Q&A - Roy Wetherall
Interview with Roy Wetherall, Managing Director, Green Retreats' at Westcott Venture Park.
What was your first job?
My first job was a trainee electronics technician.
How much was in your first pay packet and what did you spend it on?
My first pay packet was £15 per week and I remember buying a motorbike on the never-never.
Describe how your career developed to the present day?
I began my career in electronics, obtaining a degree in electronic engineering and a further degree in supervision and management. Once qualified, I took a year out with a friend to travel Europe in a campervan. We worked our way around Europe doing the usual jobs like grape picking; we worked in a sugar factory in Germany sold doughnuts on the beach in the South of France.
Once back in UK I took a job testing body scanners before moving into sales within the electronics sector, eventually working as Vice President for an American corporate company specialising in security electronics. I moved to California for a couple of years in my role as VP which involved a great deal of work and travel but which equipped me with a real understanding of how to scale a business.
Tired of the workload and constant travelling, I decided to get out of the security electronics business to relocate back to the UK with a view to setting up a business. Originally my wife started an animal housing business creating outdoor housing for pets. As the business developed we saw a gap in the market for external buildings and an opportunity to develop into the home office market.
At that time, about a decade ago, if someone wanted a home office they would line a shed and make a pretty poor job of it and there was only one other competitor in the UK market. So in 2005 we set up Green Retreats to satisfy the growing demand for rooms in the garden, to create additional lifestyle space for year round use.
In line with the rest of the UK, 2008 was a tough year for business so we quickly restructured, took a gamble on more factory space, started manufacturing the buildings in a more efficient way, scaling up the business in order to achieve economies of scale.
Overall the recession helped us because people couldn’t move house or release funds as easily in order to build extensions but were still having families and running out of household space, so all these factors assisted our business growth.
Ten years on and we now work within an established market of around 200 competitors, however, the market has expanded more than 200 fold. Green Retreats is now the largest company in the home office market both in terms of volume, having installed over 10,000 buildings nationwide, and in terms of revenue.
Describe a typical day
A typical day for me is ensuring the managers have the right level of support so the business can run smoothly. I still take a hands-on approach visiting clients and meeting with professional suppliers but I often take care of customer service requests such as door adjustments or alike. We work as a team, I sit in the main office as I like to know what is going on but try not to take control.
Who/what have been the biggest influences on your career?
I guess my biggest inspiration has come from my parents; coming from a large family, my brothers, sisters and I were encouraged to get out there and do well for ourselves and that motivation has been my key driver.
And your worst?
Not to have done this earlier.
Do you run an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes, we have apprentice electricians but struggle to find the right support from Buckinghamshire colleges in order to recruit for other trades, such as welding for instance. Location can also prove problematic, as it is difficult for an apprentice to get transportation to the park.
What is the secret of good management?
I don’t think there is any great secret but we take the approach of fairness and understanding and as a result have a very loyal workforce.
Do you have a good work/life balance?
Nowadays I do but it was tough when we built the business although we said from the start that we wouldn’t work weekends and with the exception of Saturday mornings when the show rooms are open, everyone in the company has weekends off. We all work hard enough in the week.
What are the biggest challenges facing your business today?
Recruiting good people with the right skill set - everything else has a method, a process, a formula but people are the biggest challenge for our business.
How do you see your company developing over the next five years?
As a privately owned company we define our own financial goals. Our key driver is in the creation of new products and we hope to create a greater spread of products to fulfil the incremental marketing. We are in a fantastic position with great staff and best pricing to be able to deliver new products to new markets so the business will grow organically with the success of our products.
What has been your most satisfying moment?
Finally making a profit – in the early years we never knew if we were going to make a profit until the monthly accountants meeting when sometimes we would and other times we would make a loss. Over the last two years profit margins have shown a more consistent picture so we now have confidence that this is a regular occurrence.
What do you do to motivate your workforce?
Each member of staff receives a profit related bonus, we have a big Christmas party and run small events throughout the year.
How much do you use social media and how effective is it?
We have a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ accounts but don’t use social media enough so are developing our online networks further in the coming year with an emphasis on online video.
What is your attitude to the environment and do you have any green policies in place?
We are trying really hard to increase our green credentials and work closely with Bucks Recycling who take care of our pallet waste. Our biggest problem is avoiding sending waste to landfill and there is a shortage of knowledge and facilities for recycling wood waste in particular.
Westcott is the perfect location for our business; aside from its rural location, a big draw for us was the security protection as we have a lot of material that is stored outside. There are no internal disruptions on the park, which also works for us and our people love it, as it’s a nice drive in with limited traffic, plenty of parking and it’s a friendly family type environment. We also benefit from the use of other business services on the park such as motor servicing, UPVC manufacturers and Bucks Recycling to name a few.
Is there any other job you would like to have done and why?
A racing driver as I just love going fast.
What would you like to do when you retire?
I don’t want to retire as I enjoy work so you won’t be catching me on a golf course!