By John Ward, General Manager and Director, Wild About Roofs
"We are a young firm of roofing contractors who have made a success of specialising in green roofing installations in what is a very competitive market. However maintaining a competitive advantage is everything and we identified that learning from others to refine our business model and skills would be essential for sustained growth. This is why we jumped at the opportunity to sign up to the Saint-Gobain Entrepreneurship Foundation.
Saint-Gobain set up the Foundation to offer free business skills training including sales and marketing, business strategy, analysis and financial planning, delivered by professionals over a series of focused and in-depth seminars. As well as being very useful for a new business such as ours who want to hone their approach and grow the customer base further it also offers a unique opportunity to have access to Saint-Gobain personnel and product innovations including a mentor as part of the programme.
Although we are very busy with a growing list of clients we’re convinced that giving the time to attend the courses is a worthwhile opportunity not only to learn some new skills which I can take back to the business, but also to network with fellow attendees and Saint-Gobain employees. Our hopes have been justified as I have not only been able to take away valuable learnings from the course to help compile our new business plan, but we also have also had really beneficial access to Saint-Gobain and useful learnings from several other attendees at the sessions.
Over the past 6 months, I’ve attended four Foundation seminars. The has included the practicalities of running a business which has been perfect timing for us as we are looking at producing a comprehensive new business plan having revisiting the one we did when we started the company. The dedicated sessions have helped us focus on individual areas within our plan, for example costs, how to generate more sales by targeting customer segments and reviewing marketing, and how we work internally including job roles.
So far the courses have been excellent, with the most recent session on tendering and pricing for sales being particularly interesting - as a result of attending this we are now tweaking how we price our jobs and present the information to clients in tenders. Other attendees have increasingly been sharing best practice which has proved enlightening. As you get to know people over the course they become more comfortable with sharing information and this is can be really useful. We may be from different sectors, but construction has its own peculiarities that make it different so we share common challenges in making our businesses thrive; meaning sharing tips is one of the best things about the Foundation. Whether it is issues with suppliers or practical challenges on sites, the opportunity offered by the Foundation to informally learn how others have successfully solved a problems and applying those ideas to our business is invaluable.
My mentor within the Foundation is Martin Cope, London area manager for Jewson, and he has been helpful giving advice and opening doors, including enabling us to open a Jewson account! He has also provided us with a list of other contacts within Saint-Gobain which we can go to as and when we need materials and prices, which will save us time and effort. We have also visited the Saint-Gobain Innovation Centre in London and used it for client meetings in London which has proved very useful, with its hot-desking capabilities and product displays.
The Entrepreneurship Foundation process has several major benefits for a small growing company, from practical operational skills to learning about new sustainable Saint-Gobain products to gaining first-hand knowledge from others. Hearing how our counterparts across the industry have avoided the pitfalls and grown their businesses could turn out to be the biggest benefit of all."