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Taking the plunge

Feb 13, 2018
Steve Jordan interviews Mark Herrington after he left Pickfords to start something new.

I had heard that Mark Herrington had a new business.  But, as I drove up a dismal M1 on the way to Leicester to pay him a visit, that was all I knew.  What he had bought, why he’d bought it and, most importantly, what he planned to do with it, I had yet to discover.  

I know Mark, of course, from his days at Pickfords and his work with BAR where he was the CMG (Commercial Moving Group) chairman. He was also in line for the BAR Presidency, had fate not joined in.  

Mark grew up in Bath.  His dad was a carpenter and his mum a chef.  When they upped-sticks and moved to Torquay, Mark chose to stay in his home town.  Still a teenager he started work with Magnet & Southern, builders merchants.  It was here he discovered he had the selling gene.  He moved on from there to sell insurance with Pearl, which he hated.  Fortunately, the lads at the insurance company used the same pub as the chaps from Pickfords that had a site nearby.  He made the switch and never looked back. Well, not for quite a while anyway.   

He loved the work at Pickfords as a domestic salesman and impressed his regional manager, Kevin Stow, sufficiently enough for him to encourage the young Mark into a management role.  He ‘served his time’ managing Pickfords branches in the West Country including Plymouth, Taunton, Bath, Bristol and Exeter.  Then, in 2008, amid many redundancies at Pickfords, Kevin Pickford offered Mark the opportunity of a position in the Pickfords Business Moving Group under Neil Baker.  Three years later, when Neil left the company, Mark became the Group Director.  

It was around this time that Mark became involved with the CMG which led him on to become BAR Vice President with a view to taking over the presidency in 2016.  Professional differences at Pickfords had led Mark to look for another opportunity and, it was while performing his vice-presidential duties, visiting the BAR Areas, that Mark met an old colleague, Mike Andrews from Britannia Bradshaw.  Mike told him of a business for sale, Britannia Bardies in Leicester. Mark and the then owner, Derek Bardwa, were unable to agree a deal however, when a few months later Britannia Bardies went into administration, the picture changed.  Now this really was interesting.  

On 30 April, 2016 Mark bought a 50% share in Britannia Bardies with the four directors of John Bradshaw & Son, Malcolm Haley, Mike Andrews, Rod Seeland and Davinder Bedi taking the remaining shares.  The name was changed to Bradshaw of Leicester Ltd, to fit in with the rest of the Bradshaw Group (Manchester, Stafford and Birmingham) and to also lose the tarnished image of the old name, and the work began. 

Mark was unable to start work on the new company until 4 July, 2016 when his obligations to Pickfords ceased.  “I call it my independence day,” he said.  In the meantime he had to step down as BAR Vice President, only a few weeks before he was due to take on the presidency.  ‘Ian Studd and Paul Swindon were amazingly supportive about it,” said Mark.  “Gary Wheadon immediately agreed to stay on for another year and Tony Tickner agreed to serve just one year as VP before becoming president.”  

So what exactly had Mark bought? It turned out that less than half of the boxes in store had paying customers.   The four vehicles were worn out and the staff demoralised. “Nothing was quite as it had appeared,” said Mark.  “Five members of staff left straight away which, probably, was for the best.  In the last 18 months we’ve replaced and increased the fleet, increased the workforce from seven to 13 people, and put all the staff on proper contracts. People can’t get a mortgage or even rent a house if they don’t have contracted hours.”  The company has now signed a new five-year lease on the existing premises allowing it to put down some permanent roots. 

It was a bold step and one that Mark admits would have been much more difficult without the backing of the Bradshaw Group. We’ve initiated a massive marketing campaign, which continues; there are also corporate enquiries coming through the group that provide a regular stream of work.  Another advantage was having an in-house Marketing Manager, Shelley Slater, who has worked hard on enhancing the company’s website helping to bring it from page three to page one on Google. Everything has been about increasing the enquiry stream.    

But there is a lot more to running a successful business than simply generating enquiries.  There’s a reputation to rebuild and maintain to enhance the company’s image in the eyes of both customers and prospective employees. Lynn Snoxall joined the company in September 2017 to perform an administration and coordination role.  She had been in estate agency before so had a good understanding of the emotions people experienced when moving house.  Darren Taylor had been an HGV driver and storeman with the old company so moved up to operations to use his hands-on experience in an organisational position.   

Mark also looked at training.  “Again the Bradshaw Group has an in-house Training Manager, John Horsfield, which has proved invaluable. We started with a clean slate,” explained Mark. “Everyone went back to basics.  We’ve trained everyone in manual handling, health & safety, packing, handling fragiles, export packing, commercial moving – every aspect of the business.  There were no exceptions.  No matter how experienced people were, they all did the same training either on site or at the Bradshaw training centre in Manchester, which is an accredited BAR training provider.” 

Many of the senior management team at Bradshaw Group are ex Pickfords which, Mark believes, pays testimony to the Pickfords training programme.  His new salesman, Trevor Armstrong, also came from Pickfords.  “It takes a lot for people to leave a secure environment and come to something smaller, especially when they have over 25 years’ service,” Mark said.  “But when you have so many people it’s hard to treat them as individuals. Here we have a family atmosphere.”  

People outside the business soon began to see the change with the new livery and a better customer reaction.  “It’s a very small moving community here in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, we all know each other.  Almost everyone I have recruited has come from another moving company in the area. We expect our staff to deliver excellent customer service every time, to do this we train and reward accordingly. We have a strong customer service ethic from initial enquiry through to completion. It can make us more expensive but the customer gets a better experience when they move.  That is reflected in our customer service scores.  I am sure that the message has got out to our customers and to other members of the moving industry that encourages them to come to work for us.  We like to give our staff the opportunity to show off their skills.”  

Mark said that it was also important for all staff to understand costs and the level of profit needed to support a growing business. He believes it’s important to be very open about the business and share information with everyone so that they understand what the company is trying to achieve.  He also has a strong sales force. “They are skilled in understanding what the customer wants and matching the service,” he said.  “They explain to customers the right way to do things and try to hold firm on pricing. If customers properly understand what’s required, they will often be prepared to pay the extra.  It’s also important that the sales people have confidence in the operations staff to be able to deliver what they have promised.”  Mark accepts that this is a potentially risky strategy. But he knew he was never going to turn the business around on volume alone.  It had to focus on quality.   

Britannia Bradshaw of Leicester is now settling into its new skin.  It has corporate accounts and regular trade customers for destination services. There is a European work stream, all of which is funnelled through the Britannia network.  And there is now the opportunity of building up the commercial work, Mark’s speciality, now that the basics are sorted.   

Despite the obvious pressures of starting something new, Mark and his fellow directors have plenty of thoughts on the future.  In September Bradshaw bought another company: Britannia Premier in Derby.  It will be renamed Britannia Bradshaw to fit the group branding and will strengthen the groups coverage in the midlands and the north of England. There are also other plans, yet to be released, to further strengthen the group and the service offering.  

Despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit and a somewhat precarious trading outlook, Mark is very optimistic both for his business and the industry as a whole.  “We cannot change what will happen in the future,” he said. “We will plan for what we want to achieve and move our business through that process with the flexibility to adapt if we need to.  I don’t listen to speculation because it can affect my judgement. So far, in just 18 months, we have brought the business out of administration, given it security, doubled its turnover and are looking at a further 50% growth next year. We are pretty happy with that.”  

Since the start of his career Mark has loved being in the moving business. “It’s a fantastic industry to be in. I encourage younger people to be involved.  What other industry can you be involved with every aspect - administration, credit control, operations, sales, customer service – and all in such a fast-moving environment?  Unlike most industries our customers are on a journey with us for months or even longer. It’s not just the instant sale. It’s a great industry and I think we should stop underselling ourselves.  We should be proud of what we deliver to our customers and make sure we charge the right money for doing a good job.” 

Photos:  Top: left to right: Darren Taylor, Chris Palmer, Mark Herrington and Stuart Morcom; Top right; Mark Herrington; Middle left: Lynn Snoxall; Bottom right: Trevor Armstrong.

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