The Lower Wensleydale Business Network is passionate about helping young people in the area to create a future for themselves that will allow them to stay in the Dales if they wish. This month’s interview is a perfect example of a family who has done just that, so much so, that their business now provides many jobs for young local families and those in surrounding areas. We’re speaking to Allison Calvert, one of the directors of A D Calvert Architectural Stone Supplies, the company responsible for the memorial on the Camp Centre roundabout in Catterick.
Tell us about Calvert’s and how it started.
A D Calvert came about through my husband in 1993. He left school at the first opportunity because academia and further study isn’t for everybody and he was extremely skilled practically. He had the background, the knowledge, the drive and commitment to know where he wanted to go, and it was to create stonework. He gained valuable experience from working in other natural stone companies alongside studying stone masonry.
I’d say his success is down to being open to opportunity in the natural stone field. All our work used to be predominantly done by stonemasons, but because of advanced technology and labour costs and to relieve the uncertainty of staff attendance, we went through a period of not replacing specific staff. Technological advancements within the industry meant we had the reliability and we could speed up work processes using specialist equipment to meet our customers growing requirements. We created the statues on the main roundabout in Catterick Garrison using robotic technology, and years ago that would have taken considerable time to hand carve. Instead, natural stone block was selected, sized and programmed by our specialist technicians on a CNC machine and left to work. Our technicians are extremely skilled and dedicated to getting the fine details accurate. This was achievable using a specialist scanner. The soldiers were scanned and then transferred to our robotised production unit to be later hand finished by our master stonemasons.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
We need to review our current work load and customer demand which is in all honesty a continual process. There is a need to assess the functionality and effectiveness of our old saws. Some of the fixed machines have lasted since Andrew first established himself here at the stone yard more than 25 years ago. Research, knowledge and expertise in stone has facilitated Andrew to make the correct choice of fixed machinery to ensure good investment and longevity. We are continually trying to expand however we need to come back round and start looking at other technologies and replace the very old equipment, which is still working, but we need to modernise them.
Our other focus is health and safety, which we consider ourselves to be quite at the forefront of in our industry.
We have recently compiled data for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) laboratories and are working with the Stone Federation, which is the official trade association for the natural stone industry. The Federation is an excellent resource and we have been a member for many years. Its role is to co-ordinate all aspects of the industry but unfortunately most of the events are mostly located in London despite there being several stone companies in the north. Knowing this, I’m in discussions to try to get a northern hub established to ensure northern companies aren’t disadvantaged regarding accessing events and seminars. Fortunately, I have expertise in establishing services and networks within healthcare and I’m keen to collaborate with like-minded people within the stone industry.
We’ve set up our programmes of care and monitoring utilising specialist knowledge within our established team and it’s working well. I would like to see other high-risk industries adopt this and learn from good practice.
What would you say your biggest struggles have been over the last 12 months?
The biggest struggle is keeping up with the pace of running a business efficiently, alongside keeping ahead of the industry. Importantly it is also about staff retention. It’s paramount to have a happy workforce that contribute and are willing. We consider ourselves to be forward thinking, approachable and are proud to actively involve our staff in decision making processes for example Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which has increased safety by reducing non-compliance alongside ensuring we don’t waste our money on stock. Our staff know their opinion is valuable and is a high priority on our agenda.
We also have an appraisal system which allows staff to know what we expect of them and allows them to inform us of their expectations. This is accepted very well.
Name one thing you would attribute to your success.
The key I’d say is our dedication, hard work and commitment. People in these positions when they’ve reached a stage where they feel they’re doing well, quite often can take their foot off the pedal. We genuinely enjoy our work and are driven by its success and staff and customer feedback.
My husband has had the drive and the commitment from the very beginning, alongside developing his workforce. We also have effective in-house support structures which are ensuring our company’s sustainability.
How you overcome the challenges around retaining staff?
Our industry requires skilled staff. Appropriate staff selection is essential, we know the needs of our business alongside how our workforce works and the importance of keeping a happy team.
I’d say staff retention is down to the package that you’re offering. It’s about being flexible, but also ensuring mutual respect.
What do you think the future holds for businesses in rural areas such as Wensleydale?
There are teenagers that are committed to attending universities and colleges due to their attainment. Whilst experiencing university life they naturally build their own support structures alongside building a lifetime network of friends. Quite often they establish their career foundations within the city they have studied and in some instances, they may return to the Dales.
Notably because there aren’t that many jobs available in the Dales, we have experienced a large number of applicants for any one job hence most probably why people spread their wings and seek alternative solutions elsewhere. I think David’s ambition to keep young people here is really going to be a challenge, so finding out from the key stakeholders the reasons as to why students don’t return is essential in order to try and halt the exodus that is becoming more and more prevalent amongst our young population.
One other point to mention would be have local jobs fairs to promote the work and opportunities within local Dales businesses and to raise awareness of local opportunities
What would you say the challenges are facing businesses in a rural area like ours?
Transporting goods to the market place at a reasonable cost. I would also say it is accessing facilities to support a business from start-up to maintenance. It would be useful to consider a directory of group services with willing volunteers and points of contact at discounted prices. For example, manual handling training, health and safety training days etc. I do feel that these solutions will potentially evolve from collaboration within the business group if guided well.
What do you think businesses can do to make this an attractive place for people to come to?
If I was somebody thinking of relocating to the Dales, I would want to know of all available resources within the locality including nurseries, schools, entertainment, community projects, activities, cost of housing, affordability, amenities and public transport. Businesses need to promote the Dales on social media platforms within their business marketing, offer good employment packages to entice people away ‘far from the madding crowd’ of inner-city life.
It might be that there’s some consideration given to transport measures, entertainment, clubs, groups, housing, reduced rent for young people. A notification of bedsits and job vacancy bulletins within the area, how people can get to know more about the area, a point of contact, and a website would all be useful. I would promote the ‘We love the Yorkshire Dales Facebook page’ which is a good source of local information.
What do you think about the work that the network is doing with the Wensleydale School and Sixth Form?
I think it is an innovative venture which if managed and monitored effectively will achieve its full potential. This is going to be a challenge, but it appears currently to be a small cohort of students so should be manageable. I think they should open it up to neighbouring schools as well, which I think David is doing. It’s important to also consider looking far and beyond and not just supporting Wensleydale. For those of us who are willing to be involved communication is essential, inviting regular feedback from companies would be beneficial in order to plan events and seminars for businesses and students.
It is also paramount to have driven youngsters on a business course not just ones who are simply filling a gap because they are uncertain of what they want to do. This could be via a selection process to ensure those successful at interview will commit and be motivated throughout.
This month we caught up with Andrew Partridge, a Harmby-based financial advisor, who has more than 30 years’ experience. In this interview he tells us why he is busier than he ever has been, and why he thinks businesses in the Lower Wensleydale region are here to stay.
Tell us about your business and what a typical day looks like for you?
We’re a firm of financial advisors, a family-run firm. There’s Scott, who’s my eldest son, Tom, my youngest son, and Clare who all work for me, as well as my eldest sister who does some admin duties for us a couple of days a month.
First thing in the morning, generally I would be dictating work for Scott to prepare through the day and giving him the files for any upcoming reviews. Then we do a lot of analytical work on our portfolios. Post arrives mid-morning and we tend to deal with it there and then, e.g. withdrawal requests etc.
We have a lot of clients, so most of our time is typically focused on preparing or undertaking client reviews. I spend quite a lot of my time on the road seeing clients. After the clients have been seen, we write to them summarising the meeting and complete any changes to their portfolios or process new business.
The days are pretty full and long – a typical day starts at 8.30am and I can be sat here four nights a week until 8, 9, or 10pm. I do try to take Fridays off now though so it’s not too bad.
What are your plans for business over the next 12 months?
To continue to grow the business. We’ve grown roughly 10 per cent a year for quite some time. Business is very strong; we get a lot of referrals from solicitors, accountants, and existing clients. Effectively I just want to maintain that growth and continue to invest in the business.
Also, we’re introducing more software to help us improve the service that we’re delivering to our clients, and principally getting to grips with that software will be our main objective over the next 12 months
What’s your average client like?
We deal with all sizes of clients, but on average they would tend to be high net worth. The typical client would probably have investable assets of £200,000 plus, on average. A lot of advisors will refuse to see a client now who doesn’t have £100,000 of investable assets. We won’t see everybody depending on the circumstances, because we can’t due to the regulatory costs of putting a client on the books and then maintaining that relationship. I do have an acorns to oak trees view though. If it’s a son or daughter of an existing client, for example, we will encourage them to invest from the very beginning, whether it’s a £100-a-month saving or pension plan just to get them on the ladder and start saving at an early age. We don’t make any money on cases like that, but it’s good that they start saving. They will one day inherit well (hopefully) and all being well we will continue to look after the money because of the existing connection.
It is a challenge being able to handle the volume of inquiries that we do get now, so we have to be selective purely because of time constraints.
What have been the biggest struggles for you over the last 12 months would you say?
Definitely time management due to the volume of work. Some of the volume is to do with challenges within the business through new directives that have been issued regarding the way we report to clients and the information we have to provide for them, like a breakdown of all the product charges and adviser fees, which is adding a couple of hours work to every client file and puts us under an awful lot of strain. That’s where Scott’s been extremely helpful because he does a lot of that. That’s been our biggest challenge in the last year. Regulation in the financial services industry is certainly the biggest issue the industry faces. The second is the volume of new business enquiries.
What’s caused the increase in regulation in the last few years?
It’s about giving the client a better understanding of the costs and charges on the products. Commissions were effectively banned, and we moved to fee-based charging. There is more open disclosure, which is a very good thing and I endorse it 100 per cent. Previously costs were masked in the product charges. Products nowadays are far simpler and the charges much simpler to understand. The move to fees effectively killed the bank and building society adviser network. They effectively dictated the terms to the insurance companies, took huge fees and the client paid through an increased product charge. It finished them off more or less overnight. Anything we do to make it clearer for the client, in my eyes, is a good thing.
We have obviously picked up clients from their withdrawal. Most financial advisors in the UK who are any good are absolutely flat out.
What are your thoughts on the future of market towns like Leyburn?
I think we’ll always be protected because the main big retailers are not coming into the sticks, so that’s a positive for us. I think the small independent retailers are vital to the community, and I think they provide a brilliant service. I think anybody who has a business that supplies goods that potentially can be bought online is under the biggest threat. It’s not your newsagents; it’s not your food shop; it’s not your butcher; it’s not your café. It’s those that sell maybe fridges, electrical items, TVs, kettles, anything like that. They’re going to come under some threat because people just go in, price it, look online, click the button and then Amazon delivers it the next morning.
I think there’s a tradition in the Dales that if we can keep a business going, then we’ll do that, but the internet is a threat for everybody. I think we’ll survive though.
How do you think local employers can overcome the challenges or retaining staff?
It’s not an issue for me, so it’s difficult to comment. I’m not sure which businesses are suffering the biggest challenges. If it is hospitality which is the main area of concern, they tend to employ lower paid employees, and a lot of them are potentially immigrants. I think they’re feeling a bit of pressure now with what’s going on, so they’re beginning to drift away maybe. I think a lot of us aren’t prepared to do some of those jobs, yet they are. That’s a difficulty.
I think housing affordability is a very big issue for everybody and especially if you are in one of the lower tier jobs. There simply isn’t enough quality affordable housing either to rent or buy so youngsters have to move to where they can afford a house.
Do you think young people, in that sense, are at a disadvantage?
It depends on what line of work you are after. In financial services, for example, there are very, very limited opportunities without moving to the cities because that’s where everything generally tends to be based. Your big accountancy practices, your big law firms, your big financial advisory firms, they’re in Harrogate, Leeds, York, Newcastle, Teesside.
There’s very little on our doorstep. Local businesses only take on an odd apprentice here and there. It’s always going to be limited. I think if you’re driven and you want a career, you possibly need to move. You’ll be driven away otherwise. The opportunities for professionals in the Dales are extremely limited. For other trades suc as joiners, builders, HGV drivers there are more opportunities.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge facing the business community in the area?
A lot of the people I deal with are one-man bands. Small business enterprises and most of them are extremely busy. It can be a struggle getting a tradesman, so I think they are okay. For a larger business, I would say it’s probably technology and the speed with which it advances. It’s constantly evolving. We can buy software for just about anything we do, but it comes at a price and then you must know how to use it and the training is generally very expensive. Grandpa’s generation never had terabytes of information to deal with or the ability to post a review on anything and everything. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Google or Amazon, the digital world is playing a huge part in everybody’s lives. It’s such a powerful medium and it’s changing how we work in all walks of life at an amazing pace.
How can businesses influence education?
Schools do not teach pupils anything about finance in the real world. You’re not taught about loans, mortgages, credit cards, investments, pensions, or personal contract purchases etc. I accept as a parent we have a duty to educate but more should be done to at school to educate young people. That’s just from our perspective, but it doesn’t matter what walk of life you are going into meeting individuals who work in the business can give them a better insight as to what it entails, what you need to get into it and what qualifications you need to do a particular job. Getting business people into schools so they hear it straight from the horse’s mouth on what it’s actually like, can only do good in my eyes.
What do you think about the work the Lower Wensleydale Business Network are doing with the Wensleydale School and Sixth Form?
I think it can only be positive. I think in some respects it’s difficult because, certainly in financial services, we couldn’t bring somebody into the business because of the confidentiality of the information. For me, while I’m prepared to do a talk to some young people, I couldn’t mentor somebody for two weeks and show them what I do because our industry is built on trust. The information we have is so confidential, and that will apply to other professionals such as solicitors and accountants. That presents real difficulties for the business network for anybody looking to enter one of those careers.
I do like what they’re doing. Anything they can do to give youngsters a feel for what opportunities exist and to promote people to stay in the Dales has got to be a positive.
Following on from that point, how do you think the network can be doing more to help businesses?
I think they provide a collective voice and which means we can lobby a lot more effectively, whether it’s about business rates, parking issues or broadband or anything else. From that perspective, it’s got to be good.
In this new series, we get to know businesses owners across Wensleydale a little better and get their take on the key issues affecting businesses in the area. To kick us off we speak to Keith Garrard, Managing Director of Milners of Leyburn, who took over the family business with his wife Leonie from his father-in-law 12 years ago, making them the 5thgeneration to run the business.
How important are independent retail businesses like yours to the Dales?
Independent shops are massively important as they give a totally different experience to customers than high street shops in larger towns. If you include a traditional market town with a busy atmosphere then you have a powerful offer. People like Leyburn because of its friendly community and traditional values, which they quite find reassuring in a fast moving world.
Small businesses in the Dales help keep the community together as people still like to deal with real people. Ultimately business has to be driven by what consumers want which is quality goods at competitive prices, high customer service and experience that leaves a strong impression so they will come back.
We have to be on this every day as we have a very vast range of customers including traditional Dales people; incomers; second home owners; and visitors that have come from cities and want to kick back and relax.
Milners has changed massively since we took over and is firmly back on track. A lot of local people are using us as they find us helpful, competitive on cost and we offer a strong, reliable service.
However, the face of retail is changing quickly and we don’t fully understand the impact it will have on places like Leyburn in the long term. There is a millennial generation that want convenience, experiences and not material wealth, and who aren’t scared to challenge the status quo. We will have to adapt our businesses to suit these needs.
Do you think there will be a time when you will have to sell online, or do you think that what you’ve got is strong enough to keep going without online sales?
We have changed our business completely and become a destination store offering a great customer service and experience and we currently use social media to engage with potential customers to drive them to the shop.
I think the future for us is to find a way to retain our traditional values and offer a convenient service as our business is all about people and forming relationships. The internet offers a different service that is growing in demand and we need to use it to complement our current offer.
What’s make me angry is when a potential customer uses our goods, books and services and then buys online from an anonymous company, as it goes against our business and personal values. It doesn’t happen much, but is on the increase and is mostly by people from outside the area.
The time is coming when people will say, “we’re not sure about this anonymous online selling, we actually feel there’s a middle ground”, as I think there is a basic human need for interaction with other people. I think there’s a place for physical stores coupled with technology, high quality service and experience and that’s where we want to be. I think there’ll always be a place for face-to-face service, however, if we think we can just sit here and do nothing we would be foolish.
How important is customer service as a differentiator?
A million per cent. It’s what we are, it’s our USP.
How do you go about retaining staff in this area?
We have a very low turnover of team members because we look after them, and make sure we recruit well. For example, if I have an apprenticeship opening, then I will take them to Penley’s and have an informal chat before an interview, as I did with my current apprentice Alice. I want to see if the person’s got the right personality for the business, as it’s not just the role I’m thinking about, it’s the person. Could I put this person in front of my customers? Would this person represent the business in the way I want them to? And can I help them grow? Do they want to grow? What is it they want? These questions are important so that we can help them, as well as them help us. Alice was very hungry to succeed, but didn’t want to go to university, she had a very good attitude and a lovely persona which fitted completely with the business.
My team have a lot of autonomy to develop their roles within the business and are constantly seeking ways to improve the way the business runs, and the success of the business is primarily due to them. They know that they have my support and that if they have any personal emergencies then this always takes priority. They also have a degree of flexibility so that they can fit in family commitments.
Would you say that having a strong team is helped by the fact that you have a business that works 12 months of the year, rather than in seasons?
Yes, to a certain extent but business patterns are totally unpredictable at present.
How do you think can business influence education?
By being realistic and letting young people know it’s OK not to be academic and to go university if they feel it’s not right for them. We have some fantastic business leaders in the community and we need to develop them into the future generation of business leaders.
Unfortunately, I think the present school system is geared around getting everyone into higher education and some teachers have not experienced life outside of the education system themselves and so can’t offer real life advice. Business can fill this gap and encourage young people to focus on what they are good at and bring out their best.
How do you retain young people in this area?
Ultimately the area needs to be attractive to them to give them a reason to stay. This could be many things such as sports, leisure, career opportunity, family, friends.
People like me want to find them, snap them up and give them the opportunity to make something of themselves. There should be places for people in finance, hospitality, every walk of life, degree-qualified, or no qualifications, it doesn’t matter. They should be encouraged to seek out the opportunities for themselves and develop them.
Also, we’ve got to look at the young people as individuals. My daughter is doing her A-levels and has started a T-shirt business. She’s printing her T-shirts and set up her own website and getting orders, she said, “Dad, what happens if this takes off?” And I said, “Go for it!”
What are your plans for business over the next 12 months?
What’s been your biggest struggle over the last 12 months?
The biggest problem is that the business rates doubled in Leyburn in 2016 and online businesses do not pay anything like the rates the high street does, so it’s not a level playing field. I’ve been lobbying hard to try and get a better understanding, but have come up against a brick wall with the government, it’s been awful. Also, the weather gave us a big hit in March when people didn’t want to come out and we were flooded out in the thaw.
What do you think about the work that the Lower Wensleydale Business Network is doing with young people?
I think the work that the network does is great but needs to be more visual so businesses can see what they are doing, I think the work done on encouraging apprentices with the school is vital, but it all needs to be more joined up. It needs to have more people in the community, in business and the school pulling it together. I think it would be great if we could somehow get back to having a monthly business meeting locally where we can get some really good people sitting round the table sharing ideas, and really get some enthusiasm going again.
And finally, what could the network be doing to help local businesses?
Looking to the future, collaborating and helping people to share best practice. And I think the Facebook group is great, you should keep going with that.