“Not only do we feed our pigs using the crops produced from our arable business but we even have solar panels on the farm to generate the power we use. So, when you see food scares and animal-welfare issues over meat products, you can understand why our Wicks Manor brand had such great initial growth. “My grandfather came down from Scotland to start a farm in Essex. This was always intended as a family business to pass down the generations and now it’s my turn to take the reins. It’s important that, with my brothers, I create a business for the future of our children. “We were trying to grow the brand but we didn’t have the focus or expertise in the right areas. My brother, Andy, and his wife, Jodie, were already using an Action Coach in their milkshake business, Shaken Udder. As we all live and work so closely together, they recommended I spoke to him about my business too.”
“In July 2009, I met with my Action Coach and he brought my father Robert, my brother Hamish and I together to get some clarity on where we wanted to get to with the business and the challenges we faced. “Time and people were a huge proportion of the initial barrier to progress. Looking at our strengths, ambitions and being lucky to have a diverse business, this allowed my brother to concentrate on the arable side of the business whilst I managed the pigs and butchery. Our father, still very much a part of the business, moved focus to financial management leaving us to run the day-to-day business with our own strategies. This has given him some more time on the golf course and a focus towards stepping back and looking to retirement.”
“I think we went through what many people would do when they first start with ActionCOACH, the process made us realise we were doing too many roles in the business which we didn’t actually have the expertise for, so we started to put structures in place to free ourselves up.
ActionCOACH’s business growth strategies allowed us to employ a team. “Our next step was to work through our sales and marketing strategies, growing the turnover to allow more employed roles. We mapped out and formalised systems to give structure to our operations for new staff to pick up easily.
“Our Action Coach has been instrumental in helping us to generate the best gross margin we can. With our new systems able to provide accurate costs of production, we could more easily evaluate our gross margins and profitability of product lines. These are basic fundamentals in any business where we now sit down each month and look at our reports. We consider trends in our farming and consumer cycle and how we need to act, regularly adapting all areas of our business from fixed costs to “We began one-to-one coaching as well as a monthly workshop to set goals. Business owners rarely have anyone to report to and considering our family lives and works in the same place, we could come up with a thousand excuses why we hadn’t achieved our goals. Being held accountable by our Action Coach motivated me to get the list ticked off. negotiating supplier contracts, farming to pricing, all to improve both turnover and profit. Now we have confidence in the decisions we make.”
“I had to regularly update our organisational chart as the business grew and new people began to join the team. My Action Coach helped me look at recruitment and staff engagement in a new light. From the outset, new employees would understand their roles and responsibilities, becoming accountable for their area of the business.” Fergus created a 90-day plan to set smaller, achievable goals so his larger goals wouldn’t continually stay on the horizon. This work also included a section for his personal life. “Being in a family business can take a toll – you become entrenched in the business and don’t take time out to enjoy some quality time together. I live on-site with my wife Vanessa and our three children. Taking the time out to think about your personal goals lifts you out of the daily grind. Whether you want a new car or a day out at the coast, the plan provides the catalyst and steps to achieve those.
“Our one-to-one meetings and follow-up calls with our Action Coach keep us on track. For a growing family business like ours, it’s like having a non-executive director who isn’t lost in the murk of running the day-to-day operations and gives us a different perspective.” “Being in a family business can take a toll – you become entrenched in the business and don’t take time out to enjoy some quality time together. I live on-site with my wife Vanessa and our three children. Taking the time out to think about your personal goals lifts you out of the daily grind. Whether you want a new car or a day out at the coast, the plan provides the catalyst and steps to achieve those. “Our one-to-one meetings and follow-up calls with our Action Coach keep us on track. For a growing family business like ours, it’s like having a non-executive director who isn’t lost in the murk of running the day-to-day operations and gives us a different perspective.”
The results so far
Wicks Manor’s turnover grew from £1.6 million to £4 million, that’s a 260% increase, while profits increased by 360%. Fergus recruited full-time roles for production, quality control and sales management, growing the team from 15 to 45 staff. “We grew from selling regionally to being stocked nationally in supermarket chains. When our products flew off the shelves in Waitrose’s store in Dubai, we looked to expand to similar markets. Now, a quarter of what we produce we export to far-flung places including Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. “The investment in an Action Coach is paying for itself. I’m certain we wouldn’t have grown so well without his input. Success followed success and we were nominated for several meat industry awards for our sausages, bacon and burgers plus we were finalists in Exporter of the Year in 2016. But my most prized award was voted for by our customers when we won an award at Essex Life’s Fine Food & Drink Awards in 2016.”
“2017 saw us celebrate 50 years of family farming. Our brand is now in a great position to grow. The next decade will be interesting and exciting as we expect to reach £5 million in sales and we reach a critical mass where we become a household brand name. “I’d recommend ActionCOACH to any business owner. After all, if you’re good at sport then you get a coach to improve, so why not do the same for your business? I really value having that second pair of eyes and I’ll continue to work with ActionCOACH as we inevitably face new challenges in the years ahead.”
The coach perspective
“Robert Howie has had the foresight to offer a fantastic future to his four sons. It can often be difficult to transition a family business through the generations but he has done so very successfully, achieving his goal of semi-retirement. “My work with Fergus has seen him embrace the learning opportunities and develop his own skills to manage a team structured to take the business forward to even greater heights.”