how she did it

Case Studies // Starting a Business Whilst The...

Starting a Business Whilst The Children Were at School

Name: Gail Hounslea

Location: UK

Company: Wardworth Ltd

She started her business because: she wanted to create a part time job for herself whilst her children were at school… it’s grown to be much more than that!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business…

I am 53, married and the mother of two daughters aged 20 and 26.

Wardworth Ltd has two divisions:-Ladderstore and Scalesexpress

Ladderstore provides ladders and access equipment to businesses and consumers and Scalesexpress provides Scales and Weighing equipment.

We aim to be the experts in our field and we work with our customers and suppliers to provide the correct solution for our customers requirements including bespoke solutions.

What was your main motivation behind starting your business?

I founded the business in 1999 with a view to creating a part time business that meant I could work whilst my daughters were at school. I wanted to create something that I could develop, which would allow me to maintain a good work/life balance as well as being a role model to my two daughters.

During 1999 I completed a basic computer course and could see that the internet had huge opportunity for growth, but it was at the time when the dot-com bubble was bursting and companies were raising large amounts of venture capital and then were failing spectacularly.

I recognised that the internet was a ‘shop window’ to the world and thought that a niche website could attract customers looking to find items that were not easily sourced on the high street. I instructed a web development company to construct a basic website to sell a range of scales to consumers. It was very exciting to log on to the back end of the website and find orders that had come from all over the world.

What’s a day in the life of you like?

Most days are very varied and I spend a lot of time dealing with;-

• Supplier relations

• Pricing decisions

• HR

• Competitor awareness

• Streamlining processes

I can be in and out of meetings all day or working in my office on the computer. I try to make sure that I have some regular CPD and get out of the office one day a month and I am currently on the LEAD programme through MMU. I am a great believer in lifelong learning.

What challenges have you faced?

I am continually challenged by resources;- people, money and skills. We have had a couple of lean years as consumer spending has been reduced and also spending in some of our bigger sectors e.g. construction, education, local government which has affected our bottom line.

I have tried not to lose any staff and tend to look at the bigger picture rather than always chasing where the instant profit would be.

How have you overcome the challenges?

2008 was our greatest challenge, when the two directors experienced problems at home (cancer and administration of another company), combined with the impact of credit crunch and the business faced cash flow problems. The whole team pulled together and we reversed the trend, bringing the company back into profitability.

I try to be as pragmatic as possible and put myself in the shoes of other people and I try to learn a lesson from my failures. I am always looking to find a niche opportunity and the fact that we work closely with our suppliers’ means that we often buy better and are kept updated on new products and services so we can pass all this on to our customers. I am a firm believer in training and have usually had at least a third of our staff undertaking further training.

What is your biggest achievement so far?

My main achievement is my two beautiful and talented daughters.

Also in 2006 I started the Institute of Directors Diploma in Company Direction and passed the exam in August 2007. I then went on to become a Chartered Director which meant putting together a portfolio about my leadership skills and decision making and then an interview with two senior Directors to see if I met the IOD criteria.

I was admitted to the IOD as a Chartered Director in December 2008 and was number 752 to receive this qualification and there are now about 1000 Chartered Directors but only around 12% are female.

How have you raised the awareness of your business?

I like to get out and talk to other businesses to see where there are any synergies. We also work hard with our suppliers and they are all very happy to promote us as preferred suppliers to end users.

Also Wardworth was a Runner Up in the 2004 North Manchester Business Awards in 2004 and I was Runner Up in the North West Women in Business Awards in 2009 which was good publicity.

We have also recently supplied the scales to Edinburgh Zoo that have gone in the cages of the two Giant Pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

How do you keep motivated through difficult times?

I am always very aware that our staff depends on the Directors of the company for continuing employment so that keeps me motivated.

Also I am very lucky to be close to my family and they are always encouraging and I try to be a role model for my two daughters who are both very supportive and have worked in the business when they were students.

Who inspires you?

My Mum and my daughters.

I also like to read stuff from great thought leaders and I usually have a business book on the go and follow lots of interesting people on Twitter where I can read some really interesting articles and blogs.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

Always be on the look for opportunities coming your way and learn how to grab the good ones and discard the bad ones quickly.

What’s your favourite quote?

‘If you never try you will never know’ and’ there are more ways to skin a cat’.

Do you have a business philosophy?

Do unto others as you would like done to you.

What’s your goal for the next year?

• Increase our customers that order regularly

• Develop a process for idea generation

• Travel more

• Increase staff skills

• Work less hours


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