Neil has gone from a £400,000 loss in 2013 to £800,000 profit in 2015 and he’s now on track to hit his £1 million target this year
Double H Nurseries was established in 1961 and now grows 4.5 million house plants each year, which are sold throughout the UK’s supermarkets. Growing is their business, but in 2013 their profitability took a hit and they decided they needed some help.
Neil Stevenson joined his father’s business in 1991 and took over the family business in the late 1990s.
“I followed an engineering career straight from university but, after completing my graduate scheme, I decided to join the family business,” he says. “My father was running several ventures and so we had a somewhat unstructured handover of the reins over a seven-year period.
“At Double H Nurseries, we grow flowering house plants, package them for gifts and supplying them to supermarkets all over the UK. In the last decade, we had invested heavily in the most modern house plant production facilities in the UK and were voted Bedding and Pot Plant Grower of the Year in 2009.
But despite all our innovations and efficient manufacturing practices, in 2013 the business made a £400,000 operating loss and I could see we needed to make changes to get back into profit and that it would take a strategic facilitator to help us identify what those changes might be.”
“One of my friends is an ActionCOACH business coach, but he lives too far away, so I was recommended a more local ActionCOACH. We chose to conduct our first strategy review away from the Double H office in August 2013.
“Our coach worked with our senior management team, identifying where we were going wrong - the root causes of how we were losing money. It was only supposed to be a one-off exercise, but we all found it very useful. At that point we committed to one-to-one coaching for me, to take us through a full strategy review, plus some training for the rest of the senior management team.
“One of the key things we uncovered during that first session was that we realised we had been diverted from our core business because of requests by customers. We agreed we needed to strip the business back to focus on what we are good at and just do more of it.
“We set about restating the company’s purpose, re-wrote our company values and communicated it to everyone. We started to use 90-day plans with our management team and this gave each team under them targets to buy in to. It gives the people working in our business priorities and the structure to work to, so they can review progress on a quarterly basis.
“I went to see the founder of ActionCOACH, Brad Sugars, at a seminar, where he described the management ladder - the work and behaviours of a start-up entrepreneur, middle-stage manager and an owner/investor. It gave me an insight into how to develop my job and the team around me.
“In the past 18 months, I’ve stepped away significantly from day-to-day work in the business, which means I’ve had to fill that gap through my managers stepping up and, in turn, they’ve had to delegate more to their teams.
“Before the coaching started, I was working more than 50 hours a week in the business. Our coach got me to set personal objectives, as well as those for the business - one of mine was to have a better work-life balance. In addition, I have a firmer plan of succession and retirement and I’m on track to achieve that.
“By working smarter, my time working on the business now makes a difference and our progress is clear. We have gone from a £400,000 loss in 2013 to £800,000 profit in 2015 and we are on track to hit our £1 million target this year.
“In the last two years sales have risen by 20 per cent to nearly £25 million and to do this we have only had to increase our workforce by five per cent to 160. Another great indicator of our return to financial health is that, in the last 12 months, we have repaid loans of £560,000, which is a great situation to be in.”
“This is a long-term vision for me. The business has been growing and changing since 1961 when my father was at the helm for over 30 years and I want to make sure we continue to be a growing business in every sense for another 30 years. We’ve achieved a lot over the last few years, but our improvement is ongoing. We’ve still got more to learn and we have a lot more to do.”