Secret to my success: Jean Laughlin

When the original owner decided to retire in 2005, Jean bought the business from him. She has since guided the company through a difficult recession managing to return a sizeable profit year on year.

Over the last three years Linnet have worked in conjunction with Jas Singh of Auriga Energy to develop and produce the award winning AurigaGen System, a hydrogen fuel cell back up system.

What is your start-up story?

I was Linnet’s first employee and worked hard over the next 12 years helping to build the business. When the owner decided to retire in 2005, in the absence of an outside buyer the business was offered to me. It was not an easy decision to make as there are very few women at the head of engineering companies such as ours and I was unsure whether this would work. Funding close to £750,000 had to be raised and after some negotiation I was fortunate, with the assistance of our incumbent bank (Clydesdale), to raise the funds to realise the sale.

What products or services do you provide?

We supply, install and maintain back-up power equipment such as Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS), generators, central battery systems for emergency lighting and switch-tripping units.

In January we launched a Hydrogen Fuel Cell back-up power system, which is environmentally friendly (zero-emissions), with Auriga Energy of Bristol. This picked up Best New Product at the SELECT Electrotechnical Awards 2012. The idea for the product was borne out of a discussion with one of our customers who had suffered a fuel leak that had contaminated a water supply. They asked if we know of a product that would offer a ‘clean’ solution.

What are your sales and marketing strategies?

Employing a marketing graduate through Talent Scotland has allowed us to have more control over our marketing activities and react far quicker to the changing environment.
The company’s marketing has recently been brought up to date, with the website receiving many updates, new information and having Google Analytics embedded into the coding. Also, e-mail marketing has been introduced to help us keep in contact with our customers.
Our print media is to be featured in select newspapers and targeted industry magazines to reach the right audience.

We are currently researching new opportunities for the AurigaGen system both in the UK and Europe.

What is your attitude towards your competitors?

I believe that excellent customer service is key to the success of any business. I like to think that our reputation for quality service precedes us and most of our new business is gained through word of mouth. We see our competitors as a tool to spur us on to continuous improvement.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about your business since starting trading?

That you have to adapt to changing market conditions. Linnets ability to diversify ie. Sabio refurbishment project, Met Office Electrical upgrade and the new AurigaGen product have ensured our survival through the worst recession in twenty years.

Do you have any other thoughts about your market and how you operate in it?

The market for UPS, Generator, Emergency Lighting etc. will continue to be crucial to all sectors. Businesses, Hospital, Banks etc cannot function without continuous power. Our offering of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell back up system is giving us the edge on our competitors.

How important to success are repeatable business processes?

Gaining new business is a difficult and time consuming process so repeat business is really crucial for the health our business. We retain 95 per cent of our customers business at present and work very hard to ensure this continues.

What have you done to make sure you get the right people with the right skills in place?

We have recently employed a new Business Development Manager, Marketing Manager and Service Coordinator. With the new infrastructure in place we hope to raise the profile of Linnet and gain new business. We used Talent Scotland (part funded by Business Gateway) to bring on an excellent marketing graduate who is already making her mark in the company. Our business development manager came to us from within our industry and is experienced and knowledgeable in all aspects of our business. Our youngest recruit was employed locally as service coordinator in Leeds and is showing great promise.

Do you have any tips for managing suppliers, customers and other business relationships effectively?

Respect is hugely important in all aspects of business. In these very difficult trading conditions it is important to work with suppliers and customers to ensure we are all receiving value for money.

Any finance and cash-flow tips?

We have always been very cautious with money. In the current economic climate we have seen companies fold through lack of cash flow and understand that ‘good housekeeping’ is required to protect your business.

It is worth making enquiries to local Enterprise for grant funding.

What are the most important things to remember when starting and running a company?

That nothing beats hard work. I come from a strong working-class background and have seen what can be achieved through hard work. In this day and age when a shortcut to success is the dream of many, I take great job satisfaction from knowing I am here thanks to the old-fashioned approach.