Expert eight: McCormick Weeks
PUBLISHED: 16:32 25 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:56 20 February 2013
Is McCormick Weeks in pole position for growth? Our experts give their views
Is McCormick Weeks in pole position for growth? Our experts give their views.
We received such a fantastic response to our first ever Expert 8 feature that we are continuing the theme of putting invited experts to work by giving their advice on how a business can thrive and grow.
This month we feature McCormick Weeks. Based at Perrotts Brook near Cirencester, the company designs and manufactures beautiful curtain poles, finials, holdbacks and accessories. This is English craftsmanship at its best and owner Sally-Anne Jones aims to use as many local suppliers as she can. McCormick Weeks and sister company The Painted Curtain Pole Company, supplies clients all over the world, including the rich and famous.
Sally-Anne bought McCormick Weeks out of administration in January 2010 after joining the company over 5 years ago and training as a specialist paint finisher. In 2010, when staff returned after Christmas holidays they were told there was no money to pay them and they were made redundant.
Sally thought the company had potential so she scraped the money together to purchase it from the liquidators and re employed everyone. It was nerve racking, a whole new ball game, but I love what we create and I couldnt see it disappear, she said.
McCormick Weeks now employs three people. I had to make a redundancy, which was heart breaking, a legal minefield and learning curve, said Sally. Literally adding insult to injury, she fell and broke three ribs minutes before her final meeting with the staff member in question, who then had to wait for almost an hour before Sally could catch her breath. She made me sugary tea, looked after me and I made her redundant, it was truly an awful day for us both.
Highs and Lows
Highs: Re-employing the team and clients calling our work pieces of art in themselves, says Sally, who has new clients in Russia, Netherlands, Austria, Dubai and Australia, and she enjoys hearing her clients responses when they visit the workshop and see the collection for real.
Her accountant was dreading his first visit, according to Sally. Id never run a business and was dyslexic. However, were surviving in the economic climate and Im learning to run a business and reduce costs by purchasing wisely without compromise on quality. McCormick Weeks has featured in some top quality magazines, including World of Interiors.
There are lows too of course. Worrying about cash flow and having responsibility for my employees. The redundancy and the legal hoops we have to jump through. Being solely responsible for the business can be exhausting as Im a single mum. Sometimes I wish had a business partner to bounce ideas off but my business mentor is the next best thing.
Why do customers buy from McCormick Weeks?
Bespoke products of the highest standard, hand painted to order. Customers know McCormick Weeks has passion, excellent customer service and doesnt exceed deadlines. It offers images of work in progress and personal service regardless of order size. Its all about the personal touches, being down to earth and normal, adds Sally.
To increase turnover, employ more staff, including a manager so Sally can focus on design, sales, marketing and meeting as many new and existing clients as possible. She also wants to build the companys presence at the main exhibitions and employ more agents. After all that shed quite like time for a holiday.
Philip Timson, Gloucestershire Enterprise
Question: How can McCormick Weeks maintain its current development?
Answer: Sally has done remarkably well to re-establish the business and brand since its administration.
Future growth and prosperity lies in increasing the level of sales while maintaining profit margins. From conversations with Sally there are three areas she should focus on:
More of the healthy level of enquiries and quotes need converting into sales. She can and should do better here by improving her systems and sales processes. She has appointed two agents to sell the companys products in different parts of the country.
Results have been mixed to date but the strategy is sound and should be progressed.
For direct sales, online is a good route to market and using the Painted Curtain Pole brand differentiates this activity from the McCormick Weeks brand avoiding confusion in the market place. To this end establishing the Painted Curtain Pole website and its e-commerce facility should be a priority.
Sally should retain her Business Mentor to enable her to explore new ideas and strategies and keep her focussed on her goals and aspirations.
Darren Sherborne, Sherbornes Solicitors LLP
Question: How can a small manufacturing company such as McCormick Weeks manage its work force effectively?
Answer: There is no substitute for leadership, which means an infectious energy, enthusiasm and trust. If you dont have these then any amount of training wont help you. If you do have these, you probably dont need training.
As far as HR law is concerned, I would suggest that a small organisation such as McCormick Weeks avoids getting bogged down with policies and procedures. When a work force is small enough to know everyones business, HR procedures are going to get in the way.
As McCormick Weeks replaces people and grows, Sally should review her contracts of employment to ensure she protects her business in the form of customer lists, pricing and contacts. This can be done simply by using post termination restrictions and its very important in a small organisation. No business wants a manager to walk away with customers.
I would also introduce a lay off clause. As McCormick Weeks grows it may experience troughs in work flow and this will help manage cash in the short term and avoid redundancies by sending employees home for short periods rather than making them redundant.
Elliott Davies, Patent Attorney, Wynne-Jones IP
Question: Sally is designing some of her own products. How can she protect her designs now and in the future, and are there any issues she should be aware of? How expensive is it to patent a design and for small businesses such as McCormick Weeks, is it financially viable?
Answer: Patents protect inventions rather than designs and the majority of Sallys innovations will comprise design rights. Her products will attract unregistered design right protection for their shape and configuration as soon as the design is created there is no formal registration procedure, and will typically last for 10 years.
Sally should consider registering her designs at the UK Patent Office, which offers benefits if she ever needs to enforce them in court. This also offers protection for 2-dimensional designs and can remain in force for up to 25 years. A registered UK design will also allow her to prevent unauthorized import of copycat products and provide exclusivity to her designs for the UK market.
Protection of a firms logo with a trademark, or a part of its product line with a registered design or patent isnt hugely expensive and generally adds value to a company. Profits derived from the sale of patented items or products incorporating patented items may also benefit from a reduced rate of Corporation Tax under the new Patent Box scheme from April 2013, potentially hugely significant to a small manufacturing company.
Simon Nuttall, McGills, Cirencester
Question: Cashflow is an issue for McCormick Weeks. Can you give advice on how Sally can overcome this issue and offer advice on dealing with HMRC and their awful automated letters.
Answer: The old mantra of cash is king is very important and too many businesses ignore this at their peril. There are a number of things that Sally can do to assist cash flow. First is to consider cash accounting for VAT. This means you pay HMRC when you are paid.
Aside from the obvious, making sure you get paid for your goods before handing them over, it is important to look at the amount of cash locked up in stock and work in progress.
Try to minimize stock holding and make sure you reduce the time from receiving raw materials in to dispatching the goods. Finally if the PAYE/NIC deductions for staff are less than 15000 per month then Sally can pay this to HMRC on a quarterly basis. Added together these three suggestions could aid cash flow considerably.
Mike Payton, Tap Business Development
Question: McCormick Weeks has been in World of Interiors and House Beautiful magazines as well as a prominent German magazine. How can Sally boost the companys profile on a very small budget?
Answer: Its wonderful that McCormick Weeks has been featured in such prestigious titles, a clear testimony to the quality and appeal of its products.
As a small business with limited resources, effort, creativity and determination on Sallys part can make up for a lot. It is vitally important to ensure marketing spend and effort is working for her and any available marketing budget should be linked to actions, targets and expected results.
Social media is the obvious starting place to marketing on a shoestring thanks to its negligible cost of entry and usage. Consider engaging through Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Flikr with related trades such as interior designers and end users, while offering a smattering of self-promotion.
Explore synergies for marketing and promotion with other related businesses, such as paint manufacturers and curtain designers. Local, regional and industry specific awards are a great way of raising profile, even if McCormick Weeks isnt placed, being nominated is a story.
Sallys PR efforts have clearly already paid dividends in raising awareness of her business.
Continue to ensure that PR is newsworthy and look to spend a minimum of 11.5 days per month on marketing and business development.
Shaun Uthup, SOZO Design
Question: How strong is the McCormick Weeks website? How can it be strengthened and what about its sister website thepaintedcurtainpolecompany?
Answer: The businesss unique selling points dont leap out and the website doesnt look like its updated regularly with news, offers or new products, so lots that can be improved. What is missing is ecommerce. If McCormick Weeks sold a bigger range of off the shelf painted poles on the site, it would broaden the potential customer base. Also consider a mobile friendly version of the site. With people browsing on their phones, the current site is not easy to use here.
McCormick Weeks sister website (www.thepaintedcurtainpolecompany.com) could be developed so products can be ordered online. Id keep this separate from the McCormick Weeks website not to devalue the bespoke, handmade message. However, the two sites should link to capture both customer types.
For small businesses such as McCormick Weeks, the most effective form of online marketing is still via Google. There are hundreds of thousands of searches in Google per month for keywords directly related to curtain poles (110,000) and curtain accessories (3600). A quarterly email is another way of updating customers about new products and services.
In summary: A better designed website with online purchasing, which is on page one of Google for the right keywords, would significantly increase sales and expose the business to new clients across the UK and abroad.
Business Insurance issues
Paul Baldwin, Cass Stephens Insurance
Question: What are the business insurance issues for a small manufacturing company?
Answer: The main areas of insurance for a small manufacturing company such as McCormick Weeks to consider include protecting assets such as stock (including in transit), machinery and other contents; business interruption insurance to help replace lost profit in the event of a fire, flood or other insured event at their premises.
Liability insurance to protect against claims brought against them for death, injury or damage to third party property resulting from their business activities and obviously motor insurance for any company vehicles. Personal accident insurance would have come in very handy when Sally broke her ribs.
When arranging the insurance for the company Sally must ensure that underwriters fully understand what the company does. Material facts that need to be declared include the use of hazardous chemicals in the resin casting process, storage of paints and stain, use of wood working machinery and exporting of their goods.
John Phillipart, Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS)
Question: How can McCormick Weeks best arrange its manufacturing processes to be lean and fit to maximise cash flow and productivity?
Answer: To make improvements to any business and enable it to grow, it is vital to understand how the business works. This is particularly relevant for McCormick Weeks, so recently re-founded.
One of the most effective tools for understanding how the business operates is value stream mapping, which involves creation of a schematic diagram to identify all processes and priority areas for improving performance.
By following the value of the product and movement between processes, from raw material through to arrival with the customer, a more streamlined manufacturing environment can be established.
MAS works closely with manufacturers to build a picture of how their business functions.
This will help with confidence for growth, as it enables the business to identify efficient processes as well as any weaknesses, which can be addressed in advance.
The key to successful business improvement is getting the whole team involved.
Empowering staff to come up with solutions to problems encourages buy-in to future change.
McCormick Weeks summary
Thank you to all our Experts who have come up with some fantastic advice. We really appreciate the lengths some of them have gone to understand Sallys ambitions for McCormick Weeks and much of the advice given will be relevant not just to McCormick Weeks but also to hundreds of such small businesses across the Cotswolds.
Sally adds: The experts have given me some wonderful advice which I really appreciate. This feature has been a great confidence boost which has confirmed that I am heading in the right direction and my business head is on a par with my artistic and creative side, which is very reassuring.