IN this week's SME Focus we hear from a family-owned business that is eyeing expansion in a sector in which businesses have been grappling with the fall-out from the problems faced by some retailers.
Name: Georgina Berry.
What is your business called?
Richard Healey Removals Ltd.
Where is it based?
Beith, North Ayrshire.
What services does it offer?
Domestic and commercial removal and storage services throughout the UK and overseas. We also provide worldwide shipping services for domestic and commercial customers.
Who does it sell to?
Public sector bodies, firms including property management companies and retail outlets throughout the UK and domestic clients across Scotland.
What is its turnover?
How many employees does it have? 18.
When was it formed?
The business was started by our father Richard Healey Snr in 1965.
Why did you take the plunge?
Dad was working as a painter and decorator and he was always asked by customers to move things and take them away.
This resulted in more removal work than actual painting and decorating.
He decided he would start a removals and haulage business and developed a service between Glasgow and London with just one van.
This proved to be a success and he carried on the business on his own, travelling throughout the UK.
When my brother and I were born in the mid-70s, Dad felt he needed to travel less and recruited his first employees to allow him to focus more on the local domestic market while getting his staff to concentrate on the longer routes.
The business carried on like this for the next few years until he won a couple of public sector contracts.
This enabled him to set up his first warehouse in Glasgow.
The business moved premises a number of times over the next 15 years, eventually settling in the current 20,000 sq ft premises/warehouse in Beith.
My brother Richard joined the company from school as an apprentice in 1994. I was roped in to help out in 1999.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
I graduated from Paisley University with a social sciences degree and secured an administrative position with a financial services company and was given the opportunity to complete my financial services exams.
At this juncture I was asked to help with the running of the business for six months, after which I was going to look for a position suited to my qualifications.
This was initially a favour to my family as they were rather stretched running the business. As soon as I started working with them it became very apparent that the running of operations was smoother and we were all able to start growing the business with specific job responsibilities. Our customers increased and I started to find a natural aptitude for the job and saw I could bring something to the business.
This unexpected "detour" in my career path has proven to me that this is what I was meant to do.
My training and experience within the financial services sector has given me a good grounding in terms of customer service and the running of an efficient business with happy staff. Fourteen years on, I am still here!
How did you raise the start-up funding?
Dad used his savings.
What was your biggest break?
Dad achieving his first public sector contract in the early 80s meant that he could invest and grow the business.
What was your worst moment?
When one of our customers, a furniture manufacturer, went into receivership in March 2012. This not only lost us a lot of money, we also lost the contract overnight. It was a very worrying time.
We had to tighten our belts on all aspects of the business and reduce our spending. We also had to reduce some of our staff hours temporarily.
We have suffered a loss in turnover this financial year but we have gained some major contracts and we are extremely hopeful for the future.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
Each day is different and brings a new challenge. I have had to do things I didn't think I would have ever been capable of.
I have had to learn many new skills to run a business such as this: HR, health and safety, quality, etc. The company operates in a constantly changing environment with new legislation introduced continuously. My challenge is to ensure I am always on top of these changes.
I have had to hone my management skills to manage the different personalities of staff and that is always a continuous learning experience!
Of course, being a woman in a male-dominated industry brings about its own challenges. Colleagues and customers may prefer to deal with Richard or operations manager Barry Howitt instead of me.
This can sometimes be a little difficult, but I don't let it intimidate me and I get on with the job. I have become the main representative of the company attending industry events, etc.
Through this I have started gaining the confidence and recognition from my peers for the key role I play in the business. I was approached in 2010 by the British Association of Removers (Bar) to become the Scottish area secretary, a post I still hold.
This has definitely been a career highlight for me and it is gratifying to see this traditional sector is taking strides in encouraging women to play greater roles.
What do you least enjoy?
Slow payment by some of our customers. We spend a lot of time chasing payments up and this affects cashflow, crucial for a company our size. Sometimes it is difficult to switch off.
As it is a family business, we spend a lot of time together discussing work out of office hours and during gatherings. It just seems to be work, work, work.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
We won the Scotland's Top Truck training Operator award in November 2011. Presented by Princess Anne, the award was made by Transport News magazine in conjunction with Skills for Logistics (Sector Skills Council for UK Freight Logistics Industries).
This was an amazing achievement for the company. We want to build on this and continue to grow, to become a top player in our very competitive business, that is dominated by some big players.
We feel it is our responsibility as a key employer in the area to contribute effectively not only to the economy but also to the development of the area and its community.
What are your five top priorities?
To continue to grow the business focusing especially on the commercial and shipping markets; to win more public sector contracts; to build new and bigger premises – we own a huge piece of land surrounding our warehouse; to hire new employees, especially apprentices; to find the time to network more and continuously market our company and services through creative methods.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?
Come up with ways to support businesses affected by the downturn in the retail and other similar sectors.