HUSBAND and wife team Nigel and Chrissy Walton have an inspirational business story to tell in these days of economic doom and gloom.
Together they set up Abbot Fire Group in 2002 after Nigel suffered his fourth redundancy shock and have built up the firm into a multiple award-winning enterprise.
While the couple were struggling to set up the business, Nigel’s father died of cancer and Nigel himself suffered debilitating bouts of asthma.
Nigel explained: “I had a number of jobs, including retail jewellery and selling fire extinguishers.
“In 2002 I became unemployed for the fourth time. With two young children, a house and a mortgage we had to reasses things. We decided to give it a go.
“My advice is that whenever one door closes, another opens. Things weren’t going to plan so I had to ask if I could make a go of things on my own or go for a nice salary and getting money in regularly.
“I decided I wanted to be in control of what happens to myself and my family, job and income.”
Chrissy recalled the feeling of going it alone was one of “terror” but that the conclusion was “if we don’t do it now, we never will. Fortunately, we work well together!
“The first month was not easy. We had a tiny bit of money and had to work hard just to cover the bills.”
And Nigel explained: “We started with a notepad and pen, doing the smiling and dialling as they say now. Because of my asthma we took on someone else and an engineer came to work for us.”
Building up a team behind them is also vital for the couple who live close to the company in Radclive Road, Gawcott, near Buckingham. “You’ve got to have key people in key places who share the same values. We spend a lot of money on training and competencies.”
Abbot Fire Group, which last year recorded a recession-busting 32 per cent growth rate, picked up the company of the year title for businesses with less than £1million turnover at the Milton Keynes and North Bucks Business Excellence Awards. The category was sponsored by Beardow Adams.
Nigel and Chrissy, whose firm was also highly commended in the category of Excellence in People Development, explained their secrets of running an award-winning business. “We decided to make it quality throughout and sought third-party approval.”
They also don’t stand for late payers. Nigel said: “If we do a good job, we expect to be paid. If they don’t pay, we will say goodbye.
“It’s a difficult thing but simple equation. We have invested time and money in staff skills and capital. what we want is good business. we will give top quality, all we ask is that we’re paid on time.”
The business also has a clear plan for growth, including moving into bigger premises this year and in acquiring businesses.
> See Natalee Hazelwood’s video at www.miltonkeynes.co.uk/news/business