Made in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 09:02 03 March 2014

Reef One, who are based at Horsham St Faiths and run by Paul Stevenson.

Reef One, who are based at Horsham St Faiths and run by Paul Stevenson. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Archant Norfolk

Sometimes it is the simplest of ideas that is the most effective. So it was with the starting point for Reef One’s bioOrb, the spherical aquariums designed and assembled by this Horsham St Faith-based business. Using the traditional globe shape, in 1999 father and son Paul and Matt Stevenson developed an ingenious aquarium where its simplicity for users belies the level of thought that has gone into its design.

The concept has certainly worked. Today there are more than a million biOrb owners worldwide, and Reef One has expanded its range with different shapes and styles as well as the new biOrbAIR fully automated terrarium.

With construction work underway to expand its factory at the Abbey Farm Business Park, north of Norwich, managing director Paul reflects on the early days of the business. It grew out of a time of change for Paul, who had set up and been MD of Datron Electronics in Norwich which was eventually sold to its competitor. “I came out of Datron and took some gardening leave, wanting to think about doing my own thing,” he explains. “My son came out of university with a first class honours in design and marketing. He was a keen fish-keeper and we came up with the whole concept for an aquarium that was designed for what fish need and home aquarists want. The defining moment for me was when we were having lunch one day and discussing the various designs and my wife said ‘I like the fish bowl’. We thought, let’s look at it properly and come up with a design that doesn’t have to be five sheets of glass stuck together with silicon rubber - let’s make it attractive but also get the fundamentals right for the fish and make sure there is very small maintenance for the owner.”

Their design included a five-stage filtration system, first class oxygenation and an acrylic sphere - stronger and clearer than glass. Patented in 1999, the Stevensons committed to its future when Paul sold his Aston Martin and Matt his sportscar and ploughed the proceeds into turning their business idea into reality. They found an outlet to the pet trade, then received the sort of boost money cannot buy when they were featured on BBC’s Blue Peter - “Suddenly the phone didn’t stop ringing,” says Paul, who lives at Coltishall. “Burtons bought 2000 to put in its menswear stores.”

Reef One soon outgrew its original premises at Horsham and moved to its current position on the business park, where it will soon expand further. The business now employs 48 people across design, assembly, marketing and sales, and also has a base in Rochester, USA.

With sizes of the biOrbs ranging from 15-litre to 60l and prices from about £60 to £250, Reef One has sold over a million of its classic design, and is also selling some 600 to 700 of its Life models and 1200 Flow designs a month. In October, the biOrbAIR was launched, a mini microclimate globe for tropical plants, complete with automatic lighting, humidity misting and air circulation. Around the Horsham St Faith building, a range of planted up biOrbAIRs - some with creatures such as the brightly-coloured poison dart frogs - show the variety of styles and themes that can be featured in these almost maintenance-free terrariums which have humidity sensors to control moisture levels.

“We deal with Norfolk and Suffolk companies whenever we can and we started the business here as our first choice - we use Norwich Airport all the time,” says Paul who, although Cornish by birth, went to school at Downham Market.

Son Matt is now MD of Horsham St Faith-based business, Seneye, which has developed a water sensing warning system to help reduce the numbers of fish that die in tanks and ponds. Seneye is one of the EDP NWES Future 50 Class of 2013 entrepreneurs and businesses.

Reef One, Abbey Farm Business Park, Horsham St Faith, near Norwich, NR10 3JU; 01603 710339;

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