This week’s Business Focus is with Ben Thompson of Thompson’s Gas.
Why did you start your business in the first place?
Before starting Thompson’s Gas, I had worked for British Gas for 10 years, which allowed me to learn the trade and make a lot of friends in the industry. A lot of those friends went on to become self-employed and regularly asked me to help them with work. It reached a point where I was getting so much work from friends and other local enquiries that it made sense to consider going alone. At the time I was young and didn’t have many obligations, so thought it would be my best opportunity and decided to take the plunge.
What is your business motto?
With this industry, honesty is the most important thing. There are so many customers we have dealt with that have either received bad service or bad advice to try and sell a more expensive unnecessary product. I wouldn’t want to be treated that way, and I wouldn’t expect to treat customers that way either. It’s not necessarily a motto, but being honest is paramount to how we do business. I’m proud of the work we do and the service we provide, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have my face on our vans or on the front of the shop!
What advice would you give to anyone starting their own business?
It’s almost important to walk before you can run, so don’t try and do everything at once. There will be so many things that you haven’t anticipated when starting a business, so make sure that you have the basics sorted when you set off on the journey. You have to have a network that you can rely on, whether that is local friends in business or a trusted supply chain. It may also seem unnecessary but a part of modern business is being able to cover yourself, so make sure when dealing with customers that you have all your terms and conditions sorted.
What was the biggest challenge you faced starting your business?
The biggest challenge was definitely getting to a point where I could offer the service I wanted to offer. There were lots of things that I wanted to do with Thompson’s, in fact there still are. Being able to provide everything to our customers is always going to be difficult so expanding those services sustainably is a big test at times. I think most business people will agree that scaling up is hard, finding the right team you can trust while still providing a great service. I remember early on taking 62 phone calls in one day while working eight in the morning until eight at night, at that point I knew I needed staff!
What do you enjoy most about being self-employed?
I think my favourite part of being self-employed is the day to day challenges. You can never anticipate what you may have to deal with because every day is different. As a result, I have to continually improve as a worker and as a leader, and I’m always learning new skills on the job I couldn’t have known I would need before.
What do you enjoy least about being self-employed?
The same thing that I like! While it’s great that every day is so varied, it can make it hard to prepare at times and I love to be organised. Making sure that everything is going to plan and well organised can be difficult as the business grows, but it’s an essential par
t of day-to- day life. I’m not a huge fan of pay day either, it’s different when you’re the one paying the wages!
Which business figure do you most admire and why?
I’ve always admired James Wheelwright, who is the director of J&C Joel in Sowerby Bridge and a long-time friend of mine. He has taken the company from being a specialist to a worldwide force, who are always growing and employing more and more staff. They’re a great demonstration of how important
and innovative our local businesses can be, and he has the awards to prove it.
What achievement in your career are you most proud of?
There’s been a few! One of the moments I am most proud of is opening our shop right in the centre of Halifax where I grew up. Being able to employ people is a great responsibility but it feels good to be able to provide work for other people. We have a new boiler scheme that we are working on that allows
people to get a boiler if they can’t afford it, and we’re very proud to be a part of that. It’s not often that a scheme comes along that genuinely feels like the goal is to help people, rather than just meet targets.
Where do you see your business going in the next five years?
We want to continue pushing forward and growing, which will allow us to create more jobs in the Calderdale area. We’re also hoping to expand further beyond Halifax and reach more and more people in West Yorkshire. There are a number of services that we are looking to add which will help save money and energy for customers and business in the area that are particularly exciting, but I don’t want to give too much away!
If you could invent one new product, what would it be?
One thing that I wish I invented, and have wanted for a while, actually came out recently. One of our suppliers, ATAG, has created some software so that we can diagnose problems with a boiler from our computers. As a man who has to do a lot of visits to homes and businesses to see what’s wrong, it’s an
absolute life saver!
If you could work for one company, who would it be and why?
I’m so used to work for myself now, I don’t think I could ever go back. Not to mention I’m so
independent I don’t think anyone would hire me!