Support has been invaluable to my business

Support has been invaluable to my business

21 July 2017

Being asked to take over your family’s established business sounds a golden opportunity for anyone with entrepreneurial ambitions.

But as James Biggin found when he stepped up to take the reins from his dad Peter at leading Sheffield branded merchandise company Steel City, it can be a tightrope walk.

“You can see new horizons and the path you need to take to get to them,” explained James. 

“But Steel City was a dyed in the wool business which had been running since 1980. Early on there were times when I felt too respectful of the methods my dad and his business partner had employed. I needed to make footsteps of my own rather than follow in my father’s.”

James had gained valuable experience before entering the family firm. He studied International Business at Northumbria University, spending his third year abroad in France at a regional business school, then went to work as a graduate trainee with a large company in Dronfield trading in ferro-alloys and metals for the foundry and steel industry. 

But then came the sudden illness and early retirement of his father’s co-director. James was called in with a view to helping plug that unfortunate gap and eventually taking over on his father’s retirement. At that time the company was being run as a lifestyle business turning over £2m at its height.

James learned every aspect of the business and became a director in 2007 just prior to his father’s retirement. But that was as the recession started and the company suffered like many others. Cashflow and profitability dipped to a low in 2012.

James made changes and turned the business around. He removed one third of the costs in one year through the axing of the traditional brochure, a necessary cut to the workforce and a focus on boosting the huge positive impact of word-of-mouth marketing by going that extra mile to look after retained clients, who range from professional services firms and manufacturers to well-known local brands.

Turnover stabilised to a lower ‘recession-affected’ level, the company saw profits surge and was finally out of overdraft.

Over the next two years, Steel City achieved a 22 per cent growth in turnover, showed a decent profit and grew its staff to eight.

But James had done all of this alone.

He decided to seek an external advisor for the journey ahead and was introduced to Business Sheffield advisor Matthew Sibley, who analysed the recent history of the business and assessed what positives had come from each change James had implemented.

“We looked at business structure and the roles, what the business needed or didn’t need, then moved on to creating a company that would have a strong value to a potential buyer,” said James.

Once turnover at the increased levels had been stabilised, James and Matthew then focused on taking advantage of the solid financial base by investing in premises. 

With careful cost control, James bought a former printing works on New Street in the professional quarter and transformed it into a stunning contemporary workplace.

“Matthew’s support and advice was a big factor, especially when it came to confirming the numbers I had worked on,” says James.

“He helped me see that buying premises was the right thing to do. The building is in central Sheffield, with car parking and additional space for when we expand.

It has enhanced our already very positive business culture and the business is still only paying what we previously spent on rent,” says James, 42. “Plus, as the property’s value increases, it gives the business added security.”

James added: “The support of Business Sheffield has been so valuable. The value I have seen is immeasurable.

“Matthew has been a great fit for Steel City and the way I work and he challenges me to action the things we discuss each time we meet.

“I would urge any business owner to go to them. Their advice is free and they have a range of experience within their team. Whatever your business needs, there will be an adviser that fits the bill.” 

Are you a Sheffield business looking for support? Or thinking of setting up a business?  Get in touch with one of Business Sheffield’s experienced, knowledgeable and friendly team, to access your free business support.