Steve Porter, Steve Porter Transport, Northwood
“Hand it over!” was the way well-known local businessman Steve Porter, of Steve Porter Transport, Northwood, answered this question.
“When a business has grown to a size where one founding owner / manager really cannot manage everything on a daily basis, you have to get other people in to help. You need them to have the skills to manage the business and that is not easy – it's like handing over your young child to school!”
Explaining, he said: “For two years, it was hell. I kept thinking, 'I wouldn't do it like that!' and 'why did they do this?' Eventually, it was a relief - now I have a clearer overview of where the business is going and I have time to think about the future because I don't have to worry about getting drivers out on the road.”
Building the business from one van to where it is now has been hard work. “I didn't have any qualifications after school but I suddenly saw that I wanted to build a business, not just drive a truck. It didn't all go easily – we’ve had tremendous problems at times.
"We reached a critical mass to survive and I wanted to get on to the next level, but that really depended on getting the right people in to manage the business. Thankfully, it's worked: we now employ 75 staff and, 35 years on, we feel pretty confident that we are here for the long-term.”
as published by IW County Press, Column by Dave Simon
The full interview continues:
How it started for me
It starts with an entrepreneur - you need that person to create the basic business. This is every-day-is-different, risk-taking, what's-the-next-building-block work. Then you need the 'steady hands' to keep everything going day-to-day while the entrepreneur keeps working on the future. Entrepreneurs rarely have the skills to do that side of it (they are generally pretty ‘random’ thinkers) and it's asking too much for one person to have all the skills required.
I started out with no qualifications after school. I had jobs as a labourer, an apprentice storeman, a chauffeur, hovercraft cleaner, a baggage handler and finally a truck driver.
At some point, I met another driver – waiting in a lorry park at Heathrow at some ungodly hour of the night – got chatting and I realised he looked maybe twenty years older than his actual age. That made me think: I didn't want to end up stuck in a career I liked but with limited option to change. So I reasoned that by starting my own business, I hoped that I would have more control over my future. I realised I wanted to build a business, not just be a driver for the rest of my life. I loved the driving, but...
I literally started as a ‘one-man-band’ enjoyed the driving and got a lot of work by giving customers exactly what they wanted. One good customer said he needed me to do more and more – and helped me buy my second van, which I got my brother to drive.
Our rise over the next decade was rapid, but my lack of business knowledge led us to the brink of failure – which we fortunately recovered from after seven long years. That was when the penny dropped about bringing in people with skills that I just didn’t have.
We did fail in business at one point. We were maintaining our fleet in the early days and a garage nearby came on the market so we bought it. Unfortunately, we lacked the specialist knowledge of that industry and eventually the business failed costing us and suppliers dearly. It taught us a valuable lesson – stick to what you really know and understand, or employ people to manage it who do.
Profit is essential
Profit is essential for re-investment. To build the business, you have to re-invest your profits. That way you create longevity – a substantial business that brings stability to employees and community. For us, profits have been invested back into staff, equipment and reserves – we see this as providing stability, longevity and a counter to market changes.
Being in the supply chain for many companies, we are dependent here on consistency – and their success. We need a continuity of orders for deliveries so we can plan budgets, staffing, finances, marketing and so on. So what scares me is when things seem to get erratic and volatile which can make it difficult to feel any confidence in our plans. It just takes one substantial company to change a policy or withdraw from the local supply chain and the knock-on effects are felt all over the Island.
The Island's economy seems to have got over a bit of a boom in 2014 and settled back to what I feel are 2013 levels of business. It feels where it should be – normal – now, but it is disappointing having been so busy before. For the Island, there is a need for measured growth across our economy – not just a concentration on any one sector. Manufacturing, services, construction and tourism all would benefit from a steady increase which should improve the economy of the Island as a whole, without destroying its essential nature.
Support is essential
Locally, I feel we should support our own – encouraging local companies to develop and to create jobs. Imagine if every business on the Island could create a quarter of a new job – that would add up to a huge improvement for Island life.
I do wish that I had a better understanding of how my costs worked as soon as I started. My pricing calculations were very basic – I thought I was doing it right, but I had missed out things like insurance costs, depreciation and downtime, so there were periods where my pricing lost us any profits – and worse!
Historically, our weakest link was probably marketing – we’re not very good at blowing my own trumpet - but more to the point, we concentrated so much effort on our daily operations. Working to raise the profile of the business really does have long-term benefits and we have now engaged a marketing company to assist us with this. In terms of profile, industry and media interest and new opportunities we have definitely gained as a result.
I think advice and mentoring is really important. I was incredibly fortunate to have had two established businessmen – one a customer, one a supplier – who helped me greatly. They gave me advice, financial assistance, business wisdom and looked out for me in my first three years. If I had not listened to them, I would probably have not made it to year two. If I had listened better, I might not have had the ups and downs that arrived years later!
So my advice to anyone starting up now is to concentrate on the business as much as you concentrate on your operations – your trade, your innovation, your professional work or whatever it is you do.