Happy 6th Birthday to us……The Story so far
1st June 2016: our 6th birthday. And what a ride it’s been.
The story begins at the end of 2009, I had reached a point in my career where having worked for two other UKAS accredited companies for 16 years, I was ready for a new challenge and a new direction.
Starting as a £2.05 per hour trainee; I learned my trade with Ensecon Laboratories from 1994 to 2002. A great place to be with some great folk. Though the business was acquired by Bodycote, I’m still in touch with some of them today.
The natural progression for me was the large organisation of which I joined Casella Hazmat in 2002, who were acquired by Bureau Veritas in 2005. By 2009 an ‘Area Manager’, I had earned my stripes and was in a strong role. However, I was fast approaching a cross-roads where I was starting to think I needed to carve my own path in the industry and try to make a difference.
By the end of 2009 there was a drive to reduce costs which comprised centralising office and laboratory functions. A tough decision to make of which now, as a business owner, I can fully appreciate the reasoning behind such a move. This was my final que for change. This redundancy consultation process was named “Project Omega” – guess where the Omega name came from?!
With no cash savings, no equity on my home or any banks willing to lend; armed with my business plan and my best suit I made contact with some known gentlemen of the business variety who I thought would be interested in a partnership. It was my very own ‘Dragons Den’ style pitch of which went very well as all wanted to invest. My chosen business partner being Richard Clarke who I consider a trusted friend as well these days. Already a busy fellow with his own businesses to run; we immediately hit it off and understood what we could do for each other. So we were ready to go with investment from both sides and my blood, sweat and tears to follow.
February 2010, I resigned from BV, worked 3 month notice and on 1st June 2010, Omega Asbestos Consulting was born.
And as I don’t do things in half measures, as an unfit 33yr old, I decided to get fit. So I totally stopped drinking alcohol and eating rubbish and improved my diet and developed a gym addiction. Now at nearly 40, I’ve never been fitter; still ginger though.
Back to Omega; the reality of very few sales in the first couple of months and having to wait up to 30 days, then often chase overdues, to get this money in the bank was a big reality check. Again, when you’re an employee you just assume all is rosy and there is perpetually cash in the bank.
They say running a successful business isn’t easy.
They say if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it.
Of course, both of the above statements are very true.
You take so much for granted when you’re an employee; there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes that would never be on your radar. Suddenly out on your own, you have to become everyone and do everything. Now that’s a challenge. And there’s never enough time in the day. Long hours, sacrifices of time with your family & friends, even your own health can suffer with lack of gym time or mental exhaustion. But I’ve found it’s the challenge and the being hard which makes it great and makes it totally worth it.
Getting in front of people I already knew and the dreaded cold calling got us some good opportunities and we soon had a fairly healthy sales ledger and steady cash-flow. Easy enough to achieve with only two mouths to feed back then.
A milestone for us was being granted UKAS Inspection Body Accreditation for Asbestos Surveys in April 2011. This involved putting a lot of money back into the business and ultimately by the end of our first financial year, we had made a loss of £18,000. Who said this was going to be easy?!
Myself and another surveyor (thanks Ray) slogged it out for the first 18 months. Trying to be better than the competition; far too often this involved going in terribly cheap to get the opportunity to impress. However by the end of year 2 we had employed another surveyor and our first trainee.
I was running around everywhere in my little 2nd hand Honda Civic which wasn’t the best of motors but it was cheap and reliable. I’d seen far too many companies set up and the owner gets a big plush office premises and a nice Range Rover or BMW and then 18 months later, where are they? A 2nd hand Honda Civic and a £50 per week office was my bag. Upgrading the motor in my 2nd year to a 2nd hand Fiesta Van – now we were going places indeed.
By April 2013 we had extended our UKAS Accreditation for Testing Laboratory status which allowed us to bring in-house bulk sample analysis, air testing and clearances. This provided us with the ability to push into new sectors and clients. A big investment back into the business again for UKAS costs. And £50 extra per week for renting the room next door! With myself being audited by UKAS for all the testing work, I admit being a little daunted by it as I’d been off the tools for a long time but it was like riding a bike in the end.
In year 3 I treated myself to a brand new Fiesta Van; even though it was a van, it felt marvellous to get into my first brand new Omega motor. And it was a Fiesta Sport Van I may add!
Year on year the business has grown; as have I on a personal level with the amount of knowledge and experience I have soaked in. I have surrounded myself with excellent people who have been key to our success to date. You have to learn to let go and trust people to make decisions on your behalf. Being a bit OCD and a control freak, I initially struggled with this but it comes to a point where to get any further, you have to let go.
One of my BV Director’s once said to me; “A good manager makes himself redundant”. I never understood this until I had my own business. Thanks Barry!
By 2014, as much as things were going great, I was really struggling to cope with wearing every hat every day so brought back to the team my former BV colleagues Danielle Rowley and my wingman, Steve Hubery.
With Danielle as Office Manager this really made an instant difference to my life and again, in hindsight I can see I should have brought in some back office support sooner. Steve also instantly made a difference and helped massively drive the business forward. Last year he was made a share-holding Director as he has been fundamental to our success so far and is a pleasure to work with. He’s come far from the 17yr old trainee who started back in the day at Casella.
The common theme of the main challenges remains staff and cash-flow; there’s been quite a few staff in our time and there’s been bad payers and poor months. We just continue to learn and select the best staff and best clients with decent terms for an SME. Though some of the bigger boys drive longer payment terms of course. And we keep driving sales with better rates with clients who value what we do over a long term positive relationship. My business model USP was never to be ‘cheap’. Others can do that with their cheap clients. Though in this current economic times, I have never known the industry to be so price driven. Survey & Analyst Day-rates down and removal rates down too. The likes of training often being done free and the housing sector at £50 per house – let’s do 12 a day – no thanks, not us. Again we seek clients who appreciate quality over quantity.
Last year, April 2015, saw us move the head office from Northallerton to Durham. We had outgrown the first office and needed larger premises located in the North-East where most of the staff were based. The new office ironically being the same one I moved Bureau Veritas into about 10 years ago. Also tied in with this office move was bringing in a Quality Manager as again this role was suffering with myself having to fulfill it. Step in my old friend from the Ensecon days, Mr Chris Pick; it’s been like getting the A-Team back together!
2015 saw a real growth spurt; some would say perhaps too quickly of which, in hindsight I may possibly even agree with that. By the end of 2015 we had almost doubled our turnover and doubled the number of staff with a total of 20. Getting in with some major clients really pushed us on. Then hitting the quiet festive period really stretched us and required some quick strategic thinking, decisions and selling strategies to help bridge the gap.
We entered 2016 with a view to take a step back and take stock of what a whirlwind ride it’s been so far and what we had achieved. Like any business, we constantly have to learn and improve our systems and people. If you’re not looking to improve then you’re plateauing or you’re going backwards. At times, it’s been a frantic unsustainable pace which has tested all of us. It’s been very rewarding to see how the team have pulled together and made their own sacrifices to keep delivering to our clients.
In February 2016, we created an ‘Operations Manager’ role and brought in Craig Johnston; another former BV colleague who has made a huge positive impact on the business.
We have just re-invested more funds into the business to help take us to the next level. This includes the move from pen & paper to tablet based system which has been built from scratch to our own specification to ensure the quality of reports are enhanced and not dumbed down at all.
Similarly we have developed our new web-based Asbestos Management System known as the ‘Omega Vault’ which we are about to launch. Showcased to our clients so far, we have had positive praise for its ability to do more than the ‘off the shelf’ software whilst also allowing us to tailor it to suit our clients as we again always seek to improve and re-invest into the business.
We are also currently looking at different CRM and Sales tools to help further automate back office functions and improve marketing tools. More ‘blue chip’ clients beckon as they come to realise the power in our people and what we can do for our clients.
So we press on with 2016 and the next 6 years which I know will be another thrilling ride of highs and lows. Though I know it’ll be a good ride with even higher highs and shallower lows.
Thanks to all the team (both past and present) and to all our clients and industry friends.
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