From a turnover of £1.5m to £2.7m and orders up by 200% during a pandemic

When a mysterious birthday card landed on the doormat of AE Roberts in June 2017, it immediately struck a chord with Sabrina Gwynn.  After almost 40 years at the helm of the horticultural business, the card sent from a local ActionCOACH made her consider reaching out for help.  Sabrina felt she had nothing to lose in seeing what support might be on offer.  So with the backing of her husband John and brother-in-law David, she arranged to meet with business coach Kevin Stansfield to find a way to ensure the tree nursery could blossom once again.

“We all knew support was needed for a very long time, but it was only when we got the prod from Kevin that we really took some time to consider what our next steps should be.  Hearing about the work ActionCOACH does with clients and their successes, John and David were behind my decision, but it was up to me to make the call.

“We were all impressed by how well Kevin understood the situation the business was in, the challenges we were facing and how to tackle them.  He outlined how the business had reached this point but, to take things further, we had to look at it from a different perspective.  We had to become better business owners and start building a business that worked for us.”

The business was run by John and David.  Both were working extremely long hours, with John working past midnight on busy days.  All three of them were in their 60s and the business hadn’t been generating a profit for over nine years.  Kevin outlined what they’d achieve from their coaching sessions, and they all recognised this was the solution – this was the breakthrough needed.  Unfortunately, Sabrina then became seriously ill and after almost a year of treatment, she felt fit enough to get the ball rolling.  In August 2018, their coaching sessions began.

Planting the seeds

“Kevin noticed how much time and effort was being invested into the business with little to no reward.  We did, however, all have a passion for the family business and didn’t want to see it fail – especially after its 110-year history.  What it needed was a new injection of life, to bring it into the 21st century.  I was responsible for spearheading that and, with Kevin’s expertise and support, we all knew what had to be done to achieve it,” Sabrina explained.

“The first element we placed under the microscope was the finances.  We had our basic accounts in check but, because I’d been ill, there had been no one to take responsibility for these tasks.  We worked together to tighten up our figures and find the best course of action to get them up to speed.  It was shortly after this when things began to slot into place.”

Sabrina and John had been in the business together for almost four decades.  They were both determined to do well, which subsequently led to John working every possible hour.  Kevin spotted a way of allowing him to take a step back whilst also keeping a handle on the day-to-day operations.

“I’m not sure how John manages to fit 36 hours into every single day.  He has a tremendous work ethic, which may be admirable, but this comes at a price.  It wasn’t sustainable, neither for the business or his own health.  Kevin explained how delegating would give John the chance to let others take responsibility for tasks and not get so bogged down with working IN the business – we all needed to be working ON it instead.

“We started to look at hiring new people into the team.  We found a determined young person, Josh, who became John’s right-hand man.  Immediately, this freed John up to do more important tasks than the general day-to-day.  Delegating has been crucial for allowing the team to grow, ensuring employees can feel responsible for their roles and get fulfilment from the work they do – which ultimately leads to them having more job satisfaction and feeling invested in the overall success of the business.”

Branching out

2019 was a milestone year for the company, with 2020 set for further growth and sales.  As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, the volume of online orders multiplied.  For most, this presented a great opportunity but, for AE Roberts, it was a struggle to meet a demand they had never experienced before.  Luckily, they had Kevin to help keep them on the right track.

“We set about upgrading both our hardware and software to manage the influx of orders. T o oversee the fulfilment process, we recruited an operations manager to help push the systems to the next level.  Even when lockdown was over, our orders were still up 200% from the previous year.”

Continuing to flourish

Sabrina, John and David are all now feeling the benefits of the work Kevin’ has done with them work.  In the two years since starting to work with ActionCOACH, AE Roberts has gone from a turnover of £1.5 million to £2.7 million in 2020.  This achievement has worked wonders on the confidence of the team.

“John has cut his hours significantly,  and we have all started to delegate certain parts of our roles. For the first time in nine years, the business has achieved a profit and we’ve all been able to take a salary, which is a result of the great work we’ve done with Kevin.  He’s totally transformed not just the business, but us too.

“Kevin has given us all clarity and confidence on the future of the business.  When the time comes, we’ll bring someone in to take over the business.  The great thing is we can spot the potential in existing members of the team as possible candidates to step up, giving us so many more options than before.  But for now, we’re focused on sustaining the growth of the business, preparing for the next stage of our life cycle.”

The Coach’s perspective

“Sabrina and John are great clients.  They are welcoming of my support and are genuinely happy to receive the help. Their hearts are completely in the business and they want it to succeed – their passion and determination for implementing actions from our coaching sessions is a great testament to that.

“To see them reaching their targets, smashing their goals and creating a profitable business is amazing. It goes to show how age is no barrier to running a successful business. As long as you have a willingness to learn and energy to put that learning into ACTION, then you can achieve your goals.”