Life as a decorator: Lessons from small & big businesses



As the strangest of years continues, Episode 5 of the Dulux Academy Podcast looks at how businesses both big and small have dealt with all the changes, and asks what they can learn from each other.

As ever Tony Pearson-Young is joined by several talented guests. This week, you’ll hear from Alistair McAuley, Managing Director of AkzoNobel UK and Ireland, brothers Matt and Andy Ross from Southgrove Painting Contractors, and Steve Trebilcook of RPS Decor.

The year like no other


Whatever size of business you run, 2020 has been a year like no other. It’s brought changes and challenges for us all.

Alistair starts by explaining how the biggest challenge has been learning to make fast decisions with limited information, to try and serve the company’s colleagues and customers as well as possible.

"I’ll never forget that final week in March when chaos was unleashed, and everyone turned to us for leadership, guidance and empathy, and we had to make some tough calls very quickly - which quite honestly - we didn’t always get right,"

says Alistair.

Communication is key, and that’s echoed by both Andy and Steve working in different sized businesses.

For Steve, 2020 has shown you can’t take anything for granted and that you have to focus on communication. And for Andy, relationships have been essential, keeping communications strong and being flexible with customers, banks, suppliers and each other.


The new ways of working

Those changes have inevitably led to new ways of working for almost every business, and our guests share how lockdown and post-lockdown trends have impacted them.

That might be as big as setting up a new call and collect system to get paint to those decorators in a Covid-secure way, or it might be better screening of which projects to take on as demand continues to be high.

All our guests reflect on the fact there have been positive changes brought about by Covid. Alistair comments on the can-do attitude he’s seen across the AkzoNobel business, and Andy describes how it’s given their business time to focus on fixing some of the inefficiencies they discovered, while Steve comments that he’s so busy, he stopped taking bookings for 2020 in July!

Communicate and problem solve to run your business effectively


Although there are three main areas to focus on in any business - cash, cost and customer - our guests all agree that it’s customers that matters most, now more than ever.

And to serve them effectively, the key is good communication and good old-fashioned problem solving.

As Andy says,

"the key is reacting to customers. Problem solving, being proactive and giving them extra value, that’s what gets you in the door again and again."

Steve too adds:

"From a business point of view, customers are key. They don’t come to me just to paint a room, they come to me because they have a problem that needs to be solved."

Matt talks about how his main job since the start of the year has been problem solving, whether that’s through finding efficiencies or accelerating urgent jobs for their customers. And it all comes back to open communication.

Even when you’re leading a large nationwide business, the secret to communication is listening.

"Listening to how people want to be served and how they want to be treated,"

shares Alistair.

Then you can solve the problem.



Don’t forget your mental health


As with many of our podcast episodes, talk also turned to the pressures and strains that running a business through 2020 has put on our mental health. And how important it is to look after yourself.

Matt describes how easy it is to come home at night and keep working on all that business admin, while Andy says you should always try to switch off your devices and take breaks. Get out and exercise.

Steve - a trained mental health first aider for Dulux Select Decorators - shares his own struggles with mental health, those faced by both his family and himself. Working alone for 8 to 10 hours a day is a big challenge, and it’s essential you speak to others.

That’s where the Select Forum has been so helpful for Steve, and the importance of talking with others is a view shared by all our guests. A source of support and advice, without any rivalry, it’s simply "nice to talk to others," says Steve. "It keeps you sane."

"It’s been incredible to watch how the Select Forum looks out for each other and has supported each other. It’s been seriously tough this year,"

adds Alistair.

To hear more about the highs and lows of 2020 and the challenges faced by businesses big and small, listen to the full podcast.

With the nights getting darker and a busy winter ahead, all our guests reiterated the importance of staying positive and focusing on the things that matter most to us - our families.

As Tony summed up nicely, it doesn’t matter what size of business you run - just make sure you all stay healthy, stay safe, and stay connected.

Find all the Dulux Academy Podcast podcast episodes here.

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