Help to Grow: Management and Fentrade Limited

Having worked in the double-glazing industry for 30 years, Newport-based Chris Reeks had long held a burning ambition to set up his own business. In August 2018, he invested heavily and took the plunge.

'In the aluminium market, there can be a relaxed approach to service. I wanted to build a company that delivered a consistent service with good quality, something that is reliable and dependable for my customers.'

Chris has designed Fentrade so it has control over its supply chain, construction, delivery, and communications. This helps him to ensure that the service the team offers is right first time, every time.

Since its launch in August 2018, the business has reported positive profits each year. In just 4 years, the business has grown from 3 people – including Chris – to 16 people with further recruitment underway to deal with the growing demand.

The challenge was how to take the business to the next level.

'I’m the first to admit that you can’t know everything and do everything, but I knew that I wanted to grow the business, and that we needed to put systems and processes in place to put the business on a more formal track.'

At first, there didn’t seem to be many routes to access this type of support.

'I didn’t want to pay large amounts of money to a consultant, but I knew I needed to talk to people who are running businesses and find the opportunity to bounce ideas off peers.'

It was Chris' wife Jane that spotted the Help to Grow: Management Course online and pointed it out to him as a good opportunity to expand his business network.

'She thought it would be advantageous for me, and for us as a business. I could see it offered a broad brush across a lot of topics at a vastly reduced cost because of the government funding. The course would give me the support that I was looking for, and the opportunity to talk to people who are running businesses and facing some of the same challenges as me.'

Finding the time

When Chris started the course with Cardiff Business School, he was worried about how he was going to find the time to juggle all the demands of a growing business with the time commitments required of the 12-week course.

'The course is one afternoon every week for 12 weeks. It was very difficult to ignore the phone buzzing on the desk during the first couple of online sessions. I had to get into the right mindset, and make sure that the team understood that while I was physically present in the office, I was learning, and had to be focused during those sessions for the longer-term benefit of the business.'

Help to scale

The 12 course modules are designed to cover the key elements of strategy that a small business leader needs.

'I took little things away from every lesson. An interview policy is a good example of a simple procedure I have introduced as a direct result of the conversations with my Help to Grow: Management mentor.'

'I like to think that I engage with my staff a lot, but the course gave me the chance to think beyond staff engagement to things like diversity and inclusion. We aren’t a small company anymore, we’re a growing company. The course has helped me to focus me on making sure we have the right procedures in place as we scale up.'

The course is split into 8 online sessions and 4 face-to-face modules. Each of the face-to-face sessions centres on unique case study content. Chris found the Gym Shark case study with Ben Francis particularly inspiring. 'This was really powerful. I hadn’t expected to feel like that. It made me feel, I can do this too.'

Changes that have saved time

The skills and knowledge that Chris has acquired during his working life have all been 'home grown'; this is the first time he has had the opportunity to study business formally. He has always been interested in marketing, so he found the modules focused on branding and value position enjoyable and useful. The organisation and the digitisation modules of the course were also very relevant for where Fentrade is on its journey.

'I am very aware that adopting a more digital approach will save us time. The course allowed me the space to really think about how we could work smarter. I have implemented small changes like buying an A3 printer so I can print out the daily schedule direct from our online system rather than spend 30 minutes writing it out on a large whiteboard in the production area. It’s a simple thing but it’s already saving the business time every day.'

A new product launch

Prior to the course, Chris was already planning a new product line. A lot of what was covered in the Help to Grow: Management Course will inform the way that Fentrade does this.

'The course has helped me think of different ways I can approach marketing the new product. For example, I used to take a scattergun approach to marketing and hope we got something back. I am already making our marketing more tailored, sending out fewer but more focused communications. This has saved me time because we are channelling our efforts in a more targeted way. When we come down to the new product line launch, this will be paramount.'

Alongside the curriculum content and mentoring, the course also includes smaller peer-to-peer sessions. This was something that Chris found particularly useful. 'As the weeks went on, we got a better understanding of everybody else’s business which meant we could really provide a lot more support to each other, bouncing ideas between us. This was far more valuable than 5 minutes of speed networking!'

'I would definitely recommend the Help to Grow: Management Course to give people a better understanding and an overall knowledge of how businesses and organisations ought to be run. The opportunity to be in a room with people in the same position as me, trying to grow their businesses, wanting to take the next step but not being quite sure how to do it, was invaluable.'

You can find out more about Help to Grow: Management here.

Written by Kristel Jarvis, Head of Marketing and Communications at the Small Business Charter.

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