Leeds childhood friends reunite to spark success
Two former childhood friends from Leeds have reunited to create an award-winning electrical business with a turnover of £2.5m.
Andy Stoner and Dan Coombe set up National Safety Inspections (NSI) in 2017 after spotting a gap in the market. The company, which has just expanded into bigger offices, specialises in electrical testing for letting agents and landlords.
NSI employs 20 people at its headquarters in Armley, having taken over an extra floor just before Christmas to accommodate more staff, and has 25 engineers across the UK.
The pair, who used to walk to school together in Tingley, kept in touch even though Dan moved to Scotland and worked in sales. Andy, meanwhile, worked as an electrician and a lecturer in Leeds.
In 2017 a chance conversation led them to realise they had the perfect combination of skills to create a start-up, with Dan having extensive sales experience from medical sales to solar panels, and Andy having knowledge of electrical safety. Andy also knew that few companies specialised purely in electrical testing.
Dan said: “Out of the blue me and Andy spoke to each other about the idea of setting up and just offering testing, and then we just said, let’s do it. So, I moved back to Leeds.
“We were ambitious to be national even as a start-up. That’s why we called ourselves National Safety Inspections, even though we were just in a little office in the city.”
By the end of 2017 they had taken on three staff and were working for several student letting agencies. But then they realised a new law due to come in would open up even more opportunities. The new rules, which didn’t actually come in until June 2020, meant private sector landlords would have to carry out electrical checks every five years.
Andy said: “Student lets were pretty good at doing electrical checks, but the private sector needed to catch up. We realised if we were going to get the work we would have to scale up and get ahead of the game.”
That was when they turned to AD:VENTURE, a programme for new businesses in North and West Yorkshire, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). They were successful in applying for two grants through the programme, one for £4,300 towards a comprehensive CRM system, and another of over £14,000 towards equipment, including laptops for engineers out on the road, and website development and SEO.
“Most electrical companies do testing as a side-line. They do it with a view to getting installation work. But we just do the testing and so we needed to put the resources into that and be able to do it well and efficiently,” said Andy.
By the start of 2020 Andy and Dan had 15 staff and had signed with several letting agencies. Then lockdown struck, but it turned out to be perfect timing.
Andy was invited to take part in an AD:VENTURE accelerator called Northern Max. Through that he was given a mentor who helped both him and Dan realise they needed to re-think their approach in order to successfully scale the business.
“It made us change focus. Rather than working in the business, it got us to allocate more time to working on the business. We could have stopped at 15 staff, but we wanted it to be bigger. So, we took on someone to do business development and two more sales staff,” said Andy.
The growth didn’t stop there. NSI finished 2020 with 45 staff, creating 30 new jobs through 2020, with engineers across Yorkshire, Lancashire, the north east, the midlands, and down to Reading and Oxford. And they have plans to extend into the rest of England and grow to 100 staff this year.
In 2019, and again in 2020, NSI won the best in sector for electrical services to the estates and lettings sector in the ESTAS awards, which are considered the Oscars of the industry.
Dan said: “It’s not bad for two lads from Tingley who used to climb over the fence to see each other and play out and walk together to school every day. I am not sure if you’d told us about this then we would have believed it could happen!”
AD:VENTURE’s funding and delivery partners are from across the Leeds City Region and include the region’s nine local authorities, and the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
Roger Marsh OBE DL, Chair of the LEP and NP11, said:
“We really applaud what NSI have done; spotting a gap in the market and going for it. That is true entrepreneurship and something we really want to encourage.
“By innovating in their business, Andy and Dan are creating the prosperity and the jobs that we need for the local economy. Their success shows that with a good idea, hard work and practical support it is possible to build a thriving business even in these difficult times, and to support the economic recovery.”
To find out more about AD:VENTURE, visit ad-venture.org.uk.