Innergy LPG: Gez Walsh
It took a bit of convincing to persuade Gez Walsh he was entrepreneur material. Scared of failure and too comfortable in his day job, he was working as a national sales manager at a competitor of the energy business he would eventually go on to start with partner Maurice Gardiner.
It wasn’t until a couple of years after leaving the energy industry before they plucked up the courage to start Innergy LPG, which supplies liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to businesses and commercial users throughout West Yorkshire.
Initial research consisted of phoning competitors’ customers to ask about the level of service they were receiving, and what Innergy could offer to improve on it.
“Unsurprisingly, price came out as the main concern,” says Walsh. “Secondly, many customers told us they couldn’t trust their current suppliers. LPG is subject to the same price fluctuations as any other fuel. But customers felt that prices only moved upward and that their suppliers were abusing the movement in the price of product.”
As part of it’s focus on pricing, Innergy now provides a system on its website where clients can check prices against the competition.
The business plan the pair did early on also highlighted some early teething problems – namely cashflow. But with it all mapped out in the business plan they were able to get prepared and borrow in advance before the cash froze up.
Despite staying on top of cashflow problems, and managing on a small loan and personal savings, Walsh still bemoans the lack of adequate government support.
“The current system of grant funding based upon postcodes is ridiculous. Investment should be made purely upon the potential for return with regards to job creation and community improvement. We were told that we were one physical mile away from qualifying for a grant.”
Not letting funding rejection hold them back, the pair started the company with just one other employee. For the first six months there was no available cash to pay Walsh a salary.
Still a small team, Innergy proved that good things really do come in small packages by winning the Micro Business of the Year at the 2007 Startups Awards.
“We only employ people who are capable of more than the role they are recruited for so they can support the company’s development. We intend to create a stimulating work environment and ensure that we can provide our employees with a sense of ownership, achievement and pride about working us.”
The company now has around 1,000 customers in the West Yorkshire area, and plans to expand into bulk LPG across the country. Projectied turnover for 2008 is £1.6m, but in order to expand some further borrowing is on the cards.
However, rather that than bring on investors, according to Walsh. “We want to retain control of the company. If you lose control what’s the point of starting up your own company in the first place?” he argues.