Every cloud has a silver lining
PUBLISHED: 12:16 17 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013
Swine 'flu alert leads to record orders for Stratford company's hand-sanitising gel
There is no denying the effect that the deepest recession Britain has experienced for over 50 years is having on many people across the Cotswolds, through redundancies and business failures. But there are companies across the region continuing to thrive, safeguarding jobs and boosting our local economy.
One business having a record year is Stratford-upon-Avon based DCS Europe, which employs 230 people and last year turned over 102 million.
At the beginning of May, DCS Europe's exports topped 1 million for the first time thanks, according to chairman and CEO, Denys Shortt, to the fall in Sterling, the demise of some of his biggest competitors in the health and beauty market and the fact that the company supplies every-day household goods that none of us could live without.
DCS Europe's core business is distribution and manufacturing. The company distributes goods such as Persil, Ariel, L'Oreal, Colgate and Duracell batteries to shops across the UK. It also manufactures its own brand of toiletries under the name of Enliven, all made in the UK from a brand new factory it has built on part of its own 11 acre site in Stratford.
The company supplies every major retailer and wholesaler in Britain and many more in sixty countries worldwide.
And as this edition of Cotswold Life goes to press with the threat of Swine Flu hanging over the nation, DCS has sold 40,000 bottles of its own-label Enliven hand sanitising gel in just two days and taken an order to manufacture a further one million bottles.
DCS Europe comprises ten businesses, including packaging, software development and sales, all individual but supporting each other to keep costs to a minimum and all led by the inspirational and entrepreneurial Denys Shortt.
English by birth, Denys was brought up in Assam, India where his family lived for 22 years managing tea estates. The family returned to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1975 via shorter spells in Uganda and Kenya. After completing his education at Warwick School, and enjoying sporting success as an England International hockey player, Denys didn't take up the opportunity to study for a degree at Loughborough University, opting instead to work in the family firm, a company distributing food to corner shops.
"In 1994 corner shops were already at the mercy of the growing supermarket chains and I could see that the business as it stood was not going to grow. So I set up DCS Europe to focus on branded health and beauty products," he explained.
Whilst this sounds simple, the reality was much less so.
"When I first started DCS I didn't have a problem selling goods, but I did have a problem buying from the manufacturers as we had no track record and no credit rating, so we used invoice factoring (now often referred to as invoice discounting), which helped our cashflow and gave the manufacturers peace of mind," said Denys.
Denys's drive and determination to succeed and his obvious talent for selling, enabled the business to grow and diversify over the next few years.
By 2001, the company was turning over 50 million a year and had grown out of its offices, set up in a stable at his home near Broadway.
"We had to find new space fast and after Stratford Foods, previously the town's biggest employer, closed down we took a risk and bought the 11-acre site."
It was a risk that paid off and the company flourished, taking on new staff and a new external strategic advisor, Christine Cross, a former director of Tesco and a director of Next and Premier Foods.
Such rapid growth also involved heavy borrowing from the banks. In January 2008 the company's bank, RBS, decided to radically change the terms on which DCS Europe was borrowing.
"The bank, which had been with us for 30 years, decided to halve the amount it was lending us, potentially pulling the rug out from under our feet," said Denys.
"It could have been devastating. Instead we approached two other banks and negotiated better terms with both of them, so RBS did us a favour - even more so as we have seen what has unfolded at the bank since then."
Now DCS is with Yorkshire Bank (part of National Australia Bank) and Denys makes sure that his bank manager fully understands how the business is run.
Denys's business success lies in seeing and taking advantages of opportunities that others miss or don't understand, and good networking skills which encourages new business through personal recommendation.
This strategy got him involved with a young entrepreneur named Andrew Butt, who he met whilst learning to fly helicopters, supposedly as a distraction from work. True to form, however, he couldn't leave business behind and he started talking to 16-year old Andrew who turned out to be a software whizz kid already running his own business.
The two set up a business called Enable Software and Enable Infomatrix, providing software to Britain's leading banks as well as a leading provider of health and safety software. Having achieved over twenty years of business growth on his own behalf, Denys is now taking his 'Midas Touch' further afield, spending around 10% of his time working with other businesses to help them grow.
"Most small businesses I have worked with don't do enough customer research or have focussed sales strategies, despite what they might think," he said. Whilst companies might have got away with it before the current recession started to bite, there is no room to hide anymore.
"This recession is making us all cut our coats according to our cloth," he said.
Luckily for a corner of the Cotswolds, DCS Europe's coat is helping to keep the economic cold at bay. n