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What a butcher can learn from a steel supplier

One might supply steel while the other sells meat, but sharing common business problems has brought companies from very different backgrounds together and begun to form long-lasting support networks.

When facing business challenges, leaders often use a sector-specific lens – whether that’s increasing sales, improving operations or developing a more sophisticated marketing game. They tend to learn from those around them and, when advice from outside of the business is sought, rarely stray beyond the same sector. But are businesses missing out by only playing inside their own box?

Participants in our business placement scheme have benefited from speaking to companies in other areas and have revealed what they specifically gained.

We’ve likened it to counselling

Lynne Metcalf, human resources, Playdale Playgrounds

Lynne Metcalfe, HR manager at Playdale Playgrounds

“At Playdale, we didn’t know what to expect or what our business placement visitors were hoping to get out of the visits. However, sharing our experiences has reassured us that we are doing the right things, as often the challenges we face are the same.

“What has been most interesting is the honesty of our visitors. We’ve likened the experience to counselling – in a good way. Being a leader of a family business can feel lonely at times, and by making new connections, we always learn something new.”

It’s made me more aware

Martin Jones, deputy managing director, Cranstons Butchers

“My visit to Thomas Graham [steel and industrial supplier] gave me good insight into the role of a managing director within another family business. Sitting in on high level meetings I could see how much time and money they invest in people development to ensure they have a happy and productive team.

“This has made me aware that we need to re-focus on employee engagement and the communication process to continue to grow our business.”

Getting out of your bubble

Heather Bendle, marketing, Thomas Graham

Heather Bendle and Roger Smith at the Thomas Graham offices in Carlisle

“Speaking with someone who’s in a different sector but in a similar role is a massive help. When you’re in your own bubble it’s important to share with others what you’ve tried before and to get feedback on your new ideas.

“I’ve been looking to learn from other businesses who I know are successful at marketing. I visited two businesses in very different sectors from us and learned a lot about free advertising and using SEO to target our audience and increase sales.

“The bonus is that the exchange of ideas benefits us both. We’re now talking about setting up a marketing group that meets quarterly.”

It was the opposite of speed dating

David Wilson, health safety quality environment manager, Playdale Playgrounds

“My experience visiting Thomas Graham was the opposite of speed dating-style networking events. We now have something better than a connection who merely wants to sell us things. We have a longer lasting connection and will keep in touch to use each other for advice and as a sounding board.”

In today’s competitive world you need to constantly improve

Roger Smith, managing director, Thomas Graham

Roger Smith at the Thomas Graham offices in Carlisle

“As a company you should never stop learning and trying to improve on best practices. The last five years have been hard, and I’m fairly sure the next year is going to be harder.

“One way of continually improving is by learning from businesses in other sectors. We hosted someone from Playdale on a business placement and the experience was really a double whammy. As one of our customers, the improvements they made following the visit helped them to pick up new customers, which in turn also benefits us. At the end of the day you both stand to gain something.”

Sign up here to participate in our business placements scheme in the North West of England, or write to us at

You can learn more about our North West Family Business programme, including the business placements scheme, here.

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