Rob Perks is Chief Executive at Wessex Chamber of Commerce. The Wessex Association of Chambers of Commerce is at the centre of a powerful and influential network of accredited Chambers of Commerce across the county of Wiltshire.
The chamber network supports businesses throughout their lifecycle from start-up, development, growth and beyond. The Business Exchange met with Rob earlier this month to find out a little more about him.
How did you start out in business?
I spent the first part of my career in banking in London. I worked in a number of areas, helping customers plan their finances and invest their money wisely, managing the family trusts of some of the rich and famous before moving into Lending both to individuals and to businesses. I left the banking world in 2003 and started my own consultancy business helping financial services businesses to design and launch new products to meet consumer needs. In 2006 we started a family restaurant and catering business – something completely different – this is now run by a full time manager. This year, my daughter and I went into partnership to open a 0-5s children’s day nursery in Chippenham which I am delighted to say is already almost fully booked. My daughter is the childcare expert, I hasten to add, I can’t even imagine looking after lots of under 5s! In 2012 I took on the role of Chief Executive at Wessex Chambers of Commerce.
How does your current role help businesses in Wiltshire?
Wessex Chambers provides great opportunities for business people to network and find new customers and suppliers. We have a whole range of free and discounted benefits to support people in business. For the last 18 months we have been delivering Business Consultancy to local businesses, completely free of charge because it is funded by Wiltshire Council. We have supported nearly 2000 businesses over that period and the statistic I’m very proud of is that for new businesses taking advantage of our services, 94% service their first 12 months successfully compared with those who don’t of 67%. In a nutshell, our offering to the business community is, become a member and if you find yourself in need of help or advice, call us. We will either be able to help or put you in touch with someone who can.
What do you think is the largest challenge local businesses face?
That’s a tough one! We could say business rates, banks not lending, marketing – the list goes on – but I believe the biggest challenge as we come out recession is for businesses to take a long hard look at their products, their market, their distribution routes, their marketing strategy and their staffing needs. How will they cope with a significant increase in orders or new competitors stealing their market? This is just the kind of thing we can help with and it’s free!
What improvements do you think need to be made to help Wiltshire as a business region?
We need better transport infrastructure. North South links across the County are poor and companies are put off relocating to the middle of the County. We need more employment land and suitable premises to work from. The rural nature of our County makes it a fantastic place to live but we have to find a compromise between preserving the rural landscape and proving work for our population. Secondly, grants are already available to many businesses and the Government are looking to increase those facilities. For businesses to find out what they are entitled to, simply give us a call.
What advice would you give to start up businesses?
Apart from talk to us, have a clear plan. Do your market research thoroughly to make sure you understand what is available already and what people like or dislike about your potential competitors. Make sure you are clear exactly what gap your product or service fits into. If it’s just “me too” you’ll probably have to be able to compete strongly on price which might put a strain or your profitability. Find out what your potential customers want and deliver ruthlessly to that requirement. Take professional advice on your company structure and the tax issues involved and make sure you have a good book keeper. Many businesses have gone under through poor record keeping which means you can’t see how your doing easily.
Whats the biggest risk you have taken either in life or business?
In business, it was leaving the security of a well paid job for the uncertainty of working for myself but I don’t regret it!
What motivates you?
The satisfaction of building something and seeing it work well. From building the fastest go kart as a kid to seeing a business, whether mine or somebody else’s, start from nothing and become highly successful.
How do you like to spend your time out of the office?
What is that then?! Working with the Chamber means that we often run functions early morning or in the evening so it’s certainly not a 9-5 job although enjoyable. A good weekend would be cycling around the wonderful Wiltshire countryside, trying to keep fit, followed by sitting round a log fire with the family with a glass of red wine.
If you could invite any character in history to your next party who would it be and why?
Margaret Thatcher. Like or loathe her policies, she had unrivalled determination and courage to take on almost impossible tasks and to lead the winning team. That’s our ambition for Wessex Chambers of Commerce.