Sunday, 12 December 2010

Real Business #7 - Bishop's Services

Real Business is a series of posts that analyses the marketing opportunities and challenges of real businesses in the South East. The articles are also appearing in The Courier.

Bishop's Services Limited is the archetypal family business.

Like countless other men at the time, founder Ronald Bishop returned to civilian life at the end of the Second World War to find no job waiting for him so, in order to feed his growing family, he turned his hand to cleaning windows. What started out as a temporary expedient turned into a whole way of life. Without necessarily intending to, Ronald Bishop had taken the first tentative steps towards starting the business which today boasts an annual turnover of over £1 million.

Now 85 years old, Ronald Bishop has long been retired, having handed over the running of the business to his identical twin sons, John and Mark, who joined the family enterprise straight from school in 1970. In the intervening years, the business has evolved away from window cleaning into areas that are a logical extension of the company’s original activities. For example, nowadays office cleaning represents the backbone of the company’s workload which is focused very much on the business-to-business sector. Window cleaning work is still undertaken, but is now sub contracted to reliable people outside of the firm, while other services provided include carpet and upholstery cleaning, and wooden floor laying, fitting and renovation.

As part of a “one-stop” approach, the company will also undertake to deliver related supplies such as paper towels, toilet rolls and soap.

Still based in Crowborough, Bishops operates within a radius of around 30 miles with the bulk of the work coming from the Tunbridge Wells, Uckfield and East Grinstead areas. It has 8 full time employees and 85 part-time staff, but, typical of the “hands on” ethos of the company and its founder, both twins will occasionally put aside the fact that they are directors and roll up their sleeves to ensure that overnight cleaning contracts are fulfilled on time and to the correct standard.

Most of Bishops’ new work comes by word of mouth recommendation. John Bishop, the twin who tends to take care of office cleaning, contracts, strategy and finance, said: “We are reliable, trusted and organised. I’ve been told that in the B2B world you are doing well if you keep a client for 10 years. We have clients who have been with us for over 20 years, so we reckon that we must be doing something right”.

Bishops may have its traditional values, but it is not old-fashioned. It has set up three separate websites for its contract cleaning, carpets and flooring businesses and has worked hard on search engine optimisation to ensure that the Bishops name appears at the top of the Google list in the local area.

The challenge facing Bishops is how to develop and grow the business from now onwards. Securing office cleaning work is highly competitive – Bishops often finds itself part of a three-way pitch to gain a single contract. Efforts to promote the company and market its services through traditional methods, such as advertising in the local media and sending out flyers, have been used in parallel with more modern forms of marketing, such as email marketing and the internet, and are ongoing. In the meantime, the traditional word-of-mouth route remains effective but slow.

The brothers are anxious to improve on the cross-selling activities and readily admit that perhaps they have not yet made the best use of their client base and that client relationship management techniques could be improved.

By far the most dramatic growth could come by way of acquisition. John Bishop alluded to the possibility and said: “Having bought a few businesses in the past, we are eager to add to the Bishops’ portfolio, but we don’t want to spread out too far because we need good supervisors to cover the areas”.

However, until such opportunities come along, it is clear that the brothers will not be content to stand still and will continue to pursue growth by organic methods.

The Marketing Eye says:

How reassuring it is to hear of a family business that has prospered by sticking to its core values!

The business’ strongest asset is its carefully cultivated customer base and there is every reason to use this as the principle source of organic growth. The Bishops should not shy from asking existing customers for referrals. Nobody will mind being asked if they are happy with the service. They could even consider rewarding clients who make an introduction with free cleaning for a period.

Further cross-selling could be achieved by offering carpet-cleaning or flooring services to the staff of clients of the cleaning business. Simply raising awareness could be enough although a ‘special offer’ may help too.

Online, there is little linkage between the 3 websites and this won’t be supporting cross selling. The websites are also very text heavy. While this will be helping with search engine performance, it isn’t making the sites attractive or easy to scan for new visitors. Some new investment in website design would be justified. Bishops should also make sure that it is listed in Google Places so that it is shown in the map at the top of the search engine page.

In a competitive market, it is important to consider ways of moving the decision beyond price. Trust is a big issue for anybody who is going to hand over the keys to their office. New prospects should be encouraged to contact existing clients by adding the telephone numbers to testimonials. A professionally produced brochure will create a good impression and help persuade any unseen decision makers.

What advice would you give?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Read all about it - the definition of good PR

Angela Ward, Head of PR Services at The Marketing Eye, describes how PR adds value to businesses.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what PR actually is.

Having been a journalist for 20 years, I’ve been in contact with PR people and their messages for a long time – but now, on the other side of the fence and as a PR myself, I have to explain public relations to new and potential customers and it is useful to be able to explain exactly what it is.

During my time as a journalist I came across a wide variety of PRs – from those working in the beauty industry, who supplied me with almost hysterical press releases telling me how their latest perfume would change my life, to City PRs representing private equity firms on their investments and buyouts. Both very different types of approach – but still equally important PR to the firms involved.

The New Oxford Dictionary says that PR is: ‘The professional maintenance of a favourable public image by a company, organisation or individual’ and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, which should know what it is talking about, says PR is ‘the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics’.

To put it simply, PR is about building and guarding reputations. Every organisation has a variety of ‘publics’ and this is not just ‘the public’ at large. As a company, your publics can include clients/customers, distributors, suppliers, influencers, investors, the local community and, importantly, your own employees.

If the message that your employees are hearing, seeing and feeling every day in the workplace is a positive one, then they will be going home each day and spreading that around for you – whether that’s in the local pub or just between family and friends.

What PR isn’t is advertising. Advertising allows you to say whatever you want, within the constraints of law: it obviously has a cost implication, but it brings guarantees. Your copy will be included as you wrote it. But will people read your advert? That obviously depends on a number of factors – such as where you advertise and how attractive your advertisement is.

With PR, there are no such guarantees and you can’t control what a journalist will take from your press release, but if your copy gets used or your business is mentioned on an editorial page, then you get that all-important third party endorsement.

You can shout about how good your business is until the cows come home, but people may not believe you – and the more you shout, the less likely they will listen or give credence to what you are saying. If somebody else says that you are a good company with good products or services, whether they are a journalist, a happy customer or a member of your own staff, then that’s good PR.