Steve Winter, Wight Fire & Extinguishers, Sandown
We had to move.
We were growing successfully. We were gathering more and more customers, expanding our team, storing more in our workshop – and running out of space.
The workshop kept flooding. The office was cold and unwelcoming. I felt we had to find a new place.
We started looking and by chance an industrial unit nearby became vacant. We rented it and after a large amount of building works to turn the units into an impressive office space and adjacent stores, we moved in. Our postcode didn't change and we kept the same telephone number. It all worked smoothly.
It cost lots, but as a business owner, you have to listen to your own judgement. Take advice, certainly, but make your own decision.
We moved in one weekend. The staff came in and wheeled filing cabinets and boxes of stores across. Everyone was fantastic and the office staff who helped us plan it all got everything right.
We're really pleased we did it. Upheaval and cost were the negatives, but it raised our profile and boosted our morale. Now customers and suppliers who visit us get a better view of our size and stability. And we've bought the unit since so we're set to profit from any sale of it later.
UPDATE: We only went and won it!
"Our team won the Small Business of the Year 2016 category in this year’s Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce Business Awards for Excellence last Friday (2nd December) in a ceremony held at Cowes Yacht Haven Event Centre. It’s the first time we have entered these awards so as you can imagine we’re pretty pleased with ourselves...
The ABC...J Of Business
Commentary from Dave Simon
Entrepreneurial success seems to require a certain mindset. Not everyone has it; many don't see it.
This month's interview identifies judgement as a key factor. On the way there, you also need:
Ambition - To start a journey, you need a direction and a destination.
Brains - To make a business profitable, you need thoughtful plans as well as action.
Courage - To start something with risks, you have to be brave.
Determination - To keep going at something that is hard work, you need real grit.
Enthusiasm - To keep yourself, your staff and your customers active, you need to be an 'energy expander'.
Fun - To help you relax when things get tough (which they will!) a sense of humour is vital.
Growth Mindset - research shows that a certain combination of attitudes to business activities pushes growth, which (at least) prevents decline and disaster.
Hope - To stay positive you need to be an optimist.
Initiative - To get-up-and-go, you need to be a 'self-starter'.
Judgement - To learn from experience (good and bad), you have to find a perspective on it. Most successes, and failures, are the result of many factors combining. Business rarely comes down to one simple issue.
My First Partnership
I started in business at 25, in housing – just as the market declined!
A work colleague called me up out-of-the-blue and said “Come out for a drink”. What he wanted to discuss was the idea of the two of us setting up our own Estate Agency.
We sat in the Village Inn in Shanklin and talked about possibilities all evening. In the end we each put in £5000. And that was the best £5000 I've ever spent!
We did well. We had a natural labour division that I recognise more and more as I gain experience. It worked and we took on staff and grew. After some years we were invited to join Hose, Rhodes and Dickson (HRD Estate Agents).
This time we sat in a client's empty house that we were marketing near Bembridge. We talked all day. It had always been part of the plan to join up with others and keep growing. But first I hesitated, then he doubted, then I worried... and so on. But we eventually agreed to accept.
Profit For People
I get most scared about failing in business. I feel the team are all one big family, in business together. In many ways, I'm responsible for their livelihoods, and I worry about making a bad decision that affects them as well as me.
But I would never put profit before doing a job properly. Half measures don’t work. The engineers need a certain level of kit to carry out their jobs properly. Penny-pinching is no good. It's important to invest money back into the business to survive, let alone grow.
If a business isn't growing, it's failing. I really feel that. Too many forces threaten to overtake you – costs always go up, competitors try to poach your customers, regulations and standards rise, and so on. Even the best business is a fragile thing in some ways. You have to work for growth to survive. Profit is security.
A Strong Island Economy
I'm not very aware of the Island's economy as a whole. At Wight Fire and Security, we do get to deal with a large cross section of island businesses which must make us a good barometer of how the Island is doing at any point in time. At the moment I would say that local businesses are doing well.
I am always amazed at how many businesses on the Island trade with international customers. They are not dependent on the Island, but they do bring money back here. So they are here by choice, not because it's essential. That's reassuring!
And I believe the Island has a great number of sole traders. Their preference may be to earn a living rather than grow a business. But they all pay bills locally and contribute to taxes here, and so on.
My opinion is that certain parts of the economy are very strong, but we are not very aware of that. I do see that the tourist sector has changed a lot in my lifetime, and the ferries do have a role in that.
Together As A Team
In my personal experience, I find the ferry companies commitment to the Island to be a bit hollow. They claim to care, but they have an off-hand attitude to customers that I wouldn't get a way with. If I change my booking, I get hassle and perhaps charged; they change my booking and I get little courtesy let alone any compensation.
So yes we could all be doing more for ourselves, including the ferry companies. Customer care is the essential – everything else follows that. Both businesses and customers need to improve their communications to each other – then we are working together as a team.
If I were King of the Island, I would do two things:
Pass a bye-law to make sure all properties – especially business premises – were maintained to a high standard. Or at least their facade, so that the whole Island looks neat, tidy and welcoming.
Find a way to ensure that we have the infrastructure to support new housing developments. New families need hospitals, schools and other services. These services can't cope with the funding they get now – how will they cope with bigger populations?
“Be confident in your own decisions.” No-one ever told me that – I had to work it out for myself.
Obviously, you need to work on making those decisions to make sure they work well. But in the end, all business is a risk – there are no guarantees. There's no NHS for businesses. And yet we all depend so much on businesses being successful.
And another thing – say what you think. It doesn't work if you say to yourself “Well, that's obvious, everyone will have thought about it so I won't say anything”.
People are so different, it's important to say what you feel because quite often others are thinking about quite different things and what was obvious to you wasn't obvious to them!
And more – don't worry about the stuff you can't control. You just have to cope at the time!
Mentoring and coaching is important. It's great to have a sounding board. You need to reflect on the wider issues. External advisers give you time out from the ToDo list. They help you get away from the day-to-day pressures of running a business.
There is no one-size-fits-all in this. It's more a matter of finding an appropriate fit. People are different and often it's the independent perspective that makes you rethink things you hadn't questioned. While that can help with problem-solving, it's probably more important in opportunity-grabbing.
And it is good to learn what you can from business-people you admire. I worked with Richard Dickson at HRD for many years before he retired. My temptation had always been to spend as little as possible, but he opened my eyes on that.
Some money you spend is an investment in the future of the business. Marketing spend particularly is what helps attract your next customers. Richard would quite happily pay for a whole page in the County Press! I may not go that far, but he stopped me being frightened to spend on justifiable investments.
It's Good To Talk
My last words are: talk to people. Talk to customers, suppliers, neighbours and staff - especially staff! Good staff are vital – loyalty, effort, support, commitment and humour are worth their weight in gold.