Nominations announced for 2009 Lancashire Business Oscars

Downtown Preston in Business has unveiled the shortlist for its 2009 Lancashire Business Oscars.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on Thursday 9th July 2009 at Stanley House, Mellor, near Preston.

You can vote via the Downtown Preston in Business website.

Sexy Networker – Male:
Michael Gregory, Freshfield;
Stephen Bolton, Lancashire Business View;
Michael Conlon, Conlons Construction.

Sexy Networker – Female:
Michelle Guest, Mentor Corporate Coaching;
Helen Hulme, St John’s Building;
Angela Smith, The Write Angle;
Juliet Cort, Freshfield.

Business Journalist of the Year:
Peter Butterfield, Lancashire Business View;
David Coates, Lancashire Evening Post;
Chris Barry, The Business Desk.

Best Downtown Bar/Restaurant:
Marvin Baldwin, The Forum;
Danny Jackson, Vintage;
Trish Brockbank, The Honey Lounge.

Professional of the Year:
Richard Garratt, Garratts Insurance;
Sean Williams, Yorkshire Bank;
Kathryn Harwood, Napthens;
Gillian Bardin, Taylor Patterson.

Best Business Advisor:

Rob Kenmare, Moore & Smalley;
Jonathan Diggines, Enterprise Ventures;
Daniel Milnes, Forbes;
Damian Walmesley, Moore & Smalley.

Property Professional of the Year:
Andrew Taylorson, Eckersley;
Mick Goode, Croft Goode;
Joe Assalone, Pinkus & Co.

Property Advisor of the Year:

Mike Fetherstone, Napthens;
Diana Robertson, Forbes;
Chris Scott, DWF LLP.

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How to ‘survive and thrive’ for Preston businesses during the recession

Don't ignore it, find out how you can get through the recession

Don't ignore it, find out how you can get through the recession

If you run, manage or own a Preston based business then there’s an event you may just want to take a look at in June. Put on by Business Link North West with a whole host of partners, it’s a chance to get some advice and discuss how the recession is affecting your business and how you can beat it.

Find out more information on the events mini-site. It’s being held in the Marriott Hotel on Tuesday 30th June 2009 and runs from 8.30 AM – 5 PM. It looks like there’s a load of different workshops and seminars, so you can pick what you go to.

The official blurb says:

These events are designed to help your business through the economic downturn – with help from a team of experts to guide you on your journey.

Hear from members of The Directors’ Centre – some of the UK’s leading speakers on entrepreneurship, who will explain how to make it through the current economic climate. Our experts will provide tips on how to manage your business in the credit crunch and make money at the same time!

If you’re not in Preston, or can’t make that date, the same event is happening across loads of different places in the North West throughout June.

Interview with Alec Gabbatt owner of Penwortham Garage

This is a monthly feature, interviewing local business’ and finding out what they do, how they started and getting an insight into who runs them. If you’d like your business to be featured please email prestonblogs@googlemail.com

Born and bred in Preston the owner of Penwortham Garage is 60-year-old Alec Gabbat. Leaving school at 15 he’s spent 45 years working in the motor trade and puts his success down to his ability to talk straight to customers.

“You need to talk straight to people about the product,” says Alec, “if you say it’s a quality car and they turn up and see a hunk of junk then they aren’t going to buy it.”

Learning his trade at garages around Preston, including the Fairways Garage and then Fairways Volkswagon, where he was General Manager, Alec decided that Penwortham was the place to set up his own dealership.

He said: “I wanted to do it, I wanted my own dealership. I’d been General Manager and been in charge of 80 odd staff but I wanted to have my own place, as I think you can sometimes lose perspective when you’ve got somewhere that big to run – especially in my day, when I had to do all the HR and PR for the place, I didn’t have any extra staff for that!

“The site was available in Penwortham and I set up in 1982. It was a good size site and importantly it was in a reasonably affluent area.”

Alec started out with BMWs and still has a soft spot for them, naming the BMW x5 as his favourite car if he had to pick one to take on a roadtrip.

“When I started selling BMWs,” says Alec, “they weren’t what they are now. I had a tiny dealership and at the time was the only BMW dealership in Preston.”

The biggest challenge facing Alec when starting off has been the increased levels of competition in the motor trade. With the rise of car supermarkets and people able to buy cars online, he’s seen business drop from when he started out.

He said: “The biggest challenge in 27 years has been the increase in competition. When I started out then all the adverts in the LEP were black and white, so you couldn’t really tell the difference between my ad and the main dealership. Now though, there are a lot more dealers and the Internet has changed things massively. There weren’t the car supermarkets in those days, you’d buy a car locally from a dealer you trusted.”

Alec used to sell 5-10 cars every weekend but now says it’d be a lucky weekend if he was able to sell that many. However, he feels there’s always a place for quality in the motor trade.

He said: “I often get people saying “I’ve seen that car £1,000 cheaper online”. I tell them they haven’t really seen it, seeing it on the screen is not the same as seeing it there in front of you. You can always see a cheaper car on the web, but that doesn’t guarantee you a good car.”

The current economic climate had Alec worried in the back end of last year but he’s seeing the green shoots of recovery already.

“If you think back to October, Nov,ember and December,” says Alec,  “it was fresh on the news and it was all doom and gloom. Now, it’s still on the news but people are sick of it.

“In those autumn and winter months then people weren’t buying anything, I was going to auction and the price of cars was just crashing down. We had a tough time before Christmas, I was thinking ‘Oh Christ!’ but after Christmas it’s started to pick up.

“I think if you’re a regular person, with a regular job, and you don’t think you’re going to lose it, then buying a car is going to be on your list of things to have – and now people are thinking it’s a good time to buy one, as there’s no point buying a house or saving as there’s no interest rate!”

Straight talking, an eye for quality and a reputation built up over years in the motor trade has served Alec Gabbatt well during his 45 years in the motor trade and will no doubt continue to serve him for many years to come.

Interview with Preston based business Stage 9 Marketing founder Colin Sneath

This is the first in a monthly feature, interviewing local business’ and finding out what they do, how they started and getting an insight into who runs them. If you’d like your business to be featured please email prestonblogs@googlemail.com.

Colin Sneath, founder of Stage 9 Marketing, believes the recession presents opportunities for small businesses

Colin Sneath, founder of Stage 9 Marketing, believes the recession presents opportunities for small businesses

Six months ago Colin Sneath took the biggest risk of his life and started his own business. Stage 9 Marketing was born out of a desire to re-connect with companies marketing needs and after years in the marketing and PR business, for national agencies, Sneath felt it was time to become the master of his own destiny.

“I spotted a gap in the market,” says Sneath, 45, “I firmly believe that clients want expertise and value from an agency and I felt that with Stage 9 we could give that.”

Sneath was brought up in Lytham St Annes, just along from Preston on the Fylde Coast, and he spent a considerable amount of his teenage years in Preston.

He said: “I was always on the bus into Preston from Lytham, I have some really fond memories of the city as I was growing up.”

It may have been these fond memories that caused Sneath to pack in his job managing clients such as Pizza Hut for Whitbread Retail and start his own business – and choosing Preston as a base was a no brainer.

“Preston is a fantastic city,” enthuses Sneath, “one of our long term goals for the company is being involved in Preston’s renascence as third city of the North West. We love where we are.

“I’ve spent a lot of time working for agencies in Manchester, but I think Preston is more honest and vibrant for business. I think the old guard need to change their views and not treat change with such suspicion. I think there is an exciting future for Preston.

“In marketing it has become less important about where you are based. For example, we are in advance talks with a company in Spain to run their PR, and because you can fly out of Blackpool it’s actually cheaper to visit a Spanish company than to visit a London head office!

“Preston needs to shake off any hesitancy about not being a city, it is and it should think of itself as a North-West outpost and it’s got every right to be where it is and growing like it is.”

With Preston located as a base for his office, in the Docklands area, and with some help from the local chamber of commerce and government agency Business Link, Sneath was able to quickly grow his business.

He said: “I brought with me some opportunities to start work on straight away, and I’m a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and that opened a lot of doors for me.

“It’s tricky when starting a business as you have to strike a balance between doing a great job for your clients and constantly wanting to expanding the business and find new clients.

“The work ethic is also tough. You live and breath your business, I was up at 6 this morning sending off press releases, took the kids to school and then straight back into it. I’ll be working all day and often late into the night, but it’s great being able to control your own fate.”

Sneath came up with the name for the business, something that many small business’ agonise over before launching, as it’s grounded in marketing theory.

He said: “I wanted one of those names that had something to it, which made people say ‘why did you call your company that?’. Stage 9 refers to the stages of marketing a product, with Stage 9 being the point where your customers become an evangelist for your product and actually sell it for you.”

Having found a name, a location and had some solid leads for his first set of clients you have to question how such a small business will cope with the country currently heading into a recession. However, Sneath is positive that a recession actually presents opportunities for small businesses.

“A lot of the larger companies and agencies have become fat and bloated during the sustained period of growth we’ve just enjoyed, ” he says, “and they will have difficulty innovating and adapting to meet a new set of priorities from clients.

“As a small start-up we’re perfectly placed to take advantage of that and be able to offer much better value for money, and push the boundaries in our industry, while our larger competitors will be struggling and fighting their large overheads.”

Sneath, a graduate of the University of Sheffield, has some wise words for young people and graduates looking to forge a career in marketing.

He said: “There’s an increased number of opportunities during a recession, you just need to know where to look. I’d consider going with a small agency first and learning your craft, rather than just hoping some big company will come along and pick you up – this is very rare. Stay with a small agency, get your experience and then the big job and pay packet will come.”

Stage 9 Marketing website