Secrets of my success: David Ross, MD of Keycare

What is it that you currently do?
Keycare is a second generation family-owned business which was set up in a portacabin in 1977 by a savvy and visionary miner’s son called Geoffrey Parker who spotted a gap in the insurance market for insurance policies covering the cost of replacing keys and locks for cars, homes and businesses. It was a winning idea, and one which is even more relevant today when hi-tech car keys can cost over £1,000 to replace.

I was appointed MD in 2001 following a particularly difficult year in which the business had made a loss. My brief was to devise and drive a strategy to take the company to the next level whilst still retaining inherent family values such as being a people champion which promoted corporate responsibility.

How did you set about growing the company?
Aligned with my own ethos of constantly punching above my weight, between 2001-2008 I secured a raft of new contracts for household names such as Nat West, Marks & Spencer and Endsleigh Insurance – forging new joint venture partnerships while sustaining a strong community relations programme and ramping up staff development. In 2004 I launched our Values in Action programme which enabled us to give the business a recognisable cultural ethos and identity, clarifying precisely what the company stands for.

The features of the programme include a reward and recognition initiative which acknowledges employees’ outstanding work for displaying positive behaviours which are consistent with our Values In Action and which are directly linked to our strategic objectives. The combined result saw our customer base, turnover and profitability grow consistently with annual margins in excess of 11% – and our success was reflected and acknowledged by milestones such as winning the North of England Excellence Awards in 2008.

However 12 months later the figures told a different story. Against the recession’s brutal financial backdrop, sales plummeted and we posted a trading loss in November 2009 – a gut wrenching blow which demanded tough decisions including contemplating going down the route of axing jobs.

Having put the business under the microscope, I sought a solution which would avoid redundancies and see our loyal and dedicated team reach new heights of achievement to turn the result around. The rallying cry was that everyone had a contribution to make, no matter how small. I stuck my neck out by deciding to save all the jobs and seek savings elsewhere, as well as redoubling and refocusing our efforts to improve our sales performance.

I began by encouraging every member of staff to suggest ways to save money or to make more money and everyone contributed to devising creative solutions. A particularly memorable and effective example saw helpline staff agreeing to alter their shift patterns to provide us with greater cover at a lower cost. The fact that the suggestion had stemmed from those who would be affected meant that everyone accepted the need to embrace substantial change, even though it would have personal implications for some of them.

Our team were real troopers in every sense – adopting the ‘we’re all in it together’ attitude when they saw sacrifices being made by the management team. I also implemented a modest bonus scheme for improved sales figures which were quickly achieved.

What was the result of the measures you put in place?
In 2010 Keycare returned to profit with a £170k surplus – resulting in a £350k turnaround in just 12 months. The decision to refocus the business and our mind sets coupled with the experience of pulling together through that difficult time significantly boosted morale. Our staff retention is the highest ever – over 90% of employees have been with us for at least four years enabling us to retain our talent pipeline and reduce recruitment costs.

This year we are on track to post our best ever figures. Turnover will have risen from £2.5m to £4m across November 2011 to October 2012 – with a net profit increase of over 200% (our figures for the half way point of the current financial year have already exceeded our projections by a considerable margin).
We have likewise secured more than 12 new contracts within the past year worth over an estimated £2m over the next 3 years, with key players including 1st Central Insurance. Our customer base currently stands at 760,000 and we expect this to hit the magic 1 million mark by the middle of 2013.

Taking pride in supporting our community as a local employer, we have donated £350k to worthy causes over the last decade. Over the last year we have increased our team with six new recruits and are making additional senior appointments to the board. We are also expanding to bigger premises in October this year while retaining our commitment to remain in Shipley.

In the adage that a company’s best assets are its staff, unlocking the potential and resilience of our fantastic employees has paid dividends – producing powerful results as we continue to make waves as a progressive commercial operation which started life as a cottage industry.

What does the future have in store for you?
Looking to the future, there are approximately 36m key-carrying adults in the UK so there are exciting opportunities to expand our market reach. We aim to achieve this through further developing our existing business relationships within the general insurance sector as well as seeking new strategic tie-ups, for instance with police forces, public bodies, membership organisations and charities.