Entrepreneur shares how she overcame personal obstacles to steer a fast-growing cleaning company to success.

Overcoming challenges is a shared experience for most entrepreneurs. Some barriers, however, are more significant than others.

Rayner Davies is an entrepreneur who has turned her business into a huge success through sheer grit and determination. Her inspiring story is proof of how an entrepreneurial spirit, and a mindset of perseverance, can spur personal and business growth. Her company, A&R Cleaning Services, has been supported through the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme (AGP).

The AGP provides targeted support for ambitious growing firms. The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.

Here, Rayner Davies shares her story and advises others embarking on their business journey.

 

Tell us about A&R
A&R's success – a fast-growing company that employs hundreds of people - doesn't tell the story of all the personal challenges I've had to overcome. It has been an incredible journey. And I'm immensely proud of where I am and what my business has become today.

It all started as an ironing service which I ran from home. I was a single parent, claiming benefits to top up my part-time job. I had one motivation – to provide for my children. And I wanted to achieve more than what the world expected of me from being a Teen Mum.

 

Initially, I started my first business venture offering an ironing service, while holding down a job as a community carer and being a mother-of-two. With no business knowledge, reading so many online business educational sites and constantly juggling childcare I knew that this busy way of living was my calling. Even though the working days were long, I knew I had a real buzz from being busy.

Within six months of starting my business, I was employing others, expanding our services to cover domestic cleaning. I was able to give up my care job and work full-time on the business.

 

In 2010, my husband, Ashley, who worked in financial services, joined the business, and it became an incorporated company. It was a move that took the business in a new direction, and commercial cleaning quickly overtook the domestic side. 

 

Growth was slow but steady at first and then really took off from 2018. 

Today, we employ more than 300 staff across a range of roles. The 300 jobs we have created, is a mix of full time and part-time job roles at present, to cater for the needs of staff and clients, but we're also expanding the number of full-time roles. We're diversifying too and now have a security services division as well.

2020 marked a key milestone for us when we celebrated being in business for ten years. In that decade, we've won awards, and we've featured in the Wales Fast Growth 50 list each year for the last four years. No small achievement. 

The pandemic struck while we were on a well-deserved holiday, and we came back to the UK to lead the business through the crisis. It's fair to say it's been a complex year since – but we've still managed to grow substantially. We won our largest ever contract and added 100 more employees over the past year. 

 

 

What are your proudest moments in business so far?
For me, I think there are a few that stand out. Taking on my first ever employee was difficult as I thought I could do it all, but I knew deep down I could not.

Being able to invest the money the business was making into an Employee Assistance Programme to help support our staff through a global pandemic is something that makes me proud. The EAP helps support staff with mental health illnesses, counselling, advice on housing, and several other areas, and it’s great having experts on hand to help assist our team when they need it.

Winning awards is also brilliant. They're proof that the work you're doing is recognised outside of your business' ecosystem. So winning an Institute of Directors award along with so many others made us realise we'd achieved something and fuelled our ambition to become even bigger and even better. Appearing in the Fast Growth 50 for four years is also a source of great pride for us. 

 

What challenges have you faced in business?
There have been many challenges I've had to overcome. 

I felt like I was being written off at the age of 19 when I was a single mum diagnosed with depression, I was left feeling a complete failure. But having a strong compelling vision of what mine and my children’s future could look like from putting in the hard work gave me the daily strength to tackle each difficult day. I had the drive to achieve all I have and to make something of my life.

Struggling to make ends meet, juggling bills daily and having to borrow ten pounds here and ten pounds there, whilst living off benefits and working part time has been the biggest reason to get up every morning, to give my business my all each day and spurred me on to become a successful entrepreneur. I really would not want my life to go back to those days, EVER, so hard work is a huge must for me.

I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 18 and still live with it today at the age of 35.

How do I deal with it? Well, I am a passionate believer in moving forward, but also I believe in the power of reflection. I have learnt several techniques to deal with my mental health including journaling, mindfulness, being aware of what my thoughts are saying to me and how to respond to the negative self-talk and self-doubt. One of the main lessons I've learned about being in business is how vital it is to make time for self-care, whether it's going for a run or reading a book. Self-care is vital to your overall wellbeing. Being wholly wrapped up in your business is not the best thing for an entrepreneur or the company. It's been one of the biggest lessons for me and a lesson I am still learning.

I am always on the go and I even set myself big challenges outside of my business – whether it's a 400km bike ride across New Zealand mountains, trekking in Patagonia or running the London Marathon. These extreme challenges give me a focus outside of being an entrepreneur and provide a much-needed release from the stress of leading a fast-growing business. Not only do these challenges help me but they also help others. I have raised over £40,000 for various charities.

When my husband Ashley joined the business, we were taking a new risk but a risk that has paid off. Our first office was a computer desk under the stairs of a tiny three-bed terraced house. Now, we occupy a suite of offices, have a storage facility and employ hundreds of people. We've come a long way.

Ashley and I work as a team, and we've used our complementary skills to achieve growth. For the first six years, growth was steady, but it was manageable with a young family. With both of us being in the business it was a constant juggle with the children. After-school childcare and after-school activities really helped us. When we started to see sudden growth which made us realise we needed support in managing this level of growth.

That meant we needed expert support, so we reached out to Business Wales AGP for advice and guidance. The programme has been integral to our growth ever since. From the start, we adopted two fundamental principles that are still with us today – treating our staff well and using quality products that meet BSEN Standards. We've built a loyal team and given career opportunities to those who want to progress into management. It's been a critical factor in delivering a quality service. Our favourite saying is “Our staff are our business”.

 

If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
On reflection, I think we could have reached out sooner for advice to manage our growth. I think I would advise anyone to assess your team’s skill set, especially when you grow. Your team may be able to deal with the workload and work type when you are small, however they may need a different set of skills to manage in a larger business.

If we'd taken a few more risks in employing people sooner than we did, perhaps the business would have grown even faster. Who knows where we'd be now had we been less risk-averse? But do I regret this? No. Growing at a pace that we are comfortable with has allowed us at each and every stage to ensure our foundations are strong. Now we are a team of 300+ with very strong foundations, systems, processes and a strong culture. Anything is possible.

 

How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
Business Wales AGP's help has been transformational. It has helped each of us find our role in our company and transition to working on the business instead of in it.

A strategy coach helped us realise what we needed to do to grow and manage the business well. We were introduced to tools such as the Balanced Scorecard, which means we now manage with numbers and have greater visibility and confidence in planning. A clear marketing plan helped provide valuable focus. 

Support from AGP has given me more confidence and helped me realise the changes I needed to make to reduce the burden of carrying others' stress.

Growth is far more exciting now than it used to be and I am excited to see what we achieve in the next 10 years. Especially with a huge shift in my mind set!

 

What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?

● Be open to advice from outsiders – don't be ashamed of your lack of knowledge.

● Reach out early to get professional support. 

● Realise that there are tools you can use to make your business better and life more manageable.

● Employ great people to share the work of management.

● Take measured risks.

● Make time for self-care.

 

To find out more about A&R, visit here.

Further information on the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme

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