Clare Brophy started Companion Stairlifts in 2003 with the hope that her passion for excellence would help her take on the industry’s big hitters. Fast forward 13 years and you’ll see she managed to do that and then some! After a hugely successful partnership with Age UK (contributing over £8 million) and a merger with Handicare Group (a large multinational) the company is on target to achieve £21 million in turnover this year.
As the winner of our Retail Business of the Year Award we caught up with Clare to find out her secret to success.
How did you come up with the idea for Companion Stairlifts?
Having worked in the stairlift industry for a while, I saw there was a real opportunity to compete with two major players by offering a wider choice of products and prices. I also strongly believed that the high pressure selling tactics - which are sometimes used in our unregulated industry - weren’t appropriate for many of our customers. I saw an opportunity for a business that put the customers’ needs first and sold ethically.
What were some of the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Initially, I think my age relative to the industry’s movers and shakers made it more difficult for me to establish myself as a serious contender. However, from the outset I’ve always seen challenges as opportunities, and my passion and drive has helped me convert many sceptics into firm believers in my ability to succeed.
As with many start-up businesses, our competitors put up a good fight but I knew from the start that Companion would be a serious contender within the market.
How did you fund your business?
At a very early stage, a stairlift manufacturer offered to loan a significant sum to help get us up and running in return for a share in the business. This was a huge boost in terms of third party endorsement, as well as giving us the funds to move forward. On reflection, there were probably other options we could have explored, but at the time this was the right decision and meant we could concentrate on growing the business quickly rather than worrying about how to pay for staff, premises and promotion.
What is your top tip for growing your business?
Understanding how my business works and understanding the steps needed at each stage to achieve our goals has worked for me. Every time the phone rings, it costs us a significant amount, and everyone knows that if we don’t do something with that lead we may as well put the money in the bin. That’s an incredibly strong motivator for all of the team and helps us focus on what our goals are, and how we’re going to achieve them.
Why would you recommend that people build their network and find the support they need to start and grow their business?
Reputation is so important. It can make or break an individual or a business. It’s really important to make sure your colleagues, peers and anyone in your network is aware of your achievements and your ambition. I have met many influential and successful leaders during my career, and there are a handful of people I really trust and can turn to for advice which has helped me both professionally and emotionally.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
With difficulty! I’m a very driven individual, so when I first started the business I lived and breathed it. As I didn’t have family responsibilities or commitments at this time this suited me. I don’t know anyone who thinks maintaining a healthy work/life balance is easy, but I chose to run a business and I’m happy with my life - that’s what really matters. My children know that if you put in the effort, you’ll enjoy the rewards and that’s not a bad life lesson is it?
How has mentorship made a difference in your business?
Sometimes it can be easy to lose yourself in your business, and to lose sight of your achievements. I have a couple of mentors who are great at helping me to see the bigger picture and who give me the reality check I need when it feels like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. They have been a huge emotional support to me.
If you want to make connections with successful ladies like Clare, there’s no better place than at the Forward Ladies Awards Grand Final. Held in Leeds at the Royal Armories on the 1st December, it’s set to be a fabulous celebration of women in business! Find out more and book your ticket here.