

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