Every month, we will be introducing one of our amazing Bizpedia members in our blog. You will hear about their journey as an entrepreneur and how Bizpedia has helped them.
This month, we interviewed the fantastic Lee Butler, who is the Managing Director of Town & Country Communications. Town & Country Communications is a family business that offers telecommunication solutions to SMEs across Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire. These include mobile phones, office phone systems, landlines, broadband and I.T. solutions.
Lee started on the family business’s front desk, worked his way up and has grown the business from an £800,000 turnover to £2.5 million in the last 6 years. He talks about the importance of building personal relationships with customers and tailoring the product around the customer’s needs, as well as a major hurdle he had to face and an amazing trip he had to Africa. Read on to find out more.
1. What is an ideal customer for Town & Country Communications?
Our ideal customer is a small to medium-sized business with 2-3 landlines, mobiles or PC’s and above, in any sector. We want customers with whom we can build relationships with and who want to understand how each other works, as well as who want the right solution tailored to their business requirements and who value top-notch support and don’t want to feel that they are just another number.
2. Tell us a bit about your journey as a business owner – how did you get to where you are today?
Ever since I was young, I have always had a good work ethic. I worked a paper round, milk round, in a hotel, in a fast food business and also undertook agency work. I was originally going to take a full time job through an agency, but it fell through. So, my dad asked me if I wanted to work at Town & Country Communications, and I said yes. I started on the front desk, undertook admin, and in the process learnt about our products, which put me in a good position to sell. A few sales people left, so I told my dad not to bother hiring and that I would do sales. I ended up doing a bit of everything. When I was 27 and 30 a couple of my brothers were introduced to the business and it changed the dynamics. My management role changed.
4 years ago, my dad retired; I was given the job of taking over the business. My brothers and I are all shareholders running the business; my role specifically is Managing Director. The relationship with my brothers and me works well when making decisions. One of my brothers is more sceptical and will look for reasons why we shouldn’t do things. The other is positive and would dive into everything. Between us, we make decisions, problem solve and assess the whole situation. I believe this helps us to come up with the right product and solution every time.
I feel that our dynamic works because we all have the same ultimate goal to make sure that our customers are looked after, because then our business is looked after and so, naturally, we are looked after, too. We have now grown Town & Country Communications from an £800,000 turnover to 2.5 million in the last 6 years.
I always had a good work ethic, though, and even if I hadn’t worked for my dad I would have set up my own business. I understand customer relations, product and cashflow, to name a few, so I had all the tools I needed to start a business.
3. What are some valuable lessons you have learned?
The first is that, when you lose a customer, find out why you lost that customer, because this information is so important. I remember years ago a customer said to me that he loved my service and loved working with T&C Comms, but I hadn’t asked what his costs were or what he needed. From then on, I kept an eye on retention, understanding the industry, costs and customers’ requirements; this allowed me to provide a better experience. When I provided a new phone, I reviewed the tariff and the usage and made sure that the product fitted the customer for the next 12-24 months. Now, retention is far better and customers are contacted throughout and at the end of the contract; it has made the relationships with our customers stronger.
Another lesson I have learnt is that it is important to build relationships with customers so that it is not all about work. As a result, a lot of my clients are now friends.
I also learned to face problems head on and to fix them, rather than leave them (as they then just get worse). By finding a solution with your customer, it can be a positive thing. It shows why they are working with you, and when you are needed that you can deliver. Anybody can sell a phone, and it is always possible to find a cheaper deal if cost is the priority. We want people to know they can call us when they have a problem and we will find the solution. The relationship is stronger that way, and we really care about our relationships with our customers.
The biggest hurdle we have had to face in our business was in 2008. It was a massive game-changer and it catapulted us. We thought we were recession-proof as everyone wanted a mobile phone, but O2 and Vodafone knocked 60% off our profit margin over night and didn’t tell us about it. It wiped out 40% of our industry. We realised that we were vulnerable and had to find a way around it. This led us to organise a new wholesale arrangement where we looked after and billed our customers direct. O2 and Vodafone provided their product, but we managed our customer, therefore allowing us to have more control to give a full top-notch customer experience without relying on big networks. Our customers were given a choice to stay with us or to go to Vodafone and O2 direct. We were up against price, but the majority of our customers stayed with us as they valued the service.
4. What is the one piece of advice you would give your younger self if you could go back in time?
Don’t be scared to ask for advice. Too many people are scared of being handed something and thinking that the other person expects them to know the answer, and, instead of asking a question and getting help, they would rather sit there and struggle under pressure. By asking for help, you resolve the problem quicker and also, if it arises in the future, there will be no stress, and the business you are doing it for will get the best outcome.
5. Where do you see yourself in the future?
I am currently enjoying the journey of being a business owner and trying to grow the business in a manageable way. I aim to get more fulfilment not just through financial gain but also through what I do within work hours and how I manage myself. You need to enjoy your time and make the most of it.
We are running 2 businesses simultaneously at the moment. I am dovetailing the acquisition of the new IT business alongside T&C Comms and seeing how they work side by side and if they align. I might sell the business in future.
6. How has Bizpedia benefited you and your business?
I have been to many networking events and I am not a fan of sitting at a table and pitching. I find this dull and non-productive. I want to be in groups where I am engaging with people and creating relationships and having fun also. For me, Bizpedia ticks all those boxes. The club provides a good dynamic of people over various sectors and different age groups. We get to know each other. I find the group engaging and get a lot out of it. I also make business along the way and there is that confidence and trust between group members.
I have been a member for just over a year, and out of the 13 in my club, 5 are customers now.
I love that I can be in a room with people I can trust and soundboard with. We discuss day to day topics that affect a lot of business owners. We have open, honest conversations in confidence and have a network of people to talk to. It is a big thing for business owners to have that. Sound boarding gives you the confidence that what you are doing is correct, or if you are unsure of something, people share their opinions on how they would do it. I like getting someone else’s point of view.
7. What has been your favourite thing about being a Bizpedia member?
My favourite thing is being surrounded by business owners who are honest and open about their situation. It isn’t about portraying the best side of everything; you can say if you are having a down day. You are allowed to be you. I want to surround myself with these kinds of people.
8. What is the best holiday you have been on?
I had a trip to Africa for 14 days in July 2010. We stayed in both 5-star hotels and camps. I loved it for 2 main reasons. I visited the orphanages and provided a suitcase full of pens, paper, sweets and toys for those in poverty. It brought me enjoyment seeing the smiles on the families’ and children’s faces just for that moment when they received our gifts. It was amazing to be able to make a difference. We were giving something as simple as a sweet and we tend to take these little things for granted.
It was also fantastic seeing the beautiful breathtaking scenery and the animals living freely in the wild. I got to experience a buffalo migration and a cheetah hunting its prey! We also went in a plane and saw the peak of Kilimanjaro, which was amazing. I will definitely be going back to Africa again!
9. If you could go back in time, who would you want to meet, and why?
I would meet David Bowie. I love his music but I also find it inspiring how he managed to diversify so much with his musical talent and the culture. He went through decades of change in fashion and economics, and he managed to diversify but always be himself and be who he wanted to be.
We would like to thank Lee for his time and for sharing his story. You can connect with Lee on LinkedIn if you want to find out more.