From the back of a van to a business leader - the incredible journey of a Gloucestershire entrepreneur
With the odds stacked firmly against him Richard East’s prospects looked slim when he set out alone in business, but nearly two decades later he is able to look back on success.
In the light of the current economic landscape we thought his is a story worth telling, inspiring because he began with so little and, although the tail-swipe from the financial crisis had a go, he had not been beaten.
He posted some of the tale on social media to mark the anniversary of his beginnings as the boss of what is now RE Resource Group, and then The Raikes Journal stepped in, asked nicely, and finally he kindly filled in some of the gaps.
If words can make a difference to those up against it currently, we think Mr East's – cut with honesty and bristling with sheer determination and emotion – could be just what is needed.
“Nineteen years to the day I launched RE Personnel. I had a second hand minibus, two desk office and a young student Louisa Hancox alongside me. I borrowed £700 off a good pal with a market stall in Cheltenham and off we went,” he said.
“The first three years were brutal and money was scarce, but the break came in 2004 with our first large Industrial account. We’ve had tough times and almost lost everything in 2010, but we’re still here, still growing, still learning and still ambitious.
“James Gibbs joined me in 2005 and we’ve been through it all together, the one man I trust with the life of both myself and my family. This man never blinks first when faced with difficulties and together we’ve grown into a formidable team.”
Today the business, based in Swindon Village, Cheltenham, and now grown to become RE Resource Group, employs an estimated 110 employees and on an average day circa 2,000 temporary workers on contract to customers.
On an annual basis it finds full time employment for approximately 1,000 candidates and a further 1,000 go fulltime via its ‘temp to perm’ offering.
Sectors include professional services, industrial and warehousing, food and agriculture, transport, catering to teachers and educators, health, engineering and transport.
Brands also include Safehands Recruitment, Ambrose recruitment, RE Resource Group, Ambrose Education and it is also a member of the mighty Gloucestershire-headquartered Circle2Success business networking group.
“James was a graduate and had spent one year in Industry. He applied for the role of consultant and joined as a trainee. Very early on we connected and he had the same sort of drive I had and a desire to be the best.
“There was no nine-till-five mentality, we worked until the job was done and then looked for more and in 2008 I awarded James his first shares in an attempt to fend off head hunters who were able to offer him much more than I could.
“In 2010, following a dreadful period, I awarded James equal shares as recognition of his strong backbone displayed throughout a 12-month period of daily uncertainty and also recognising that going forward, we could be a formidable mix as a recruitment business.”
He add: “We’ve had good times too and the highs make it all worthwhile, I still get that electric buzz when we land new business, still get that sense of achievement when I look at the number of people we have helped forward and still get that sense of pride when I look at the people I am fortunate enough to work with.
“There are too many people to thank but they know who they are and I tip my hat to all of them. I’m looking forward to the future and to leading the business into new times.”
Going back to the beginning again.
“I had received excellent introduction to recruitment training from a well-known high street agency, but found the day to day constraints and management suffocating and so joined a local SME.
“I had two good years, but the business went through a process of restructuring and, had I chosen to stay, I would have been required to relocate. I chose to go on my own.
“I had no investment or savings of my own. I could not compete with my competitors on any level other than demonstrating a willingness to go the extra yard and simply graft.
“At times it felt like you were taking more steps backwards than forwards but I always knew my service levels would mean I was unlikely to lose a customer and I had to just keep trying to win new accounts to dilute the risk and increase revenue.
“It was a slow process as I was relatively unknown, but I think people enjoyed seeing me ‘battle on’. I was genuinely available 24/7 and would visit night managers, weekend managers, etc which allowed me to secure many hours of temp billing around the twilight shifts.
“I think clients enjoyed the refreshing honesty also, there seemed little point trying to be anything other than what I was, a small fish.
“For a short period in year one I had no office so did my admin in my minibus or at home. I attended a meeting with a large national logistics and warehouse client and they asked me where my office was. I told them it was parked in their car park, they laughed, took a punt and I became their largest local supplier.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
What drives your own work ethic?
“My own work ethic is driven by a desire to be good at whatever it is I do and to be recognised for good service. I come from a hard-working family and have always believed that old saying ‘if a jobs worth doing it’s worth doing well’.
“I believe in empowering people and giving genuine opportunity to develop, but do not tolerate lazy attitudes as this sinks business quickly."
What advice would you give to anyone facing starting up or an up-hill struggle in business right now?
"Keep your overhead manageable and focus on strengthening your balance sheet. Make sure that the people around you are better than you and leave the ego at home, there’s no room for it in operations. Focus on what you’re good at and keep open and honest dialogue with your customers and your bank. Back yourself."
What is your view for the short and medium term and in which sectors do you see the biggest challenges?
"I think the government have done well by the business community during the lockdown period but companies need to take ownership of their own futures now and react positively. I think the temp sector will be buoyant as companies are reluctant to expand their full-time workforce but most perm sectors will go through a period of decline. Customers, I think, will want more, a broader offering and more “opinion” from their recruiters looking at ways of improving efficiency and cost."