National Safety Inspections (NSI) was the brainchild of former school friends Andy Stoner and Dan Coombe.
The pair went their separate ways for ten years once they left school, but always kept in touch; with Dan being Andy’s best man.
Dan was working in sales in Scotland and Andy was working in electrical testing in Leeds, when 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, and knowing few companies specialised purely in electrical testing.
Dan says: “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.”
Initially the company worked for a few student letting agencies, but they knew that new laws coming in 2020 would lead to many more opportunities. The new rules meant every private landlord would have to have electrical checks on their properties every five years.
One of the biggest issues with electrical testing and certification is the amount of paperwork, which is one reason most companies do it as a side-line only, concentrating on installation work for most of their income.
But Andy and Dan saw the gap in the market and wanted to get ahead of the game before the new law came in. They knew they needed a bespoke CRM system to make the process efficient.
They also wanted their engineers to be able to work easily while out in the field, so needed equipment, including tablets and laptops. And they needed a professional looking website with excellent SEO.
They approached AD:VENTURE for growth grants and also for business development support.
NSI were successful in applying for two grants through the AD:VENTURE programme, one in March 2019 for £4,300 towards a CRM system, and one in February 2020 at just over £14,000 for website development, SEO and brochures, and for equipment including tablets and laptops for engineers, alarms for vans and testing kits.
During the first lockdown Andy was offered a place on Northern Max, an accelerator built around ten workshops, guiding the entrepreneur through from the ideas stage to being able to pitch to a panel of investors. Through Northern Max he was also given an expert mentor who helped the pair focus on growth plans.
“Working with AD:VENTURE really helped us scale up,” says Dan. “Lockdown gave us a few weeks to think – we have 15 engineers but that’s not where we want to be, we want to scale up; so we thought let’s go for it.”
The company ended 2020 with turnover predicted to hit £2.5m and 45 staff; 20 of whom work at the headquarters in Armley. Just before Christmas NSI took over another floor at its HQ to accommodate its growing team and support its expansion plans.
NSI has engineers across Yorkshire, Lancashire, the North East, the Midlands, and down to Reading and Oxford, with plans to extend into the rest of England. They carry out 300 to 400 jobs a week.
The company has won the ESTAS award for best in sector for “electrical services” in both 2019 and 2020. The ESTAS are the largest independent customer service feedback and awards platform for the residential property industry in the UK, and are considered the most prestigious awards in the industry, or the equivalent of the Oscars!
In 2019 NSI was one of just three companies in the Leeds City Region singled out for a Special Recognition award in the Digital Enterprise Top 100 campaign. The award recognised investment in and, outstanding use of, technology.
The grants from AD:VENTURE had a ‘massive’ impact, say the pair.
Dan says: “With the CRM we could only afford a really basic model rather than the version we got with the enhancements we needed. There’s no way on earth we could handle 300 to 400 jobs a week if we were using something like Excel rather than a bespoke CRM system.”
Andy says going on Northern Max and having a mentor made him and Dan look at the business differently.
“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 to start with,” says Andy.
Dan adds: “When Andy had been on a workshop or seen the mentor he used to come back and say – have you thought of this or have you thought of that?
“It gave us a different view, a different perspective. No-one told us what to do. It just made us think differently and spot different ideas, which was really valuable to us.”