Every Monday, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Kevin Rennie, manager of Lerwick-based Shetland Heatwise
How and why did you start in business?
On reaching fifth year at Lerwick’s Anderson High School I found that all my main friends had left so I did too, taking up a joinery apprenticeship.
However, I didn’t enjoy the working environment, so I became a shipping agent instead, spending nine years at Sullom Voe.
I then spent a further two years on salmon farms before going back to joinery. Then, in 1992, aged 30, I saw an advert for a manager for a new community enterprise, Shetland Heatwise.
It was to manage insulation grants in Shetland on a two-year contract. I applied and got the job, and here I am 30 years later, still working away.
How did you get to where you are today?
As manager, I report to the chairman of a voluntary board, Alec Miller and board of voluntary directors.
Alec is highly experienced, and he and I have had a tremendous relationship since day one.
We’ve built the business up from what was essentially a loft insulation/draft exclusion business turning over around £80,000 a year into a much larger, more effective enterprise with a £1.5 million turnover, employing in 2019 15 full-time and 10 subcontractors staff.
Covid-19 made life tricky, but today we’ve got 16 staff plus contractors – all highly skilled and committed.
Starting with loft insulation and draft exclusion, we then took over a cavity wall insulation firm before adding dry lining, underfloor insulation using rigid boards, pipe insulation, SAP ratings and EPCs were also added plus thermal imaging and air testing to identify problem houses, and more.
We’ve got where we are through hard work and by looking after our customers and staff.
Who helped you?
Alec Miller is fantastic, as already mentioned, and although he’s now retired from work in general, he’s still very heavily involved in Shetland Heatwise. And my wife, Alison, has always been a great support too.
It was Alec who put me on to the Federation of Small Businesses 21 years ago, and knowing that they’re there as a safety blanket, to be called upon whenever things like legal advice are required, takes a weight off my mind.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
Always work fast – it makes the less pleasant jobs pass quicker and it keeps me fit; and always look after the workers.
But perhaps the best advice for a happy life was something that I heard on the radio from a 90-year-old – the importance of two simple words: “Yes, dear!”
What is your biggest mistake?
It’s not making the mistakes that matter – we all do it – but whether we learn from them.
What is your greatest achievement?
First, there’s having a lovely family with children who are all doing well in life; second, there’s starting at Shetland Heatwise on a two-year contract and still being here after 30.
Thirdly there’s playing quality football until I was almost 60 and finally, there’s starting my croft with 100 sheep and today having 20 cows and 500 sheep.
How are you managing rapidly rising costs, and how could government help?
Rising prices are affecting everyone and ours have had to increase recently by 10%, but I sometimes wonder if some large corporations are milking it.
What do you still hope to achieve?
When I retire I want to leave the business in good heart so that someone else can take over and drive it on, and on my croft I want more sheds to store all my machinery and more calving space.
What do you do to relax?
Work and the croft take up a lot of time, so when I’m off duty I like relaxing in front of the TV or reading.
What are you currently reading, listening to or are glued to on TV?
I read thrillers and watch re-runs of old classics like All Creatures Great and Small and Endeavour.
What do you waste your money on?
Very little – I don’t have time. Books and tools gadgets for the croft, and good quality tups, but they’re an investment.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
If we’re lambing or calving it’s straight out to check that everything’s going well, then tea, then porridge. Meanwhile, Alison is out with the horses and dogs.
What do you drive and dream of driving?
I’ve got an Isuzu pickup that meets my needs on the road and croft, and I dream of getting back into my 19ft Orkney Fastliner boat with its 40hp engine – that I took out of the sea during the pandemic and still on dry land.