A/N I remember our current interviewee as a young girl at Rishworth School. It’s wonderful to hear about her career journey.
Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
I am currently the Head of Marketing at our family business Lanes Group Plc. It’s a company providing blockage clearance services for drains and pipes. There are currently 1260 staff at 25 operating centres located around the UK.
I started working directly from school with very few formal qualifications.
The first family business that we had, Neolith Limited, hired out high-pressure water equipment to people and companies for a variety of cleaning and descaling tasks. Initially, I ran the hire desk. It was a very pressurised role that required a lot of customer contact and organisation to keep the customer happy and deliver what they expected. I gained vast experience in dealing with customers and understanding their expectations.
For a short while, I left the business and went to live in the Canary Islands where I secured a job in Tenerife narrating fashion shows and selling fur coats to tourists. I was very pressurised selling with long hours. But I survived. When I returned to the UK, I secured a job managing a ladies fashion shop in Halifax. That job was great fun. However, I do remember losing sleep when I had to deal with my first shoplifting issue.
After a couple of years away from the family business I returned to Neolith and then started working with the sales team, providing support and creative ideas to ensure that our customers fully understood what services we provided. It is here where I found my passion and creative skills for sales and marketing. It’s hard selling engineering equipment of any description; people normally only look for this type of equipment when they have a need. You don’t create the need for the customer.
In the early 90’s that business was sold. Initially, my brother and I stayed with the company, but we were then both made redundant 5 years to the day that the sale went through!. Business can be very harsh at times because we both thoroughly enjoyed our roles.
My father, a true Entrepreneur, had in the meantime bought a new business Lanes for Drains. It was still in the very early stages of growth and couldn’t sustain two more salaries immediately. I was also 3 months pregnant when I was made redundant and back in the 90’s employers didn’t readily take on women who were pregnant. I was fortunate because some of the customers who I had worked with for years at Neolith Limited approached me directly to help them build their fledgling businesses and do a sales and marketing role with them.
I duly started my own consultancy business Ringland Associates. I had five different customers who I worked for one day per week. The companies were varied – one was an insurance company, two others building contractors, one a retail organisation and finally one day per week was spent working for Lanes for Drains. It was an interesting time in my life. Juggling a brand new baby, plus a three year old, running a home and five demanding clients was hard work. I hadn’t actually finished work for any maternity leave when my son Matthew decided to make an appearance 3 weeks early.
Eventually, after 3 years of doing consultancy work Lanes as a company was developing fast and my father persuaded me to close down the consultancy practice and join Lanes for Drains, that was 19 years ago. Sales and marketing and dealing with customers directly have always been a passion and so working with the sales team here at Lanes is where I have dedicated most of my working life.
What makes someone good in your chosen field?
Understanding your customer is critical to ensuring that we provide the services that they need. Thinking outside the box is also fundamental to being creative, and marketing our business in a different way to our competitors has also been high on my agenda.
What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
Direct mail was and still is the backbone of our business. Creating ‘prompted recall’ so that when the need arising for someone to call a drainage company they know or have heard about Lanes. Over the past 10 years the move to electronic communicate with our clients has been embraced wholeheartedly. I love the speed in which social media and the web can generate interest and enquiries.
Exhibitions are something that I used to love attending, but I really do feel that the exhibitions are dated and stale. I would love someone to develop an idea that brought people together in an effective manner. I do miss the face to face contact that used to come with customers attending exhibitions.
What can be challenging about your profession?
As the company has grown the changing responsibilities of the company to our staff and customers. It’s no longer acceptable to just provide a service. Now we have to provide that service in a responsible manner for both our staff and customers, ensuring that we align ourselves with their business objectives.
What do you most like about your profession?
I love the contact that we have with customers directly. All of the senior management team at Lanes have to sponsor specific accounts so that they interact with our customers. If you stop dealing with customers on a day to day basis, I firmly believe you quickly lose sight of what they expect and need from us as a company.
What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
That’s easy. Last year, I attended a tender meeting at a large utility company. The contract was worth several million pounds a year, so it was an important event.
There was only a hand full of ladies in the meeting, and so you do stick out in a sea of suits. After the meeting, as a group, we were all walking back to the car park that was quite away from where the meeting had been held. I was walking back with a group of people who had been at the meeting, chatting away, when I went flat on my face on the pavement.
The men with me were so gracious and kind. But I died of embarrassment – the contents of my handbag were strewn over the road, black opaque tights ruined, and my dignity on the pavement too. One gentleman offered to go and get his car to drive me back to the car park, but I insisted that I was OK. I was so embarrassed I could have died. I think that was the longest drive home I have ever had.
What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
I have them frequently, so there isn’t one that stands out. I wouldn’t change that because I believe it helps mould the individual and ensure that it keeps you on your toes. If you don’t experience nerve-wracking moments whatever they are, then how do you learn?
What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Don’t be afraid to ask for people’s opinions and reflect on them. You learn by listening.
Michelle Ringland is the Head of Marketing, Lanes Group Plc