The client, a Suffolk-based bespoke kitchen designers and manufacturers has been a family-run business for 20 years. With customers throughout the East of England, the company has showrooms throughout the region and its head office and manufacturing centre on the Essex/Suffolk border.
As a high-end bespoke kitchen manufacturer affected by the recession and increased competition, at the time of our first meeting, the business had failed to turn a profit for more than three years. Processes were limited, time was short and poor cash-flow wasn’t enabling the business to grow or develop. As a highly regarded business, the company was relying almost exclusively on recommendations to win new business and had no measured sales or marketing initiatives in place. Crucially, the management team were struggling to find the impetus to drive the business forward and ensure its future.
The Company MD explains: “It’s fair to say we were existing in controlled chaos. Over 20 years the business had grown organically, winning contracts and taking on more people, but we had got to the point where we spent every day fire-fighting issues, mistakes and problems. We needed take a step back and find someone to give us direction.
Working with Stuart forced us to take stock and implement the procedures and processes that were key to our success. Being in manufacturing there are so many components and checks we need to do before we even think about sales and marketing processes. We spent the first year working with Stuart concentrating on the office, looking at how we manage client processes.
Managing sales processes: “The biggest change is in our customer management systems. Previously we had various databases and a manual record system, but only to record names and addresses. Now we have a complete CRM system to track enquiries, complete and follow up on quotes and revisions, from the enquiry coming in right through to placing the order based on processes we have developed in line with our business model.
We have saved huge amounts of resources just by working with Stuart on filtering leads and managing the client journey better. We decided we didn’t want to change the level of service we offer, we simply manage it better now by asking the right questions at the outset and filtering our pre-order process so we aren’t giving away too much time in design and specification until we have a commitment from the client.”
Financial stability: “One of our biggest stress points was always cash flow. We were forever running on empty because we had no credit control. We were late sending invoices, often not invoicing at all for upgrades and extra work, and having no process to manage it. We now have a seamless process for our sales, with a system to automatically trigger and monitor deposits, interim payments, snagging, upgrades and extras, tracking those changes and invoicing automatically. It’s been transformational; when you have cash flow and money in the bank you can plan and everything else falls into place.”
Expanding manufacturing: “From very early on Stuart was keen for us to develop a product range to complement the bespoke work we do such as shelf units, larder cupboards and dressers so we could showcase what we do and develop sales channels. We have invested significantly in new automated manufacturing equipment, developed new alliances, introduced a range of new products and extended our showroom locations across Essex and Suffolk.
Why did you choose Stuart Allan? “We knew Stuart was from a manufacturing background so he would have understanding of our challenges through his own manufacturing experience. It was the right decision and we work really well together. That’s not to say he doesn’t challenge us but the outcomes are worth the effort.”
Then and now: “Before we started working with Stuart, we had got to the point where we were questioning whether it was worth it; we felt like we were drowning. The sheer scale of what we had to do at the beginning was quite daunting and we didn’t always meet deadlines, but there is no quick fix; you have to write down, measure, test, revise and repeat. It’s worth it to be in control and it’s empowered us and helped us to enjoy the business again and know where we are headed. We don’t spend our days firefighting any more, which means we can review and deal with the source of any problems as well as looking at where we can be more profitable and concentrating on sales. And of course, we have a healthy, profitable business and a long-term growth plan".