Interviews

How I Kept My Business Going Through Three Recessions

Paul Fletcher, boss of removals business FN Worldwide, has negotiated 32 years of chaotic economic conditions to grow a business that is stronger than ever. What is his secret for longevity in business?

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Paul Fletcher, boss of removals business FN Worldwide, has negotiated 32 years of chaotic economic conditions to grow a business that is stronger than ever. What is his secret for longevity in business?

Interviews

How I Kept My Business Going Through Three Recessions

Paul Fletcher, boss of removals business FN Worldwide, has negotiated 32 years of chaotic economic conditions to grow a business that is stronger than ever. What is his secret for longevity in business?

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How I Kept My Business Going Through Three Recessions

After falling into the removals industry with no experience of running a business, director Paul Fletcher grew the business to global scale over more than three decades. Here he shares his advice on securing long-term sustainability through several economic downturns (and that's just in the UK).

Tell us the story of the how FN Worldwide started?

I was working as an electrical engineer in Germany in 1983 and was a keen sailor. I used to sail with some Americans and a job opportunity came up in Florida but I didn’t have a work permit. It wasn’t going to be a quick process to obtain one so while I was waiting there was an opportunity to start a business, I had some money to invest so I went it alone, we eventually moved to UK in 1983.

In your opinion, what has enabled you to survive 32 years in business?

That’s a big question. I think some of it comes down to luck and a lot of it comes down to the risk taking – you can’t avoid it in business, if the risk pay off then great, if not you’ve learned a valuable lesson that you can take forward, either option makes you successful in the long term.

I have a lot of self-belief, I also believe in the great people we employ. The market we are in is extremely competitive and you have to work harder than ever before, people are looking for high quality work for as little money as possible. Before the digital revolution the industry was more regionalised – now you are competing on a global scale, so I need to believe that we truly do the best job and I think the confidence I instil pays off.

What personal sacrifices have you had to make to ensure the company’s success? Has it affected family life?

There’s no getting away from it - every business affects family life and with today’s technology it’s so easy to be contactable 24 hours a day. There has been times that the business completely took over my life because was running seven companies at one time 1990 to 1995, I’m lucky to have such a patient wife and family but I’m still working on achieving a work/life balance.

Saying that, it’s becoming harder to switch off; in the transportation industry the responsibilities are constantly multiplying with every new regulatory body and the attention to details is crucial, you can’t afford to be complacent in any area.

red tape

Red tape affecting the transportation industry has caused Paul a few sleepless nights

How do you find employees that care about the business?

I try to spend as much time with them as possible and try to truly gauge their attitude, it’s not always easy and we have been burned a few times but it becomes easier to recognise certain personality traits.

We have put a lot of effort into developing our own in house training and have a big focus on communication within the company. If staff are kept in the loop and up to date, they feel valued, included and we begin to build a mutual trust. Once we find great members of staff, they tend to stay for a long time.

How important have your employees been to the success of FN Worldwide?

Employees are incredibly important, I would say that 51% of the FN’s success is down to the employees.

They truly are the face of the company, especially as moving home is such an emotive time. If they don’t make that personal connection and gain the trust of the clients, it’s extremely difficult to alter their perception. Our reputation has helped build the business and it’s ultimately down to the employees to maintain that reputation by treating each and every possession as if it were their own.

How did you build a loyal customer base?

We have a big focus on optimising our online presence as it’s so prevalent in today’s world. Our staff also work hard to give a thorough and personal experience and their hard work pays off because we have a lot of repeat business; it’s not unheard of for customers to return to us after 10 years after we moved them the first time.

It’s more important more than ever to ensure that the whole business is operating at the same level of service and transparency because the down side of the digital explosion means that it’s so easy for a disgruntled customer to damage your reputation.

Most of us now fully understand the value of using social media and other online platforms to promote a business, but it’s also so critical to understand how vulnerable these platforms can make you and be proactive in preventing, and if necessary finding any bad reviews.

How do you define success?

Health and happiness and lots of love although they don’t always come in unison! It’s hard to consider myself as ‘successful’ when circumstances are always changing.

I don’t think that I had a defined vision of success when I first started out; I know most people would disagree that this is a wrong move, but it means that I have never felt as if I have failed. I’m proud of everything that FN Worldwide has achieved and we will continue to move forward and grow in many ways, but I’m not ready to define myself as ‘successful’.

What have your failures been and how have you learnt from them?

I was in Germany when the Berlin wall came down, this presented a lot of new business opportunities in the transportation industry and I jumped on most of them! It ended up being a bad decision as it was too fragmented and I didn’t have enough experience to continue, but like I said – I learnt valuable lessons about myself and the world of business and I’m grateful that I learnt them so early on.

I’ve also had some personal failures, but I feel that the failures are just as important as the successes because you never stop learning. You need to focus on personal development to survive in business as the goal posts keep moving.

Berlin Wall

When the Berlin Wall fell businesses rushed into the former East Germany

What specific processes did you have to change to succeed during the recession?

We had to change everything, not in terms of specific processes but strategically we had to refocus. We needed to rapidly get to grips with the new market – work slowed down so it was a case of truly becoming the best at what we do.

Becoming an industry expert gives you some ability to predict any changes and puts you at a competitive advantage; lowering prices became unavoidable but so did really going back to the fundamentals. What were we really offering our customers? What was included in our service? What did we want to be known for?

Sometimes going back to basics can offer a world of insights that you are blind to when everything is ticking along.

Who is your greatest inspiration in business?

This is a really difficult question to answer, most of the really successful businessmen now were only starting out when FN Worldwide began.

I would say myself! This was a chance business opportunity that has turned into a profitable company, lasting 35 years – I’m not afraid to say that I have extremely proud of the hard work that I have put in and the skills that I have honed over the years to overcome problems and find solutions.

What advice would you give to those businesses that suffered greatly during the recession?

I find this really difficult. I can only judge myself and I don’t believe there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach to business.

The only thing I would say is always continue to take risks; a lack of confidence can be more damaging than not taking advantage of an opportunity. If you stop believing that you can succeed I would say it’s time to call it a day.

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How I Kept My Business Going Through Three Recessions

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