A group of active FSB members from across the East Midlands were invited to meet the national chairman Mike Cherry, to discuss their businesses and key issues, and ask questions about the organisation.
The packed day took Mr Cherry on three member premises visits, with a lunchtime discussion with a variety of other business owners.
First stop on the tour was B I Ltd in Loughborough, where automation is helping owner Kamal Dhutia to deliver high levels of production and quality on sauces and condiments for the catering industry. Mike donned protective clothing to inspect the production process, from recipe development in the lab right through to packaging and distribution. Kamal is Chair of the Better Business for All partnership on behalf of FSB, which brings regulators (from councils, fire and rescue and more) and businesses together to make a positive relationship between the two with a shared vision of making regulation as painless and productive as possible.
Next Mike visited award-winning businesswoman Anne-Mari Niemela, whose business, Foxprint based in Shepshed is in the process of expanding thanks to a focus on growth and drive to engage her team in the journey. Anne-Mari learnt the print business by working every part of the print process, and jumped at the chance to acquire the business three years ago. With plans for continued investment in staff and equipment, in the face of a challenging industry where paper prices are increasing, Anne Mari told Mike she was always looking for ways to do things better and find the right supplier deals. Anne-Mari also told us that winning the Woman Who Award for Growing SME has given her the confidence to apply for the FSB Awards- we look forward to receiving her application!
From Shepshed Mike travelled down to Bakers Waste, where a group of active members from across the East Midlands gathered to talk business.
Discussions covered Brexit, skills shortages, access to finance, and how small businesses give back to the community, especially through the staff they employ, providing flexible opportunities for people with family commitments, mental health issues and event backgrounds of homelessness or crime. Thanked the group for providing insights which will help him in his discussions with key politicians and policy makers, including the prime minister to government departments and select committees.
After the lunch, Bakers Waste MD Paul Baker took time to show Mike around some of the key areas of the business including workshop, driver training the finance and sales team who have helped the firm grow to its enviable size, providing waste management and recycling services across the East Midlands.
Paul joined his father’s removal firm aged 17 and worked his way around from driving trucks to office work, before two years spent driving trucks collecting commercial waste at a local firm, when he decided to do it himself, selling his car to buy ten bins and a second hand lorry.
The rest is history but Paul’s dedication to staff development, growth and diversification were clear as Mike toured the extensive premises meeting mechanics and administration staff, and even Paul's two sons who are learning the trade at the firm. Paul has even turned the skills shortages he experienced into an opportunity by diversifying into HGV driver training through his new business Driving Talent.
At the end of the day Mike said, “it is always immensely valuable for me to hear direct from local members on what issues are holding them back and how the FSB's campaigning can help. The East Midlands members have shown me great positivity and tenacity in their approach to business, and while I hear the same issues time and again about increasing costs, late payments, finding skilled staff and uncertainty around Brexit, as usual our members have shown that Small businesses are reacting to difficult economic conditions with characteristic resilience”.