Branded Items Group is a multi-award-winning family-owned business, providing promotional goods and branded merchandise for companies in the UK and beyond. Based in St Helens, Branded Items Group have seen significant growth in the past few years, thanks in part to the support they have received from across the region.
In this blog, Directors Steve Fairhurst and Louise Fairhurst give their top three tips for growing your business in Liverpool City Region.
#1 – Do your research and find your niche
Steve: The best advice I would give for small businesses that are either growing or starting up is to do your research into the market – if you don’t, you’re chancing your arm! There are many ways to go about this, but what we did was to run an online test business, under my other company. We ran this for two years and constantly mystery shopped larger companies in the sector, and this helped us to really get to grips with the market.
What we discovered is that there was a real opportunity in our industry when it comes to customer service. Some merchandise companies are great, but some larger online business can be a little bit transactional. We decided then that our point of difference would be to offer a more consultative service. Merchandising is part of the marketing sphere and I have run a marketing agency for 16 years, so we have been able to offer people advice to help them maximise their ROI.
Essentially, it’s about understanding what the customer wants. It’s classic advice, but it’s true: talk to your clients. If we want to know whether we’ve got a service opportunity, we reach out to key businesses in our 500-strong customer base and ask them what they need. We have picked up contracts based just on a conversation.
Our research helped us realise that our previous experience fits nicely with the gap in the market, and that’s the reason we’re now growing quickly – we are completely customer focused.
#2 – Look for support and partner with people who ‘get it’
Louise: We’ve had so much support and expertise to help us – it’s not just monetary, but advice and experience, too. Support is out there, so we wholly recommend businesses go and find it.
A key part of our strategy when we first started was to look for external support. We consulted with the St Helen’s Chamber of Commerce and brought in an external non-exec for 12 months to signpost us to funding and support. It’s never easy in the first 2 years to get financial backing from the high street, but thanks to the support we received, we managed to secure funding from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, VIA GC Business Finance based on our projected growth.
Other support we’ve had included New Markets 2 funding for our website. We found this really useful and now we know we can win business online. Based on what we’ve achieved with the website, we’re looking to access additional funding through LCR Activate to potentially develop the online side of the business further. Our online competitors turnover huge sums and have significant investment, meaning they have sophisticated websites through which they can manage supply chains and host tens of thousands of products. The funding we received in this area so far has helped us grow and now we’re looking to take the next step. The key takeaway from this for us is that the right funding and support can really help smaller businesses like ours take on bigger companies.
Essentially, the best piece of advice I would give is to find the right support for your business. Look for programmes and partners that understand your vision – they will be able to point you in the right direction. For me, St Helens Chamber, Northern Powerhouse, and The Women’s Org have been invaluable in the support they have provided. The funding that our partners have directed us to has also been key. Thanks to funding, I was able to leave a corporate job that was secure and well paid and jump into a career that gave me the flexibility I wanted. I’m a mum first, and then a business owner. If you’ve got the right support paired with the right work ethic, you can completely change your lifestyle and still run a successful business.
#3 – Grow your network – but be patient!
Steve: You can’t just open the doors and expect business to come – you have to do the groundwork. We’re involved in lots of groups and have undertaken plenty of activities to grow our network, including sponsorship via Professional Liverpool, St Helens RLFC, and other local sports, and networking groups . We’re also part of St Helens ambassadors, working with Invest St Helens to promote the town. Louise is also involved in the Women In Business Network and Females United In Business. We are well networked, and it’s done us good when it comes to our business growth.
My advice would be don’t be too rigid and be patient! Don’t stick to one single formatted networking group – look at your industry. Who is directly involved in it? Who could be customers and who could be strategic partners? Don’t sell to the room, build relationships. They could pass you on to others who will want to work with you. It takes time, though, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t pull a load of new business in within the first 6 months. Networking is a long-term strategy, and I find most people fail at it when they don’t dedicate time to it, have patience or don’t have an idea of who they want to speak to.
You can find out more about Branded Items Group here.
Get in touch with the Local Growth Hub to find out about funding and programme opportunities to help grow your business in the Liverpool City Region.