Richard Turner is the Managing Director of Safe Stage Services, a company specialising in the supply, installation and design of stage equipment. From their base in Sowerby Bridge, Safe Stage Services design and build their own staging equipment, as well as engineer and fabricate products for the stage and theatre industry.
Why did you start your business in the first place?
I have 20 years’ experience in the staging industry, and in that time, I’ve always had a passion to develop and design products for the industry that have a new and innovative approach to design, manufacturing and installation. While it can be a complicated process, I wanted to build products so that anybody can pick them up and use them, with a keen emphasis on safety. To that end, we now manufacture 75% of our products in house, and have developed a flourishing national business with strong local roots.
What is your business motto?
You can never say never in business. It’s easy to brush some things aside and say that they can’t or shouldn’t be done, but you’ve always got to keep your eyes open and look at any opportunity that comes. What might seem like not such an appealing prospect at the start can turn in to a fantastic positive for your company, you just might not see it right away.
What advice would you give to anyone starting their own business?
You’ve got to be prepared for some demanding work. Our industry is very physical, due to the fact we design, manufacture and install complicated staging products. Even without the physical aspect of the job, there are so many things that add a challenge to your daily work. As the head of the business, not only do I have to assist with those but also work on our sales and marketing, accounting, payroll, all of it.
What was the biggest challenge you faced starting your business?
When I first started, the hardest part of the business was effectively being the ‘lone ranger’. For the first six months or so, I was doing everything within the business. I had to work with the clients, then design manufacture and install the products myself. Often, I would find myself welding until midnight then being back in the workshop at five in the morning to get the product on the road and install it. Thankfully, the hard work has paid off and we now have a team of 12 people working on projects, so I can delegate a little better.
What do you enjoy most about being self-employed?
One of the best parts of being self employed is not having meetings for the sake of having meetings. We have an open-door policy at Safe Stage so if anybody has an issue or a question they can come and see me, and we can sort it.
I’ve always been a key proponent of efficiency, so if we can create a solution to a problem with a five-minute chat rather than a half hour all hands meeting that works great for me.
What do you enjoy least about being self-employed?
I think the hardest part about being self employed is struggling to allow yourself to have personal time. After those first few months where it was just me, being able to say to myself that I can have an evening off or delegate a job to one of my team was very hard.
It's important to get the balance between work and home life, but when you build a business from the ground up those two things often feel like they become one.
Which business figure do you most admire and why?
Steve Jobs is the figure I most admire in business. His work in the early days at Apple with the Apple 2, and then later with the release of the iPhone, completely changed the landscape of tech companies. He had an incredible eye for design, and was always innovating, and that’s something that I try and replicate with our company and the work we do.
What achievement in your career are you most proud of?
I’m just incredibly proud of being the business that we have today. Even with 20 years’ experience in the field, this was always going to be a significant risk.
We didn’t take any investment or outside funding, so there was no silver spoon or golden egg, just the money I had to my name at the time. It took a lot of courage and foresight to build what Safe Stage has become, and I’m proud of all the team for achieving that.
Where do you see your business going in the next five years?
There are a few areas we would like to expand on in the next 5 years, to build on the services that we already have. One area is offering more acoustic services for venues. We continue to innovate in design and engineer systems, and these are process we want to make better and more efficient.
As we grow we want to continue to train and develop a skilled local workforce. It is a specialist service that we provide, but we’re proud that all our staff are local, and we want to continue to do that. As we expand internationally we want to maintain our local roots, even while we supply our products to the global market we’ll always be a Yorkshire company.
If you could invent one new product, what would it be?
I would like to develop a motorised chain hoist. As it stands, there are no motorised chain hosts made in the UK that are suitable for theatre and performance. All the products that exist today are either Dutch, German, Chinese or American. We want to create a product made in the UK that is better and more affordable than anything on the market.
If you could work for one company, who would it be and why?
I love my company and wouldn’t want to leave it. If I had to work somewhere else, it would most likely be volunteer work for a charity. I’d like to work somewhere where I can see the positive impact that my role, and my business, has on the local community.