Posted: Wed 20th Jul 2022
Enterprise Nation has launched Plan it with Purpose, a programme to help 20,000 businesses implement sustainable best practices that have a positive impact on the planet, society and the economy.
Through the programme, we like to showcase role models other businesses and business owners can relate to. Here, we talk to Andy Dunn of Lemon Locksmith. Andy talks about how he got his business up and running and what he did to make it more sustainable once he'd established himself.
How and when did you make the move to start and run your own business?
Going back, my main skill was in computer aided design (CAD), which I'd studied at university. I was employed as a computer aided designer after I finished university, and that involved learning how items work (on a computer, at least).
But at the same time, I had a strange little side hobby, which was picking locks. I was very interested in the sport of lock-picking – it really is classed as a sport – and began doing it in the evenings after work. I started to get pretty good at it!
Sometime later, my friends and family found out about my lock-picking skills and I started to receive the odd phone call from people who'd lost their keys and needed to get in. Eventually it just expanded from there. I liked the idea of working for myself, on my own hours, so I chose to leave my office job and become a locksmith full time.
What support did you seek when setting up your new business?
I had support from friends who are locksmiths down south. It's always good to seek advice from people who are where you want to be. My friends had successful, well-established locksmith businesses outside of my working area of Leeds, so I knew their advice was legitimate as they wouldn't be competing with me.
Often, I feel that people take advice from others who mean well but don't actually have the experience to be an adviser in that way. I received support from my family too – they helped to spread the word about the services I was providing and helped me get some work in.
Can you talk through those early days? What went well? What didn't? How did you overcome any problems?
Early on, I struggled with finding work. I set up my website and posted leaflets through local doors but just didn't seem to get any calls. So, I decided I'd work as a subcontractor for a while. This is where a large national company generates the job leads and subcontracts the work to people like me.
The benefit of this is that you get work instantly, and lots of it. The downside is that the company takes 50% of what the job is worth, so you work long and hard for your money.
Every time I went out to one of these jobs, I'd hand out my business cards and tell the customer that, next time, they should call me direct as I'd charge only half the price.
After doing that for around six months, old customers began calling me back for other jobs and word spread from there.
Was being sustainable a priority from the beginning, or something you built in later?
I was conscious about being sustainable right from the get-go. But as you'd expect, when starting a new business, one of the main things on your mind is making income and surviving. Once I became more secure and had plenty of work coming in, I started to look into sustainability more seriously.
What are the key measures a business should adopt to be more sustainable?
I believe that if a business can afford to, it should try to offset its carbon footprint by funding emission-reducing activity in other areas. For example, some businesses can pay to have trees planted in forests. This is usually seen as only something larger businesses can do. But small businesses can do it too, just on a smaller scale.
Another important measure is reducing waste. It's so simple to install recycling bins. You can also ask your suppliers to post items with less packaging. This is something I did recently with my lock supplier. Not only did it reduce my waste, but it meant less work for me to dispose of everything.
What simple, low-cost measures can existing businesses take to improve their sustainability?
Depending on what kind of business you are, I'd recommend sourcing supplies from local suppliers. This is tricky in my line of work, as my parts (locks and so on) are only made in certain areas of the country. However, for many businesses (food businesses, for example), this absolutely makes sense as it benefits both the local area and the environment too.
You can also reduce the amount of unnecessary travel. Now it's easy to make full use of technology and video calls. For example, when I get a door repair job, I often have the customer show me the problem via WhatsApp first so I can bring all the parts I need. That means fewer trips for me.
Finally, try and cut your energy usage, particularly heat. This is more for office-based businesses where having good insulation can reduce the amount of heat you use. However, seeing as many people are now working from home, having it insulated could be a double win.
What are the most important lessons you've learned from going into business for yourself?
I've learned that you need to get out there and hustle and don't wait for the work to come for you. Many people think that if you set up a WordPress website and print a few business cards, work will come flooding in. This isn't the reality! Get out there and get the work yourself.
Plan it with Purpose
A programme designed to help owners of small and medium-sized businesses develop a better understanding of environmental and social issues in the UK. Visit the Plan it with Purpose hub