Gary Walker and his wife Sandra are the owners of Flooring First Taupo and Taupo Tiles. Flooring First Taupo and Taupo Tiles offer practical residential and commercial flooring solutions throughout the central North Island region.
Business Type: Retail, Flooring and Installation
Number of Employees: 6
Current Business Situation: Experiencing accelerated and rapid growth throughout 2020
Relationship with The Icehouse: Business Coach, Jamie Brock and Business Owner Programme alumni
‘The business is currently in a strong growth pattern showing significant increase in revenue and individual job value. We are a company who truly value our employees and who make sure they are looked after and rewarded well for their work. Working with us is awesome.’ Sandra Walker, Co-owner
Tell us about yourself and why you decided to become an entrepreneur?
I’m originally from Glasgow and my wife and I always had aspirations to travel. We first came out to New Zealand in 1996 and got married here and settled in the South Island in 2000. We then spent 10 years in Australia.
My background is in engineering. I worked my way up through my trade and my last role before buying the business was as Maintenance Superintendent at the Pilbara Ports Authority in north west Australia.
After seven years there, we decided it was time to come back to New Zealand in 2017. We started looking at various options for buying a business, as we really didn’t want to work for anybody else and being told what to do again!
Why did you choose your type of business?
We did a lot of research over nine months; looking at hotels, motels and holiday parks. At that time, tourism in New Zealand was at capacity, so we concluded there was no room for growth. We started looking at alternative businesses to apply our existing skillsets to and came across this business.
We travelled over from Australia to inspect the business and found it to be solid with excellent owners who were looking to retire, the books were good and we thought this would be the place for us, so we bought Flooring First Taupo in July 2018.
How have you and your business been impacted by COVID-19?
Pre-COVID was good. For pretty much the first year or so we overhauled the showroom to make it more appealing to attract a higher level of clientele, and we modernised and digitalised all the systems and processes. Previously everything from quotes to bookings was done with pen and paper.
During COVID we made the decision to increase our marketing. As soon as everyone started talking about drawing back and cutting spending, we went hard. One of the things I’ve picked up in my career is that a recession is not the time to take your foot off the pedal, but really push your business. It takes a bit of courage to go and spend some extra money when there's no money coming in, but what it does do is make sure you hit the ground running over your rivals when you come out of the other end – and that’s exactly what’s happened.
So we took advantage of spending four weeks at home and got some really good deals. We launched a tiling side to the business, built a new website, upped our marketing on Facebook, ran a radio advertising campaign and contacted the region’s interior designers with direct marketing. The first month was a bit patchy but since month two we’ve been flat out. We are now seeing more and more of those high-quality jobs coming through that demanded high-quality products.
What are currently your biggest challenges?
There’s not a point when you don’t wake up at night and think, ‘Did I forget to do this or that?’ Every single decision you make could affect someone's livelihood, so there's a lot of responsibility on you as an owner, and you have to carry that around with you. You have to be prepared to take on that responsibility otherwise you might as well work for somebody else and just take a wage.
What kind of support have you received from The Icehouse and are you looking to keep working with them?
I knew about The Icehouse from working with the local Chamber of Commerce and when COVID hit there was a lot of useful information flying around about government support through grants and funding for coaching.
So we decided to jump on board with that, applied for RBP funding and in July 2020 we were notified that we had secured that funding. The Icehouse put us in touch with Jamie Brock who coaches in this region and it’s been an absolutely fantastic experience.
Through working with Jamie we found out about The Icehouse’s Business Owner Programme (BOP), which we started in July 2020. BOP is also facilitated by Jamie, so we get two lots of him! We want to keep working with him as he’s such a great resource.
How have things changed since working with The Icehouse?
We picked up a few really useful takeaways from BOP and the speakers there, especially around marketing, social and digital media. One of the ideas we are looking to implement on our website was to give customers the opportunity to book their own jobs. It does two things – it gives customers the opportunity to reserve their preferred dates, and it showcases how busy we are, so customers know they’re getting a sought-after top-quality service.
The best thing Jamie does is listen to our ideas, and then challenges us on whether our thinking is right – and that’s exactly what we wanted. When we first met Jamie he asked us what we wanted from our one-on-one sessions. A lot of businesses were looking to consolidate, pull back, manage their cash flow and just get through what’s happening. I said, ‘grow’. He had a big smile on his face.
He helps us consolidate our business plan so we have clear pathways to move forward. Our business plan has to be totally revised every time we sit down with Jamie because we’ve kept to all the goals we’ve set ourselves.
We probably would still have got to where we wanted to be, but what Jamie gives us is plenty of confidence and a great sounding board. You don’t procrastinate when you have a quality mentor by your side because you can make decisions with confidence that they are correct.
Jamie helps us realise that if you have got an idea, then go for it. If it doesn’t work, that’s fine because you can always change it. You can never succeed if you don’t try.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are struggling/looking for help?
As a business owner you’ll always have to make some hard decisions, but that doesn’t mean you need to know everything. What you do need to know is when to ask for help, get good advice and make sure that you listen to that advice.
You can never be too proud. I see some business owners struggling a little and they won’t go and get outside help. If you don’t know something, you have to go and find the answers for yourself – or if you can’t find the answer, find someone who can!