Redefine your market

Three owner-managers including Richard Haddon, chief executive of AIM-listed facilities management company Fountains (pictured), explain how they grew sales by reaching out to new customers.


Three owner-managers including Richard Haddon, chief executive of AIM-listed facilities management company Fountains (pictured), explain how they grew sales by reaching out to new customers.

Three owner-managers including Richard Haddon, chief executive of AIM-listed facilities management company Fountains, explain how they grew sales by reaching out to new customers.

Richard Haddon
Chief executive, Fountains

Turnover at our company had reached a plateau at about £35 million and the business was starting to lose money. Originally it was a forestry company that had included landscaping for privately owned land. The problem was that forestry was a mature market and the amount of business available for landscaping was limited by the acreage in the UK.

There was the opportunity to move into quite skilled work, which needed a large investment in training or a lot of money for acquisitions that we didn’t possess. We looked at the basic, core skills we already had and identified a much larger market, servicing parks and working with local authorities.

This required minimal skills training for jobs like basic maintenance or litter collection, so after winning one of these contracts, we could advertise a much broader skill base. We increased the potential in the order book pipeline from £90 million to around £900 million in 18 months.

It’s important to match the skills that you have with the potential markets available. Make sure the organisation has the capability before you move to win contracts. Otherwise you end up overstretching yourself, doing a bad job and damaging the brand.

Stephen Clarke
Managing director, Truancy Call

In 2000, I came up with the idea for the truancy call service after reading about two missing primary school children. Their parents were outraged that they weren’t contacted when their children weren’t there for registration in the morning. We developed a system that automatically sends a text message or generates a phone call to parents of children who are absent without reason.

We then realised the other potential applications for the service, such as the health sector, as each year 20 million NHS appointments are missed and this costs a huge amount of money and time. We approached NHS trusts and developed an automated notification system to confirm, change or cancel appointments.

Dealing with NHS trusts is very different to dealing with schools as the process is slower. It takes longer for people to make decisions and the product’s marketing had to be adjusted.

Rather than focusing on the peace of mind of parents of absent children, we changed the branding to highlight the money-saving aspects of the system and emphasised the potential for NHS trusts to reach targets for attendees. It’s about tailoring your approach to suit the market that you are trying to break into, rather than re-inventing yourself.

Helen Rush and Jackie Wigley
Co-founders, Chinasearch.co.uk

We are a fine china and tableware-matching and replacement service, so a lot of our customers are a bit older, but we realised it was important for us to attract a younger audience as well if we wanted to grow. To do that you have to really know the market.

There is a fashion for nostalgia at the moment, and a growing hire market for fine china at events and weddings. It’s quite trendy to have vintage china from between the 1930s to the 1950s, but to tap into the trend we had to repackage what we already had and make it appeal to people in their 30s. That meant emphasising things like our use of recycled packing materials and that our products range from the 1890s right up to 2007.

Availability online was an essential part of the move and branding was very important, so we started a redesign of the website to appeal to a younger audience. The difficulty though was not to alienate the customer base that we had already built up over the years, so we maintained our original marketing strategy, advertising in magazines that would appeal to an older generation.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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