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How exploring new avenues enabled one business to #ComeBackStronger

With government guidelines regularly evolving, recent weeks have continued to be challenging for businesses across the UK. However, while there’s no doubt the pandemic has tested business leaders on many levels, some have managed to take a step back, switch up their strategy and, in some instances, grow – which is the case for full-service mechanical and electrical contractor, The GHS Group. The GHS Group works primarily out of the south of England and London, and specialises in gas, water, electrical, ventilation and air conditioning services, including central heating systems, gas appliances, electrical rewires, renewable energy systems and PAT Testing.

Recently the team here at Refresh connected with managing partner of The GHS Group, Marc Smith, for our #ComeBackStronger series. At the beginning of the pandemic, Marc was unsure his business would survive, but after taking a step back to re-evaluate the company’s strategy, pivoting on focus sectors and increasing The GHS Group’s charity work, he was able to turn things around.

This is what he’s been up to over the last few months…

How are you accelerating company growth in the current climate?

When COVID-19 initially hit, our business was almost wiped out in an instance. Prior to the pandemic we were doing on average 150 jobs per week, mostly across pubs and care homes, with some residential, which just wasn’t possible to continue through the initial height of the pandemic. By the end of the first week of lockdown, we had just three boiler jobs in the pipeline for a team of 15 people.

Over the last three months, we’ve worked seven days a week to really turn things around. We took a step back to look at the sectors we could expand into and also took on some extra volunteer work, supporting charities and the vulnerable to offer free advice. We built on this by offering up advice via our social media channels and, for those who were struggling, we offered support over the phone/via our website.

To continue our community support efforts, we set up a crowdfunding initiative for The GHS Trust, which we initially set up two years ago to provide vulnerable people and charities our services either discounted or for free. Through the trust we offer help to those who need it the most when their services breakdown or need replacing. Alongside the fundraiser, we also offered discount services and products that we knew we could provide once lockdown was lifted, enabling people to pay upfront, bolstering our pipeline and in turn, protecting jobs. Overall, we raised £5,000 which was supplemented by a £2,500 grant from our local council.

Thanks to all of the work we did through lockdown, we really did set ourselves up for success and, as soon as the larger team was able to return to work, we started to see strong results again. We started back in the first week with 20% of our initial pre-lockdown pipeline but by week three, we were at 120%. Lots of companies really have bounced back, including ourselves, and we’re now doing better than ever before. It’s looking like we may even double the business this year – if anything, COVID gave us the push we needed in the right direction. It forced us to explore new avenues and take a more holistic look at things, as opposed to being focused on three sectors that weren’t 100% sustainable for us.

Where do you see your future opportunities lying?

Continuing to explore and move into new sectors, will enable us to continue on our exciting growth trajectory.

Additionally, we used to do dilapidation works - which are essentially repairing industrial units to their original state for landlords, as tenancies end. These are incredibly labour heavy and involve a lot of work and, while we didn’t previously prioritise these, we’ve seen a surge in work of this nature, in line with many office leases coming to an end. We’ve also seen an increase in insurance work – each of these areas have resulted in us predicting the business doubling this year.

Supporting our employees during these challenging times and focusing on their wellbeing, has enabled us to really strengthen our team too. We have a much more resilient team now than we did pre-pandemic, including a new recruit who we’re excited to have onboarded recently.

What are you most optimistic about?

There’s so much opportunity out there that we’ve recognised and a lot to be excited about. We’ve adapted and learnt to run the business in a different way – and have become much more flexible in our approach.

We also have a new CRM system to ensure we’re using our time effectively and we’ve seen some benefits to remote working, by giving our team, where possible, that extra flexibility.

What are you looking forward to implementing/changing?

Using Zoom more to catch up with our remote engineers, rather than them having to come into the office all of the time, which was much more expensive – especially those coming from the south coast. Virtual meeting platforms, like Zoom, have really proven that meetings don’t have to be expensive and you can still be just as productive without having to travel miles to conduct them in-person.

I’ve also really enjoyed having more family time and thanks to this new flexible, remote working setup, it’s much easier to manage that work-life balance.

What opportunities have arisen?

There are of course the new markets we’ve moved into, which have enabled us to continue growing even during these trying times.

Recruitment has also improved for us. There are so many great workers out there, who have been treated badly by their previous employers, which we’ve capitalised on to really bolster our team with the best possible talent.

We really pride ourselves on our customer service. People were demanding before, but now customers are much more understanding and there’s a new found mutual respect.

Working remotely has also proven that we can be productive, efficient and successfully thrive, all while within the comfort of our own homes.

How are you remaining positive?

Our recent success has definitely helped, as has the response we had to our crowdfunding initiative. We have had so many people reach out to offer support and give us the lift that we needed, which has really given us a new lease of life.

We have been working hard to network too, connecting with other business owners and peer groups for support, which has helped. Everyone is in the same boat, so being able to connect to share best practices to deal with difficult situations has kept us motivated.

How are you maintaining a work/life balance and ensuring family time?

During the initial height of the pandemic, we had no balance. We knew we were in it for the long haul and there was nothing we could do.

Having my wife, three children and a dog at home, all within an open-plan house, presented its challenges. So, I built a shed at the bottom of the garden for working from home, which has been acting as a bit of a mini HQ and, outside of work hours, can be repurposed as a family room.

We’re all still working incredibly hard to navigate these trying times but, now we’ve settled into this ‘new normal,’ having a better work-life balance has become much easier. I’m also proud of how well my children have handled this. Despite being in lockdown for months and having to be home schooled for a while, they really haven’t been phased and have each taken it in their stride. 

What have been your key learnings from the last few months?

That nothing is indestructible, no matter how robust you think it is. I have also learnt to really appreciate everything I do have. It makes you realise how materialistic we can be but, a global health pandemic really does humble you.

We haven’t had a holiday in some time, but being home with my wife and kids more has been amazing to say the least.

What else are you doing to prepare for the future?

We have done a great deal of work to really futureproof the business, ensuring the next time we’re told we have to turn 180 degrees, we can do it. We are now looking at things differently and have ensured we’re diverse, plus versatile.

The shed I built has also set us up for successfully working from home long-term. I now have a dedicated space for management meetings and appraisals, that can easily transition into a space for entertaining family and friends.

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