A little impatience is perhaps understandable, as Potton gave up volume housebuilding to take charge of the 230-unit-a-year niche player. The one-time managing director of Bryant Homes and then Miller Homes ended what looked set to be life membership of the volume housebuilders' club when he took the job at Antler, a private company whose only claim to fame had been that one of its seven regional offices was in the highly desirable location of Jersey.
The move sounded like the plot line for a back-to-the-floor style television documentary, and the scenario has provided plenty of action. There has been a change of managing director at six of the seven regional offices since Potton's arrival. At one time, the company mainly built apartments, but now the balance has been tipped in favour of houses, with the emphasis on good location and high-quality design. Output is on course to hit a target of 450 units this year, and turnover is expected to be around £15m, double last year's figure.
Potton has bigger business objectives than this, hence the plan to supplement organic growth with acquisition. "I'd like to grow the business by a factor of three in terms of value over the next five to six years," he says. "That's fairly ambitious, but do-able. We've got the wherewithal. We need more land. We need more planning permissions. My game plan is to grow the business, not necessarily by taking it into more regions, but by increasing turnover and profit, and to make money – I enjoy it along the way but it pays well, too."
Good business practice from volume housebuilding has played a part in raising Antler's game. "I've shortened the design process and am bringing homes to the market earlier," says Potton. But at the same time, the little league has exerted its influence and Potton has become a proponent of niche development. "We've been courting the banks of late because of our intention to make an acquisition and they see something in niche players. They can see that we have got the area to ourselves. If I had a choice of having a site of five units or 105 units, I would probably rather have the five. As the big housebuilders consolidate they're leaving a gap for the niche player, and there are more opportunities on the land side."
There is not much common ground between volume housebuilding and the likes of Antler, apart from that eternal bugbear of planning, Potton finds. "I mix with a different circle of contacts now – I'm not meeting John White of Persimmon, I'm mixing with local housebuilders like Bewley and Grenville," he says. "The volume players are chasing the FTSE. This is more hands-on, more sensitive. If a volume player doesn't get a site to planning it doesn't really make a difference. For us it is the difference between making budget and not.
"But it is as difficult to get planning permission for two homes as it is for 200 – in fact, opposition can be even more focused when it is a matter of building literally in someone's back garden."
But as Antler grows it could be facing a few similar challenges to its much bigger cousins. The company's sites have traditionally been so small that it has not had to provide social housing, but a 23-unit scheme in Hookwood is its first to cross that threshold.
Because it is a smaller, more personal business, it can provide finishing touches such as French polishing staircases so that buyers can run their hands over a silky smooth balustrade. "As you drive for volume, you have to not lose that," says Potton. "It is not just about profit. It's about design as well. If we didn't get a premium, we'd be a box basher."
Could Potton be fattening the calf for a hungry predator in building up the business? "I can't believe that Antler is on anyone's radar screen," he says with a smile. Not yet, perhaps, but Potton could change that.
&Personal professionalWhere do you live?
A converted barn, dating from 1450, in Surrey. What are your hobbies?
I'm a very poor golfer and I like jazz. I used to play saxophone. How did you start out in Housebuilding?
I joined Bryant at the age of 16 as a trainee quantity surveyor and was paid £365 a year. How is Antler performing?
Last year the company built 230 units and had a turnover of just over £7m. Prices range from £150,000 to £750,000. The average unit selling price is £300,000.