Each week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Geoff Woodger, owner of Mearns-based Grampian Utility Services
How and why did you start in business?
It was 1999, the price of a barrel of oil was sub $10 and, unfortunately, I had just been made redundant from my job as technical assistant at Atlantic Power.
I started working for 192, but my income nearly halved and I still had a family to provide for. I got speaking to a friend who had found himself in a similar position and showed me how to reduce the cost of phone calls on my landline. Do you remember when we used to do that?
This opened a door to a world of being paid to help others. I followed up the initial conversation with another group of friends and, over various cups of tea, Grampian Utility Services was formed. I’m paid monthly royalties and just as the additional income was welcome then, it remains the case today.
How did you get to where you are today?
I am a Yorkshireman who was schooled in the Midlands. I studied biochemistry and genetics at Nottingham University.
In 1996 I followed my then wife to Aberdeen and have since worked in pharmaceutical sales, charity fundraising and the retail sector – the latter two as I battled out of chronic depression. I am at my happiest helping people and my current business interests help me to do that on a day-to-day basis.
Who helped you?
Aberdeen Business Network (ABN), Business Network International (BNI) and Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). If you think I only work in three-letter acronyms, here is one of two letters – UW, the recent rebrand for Utility Warehouse, which is my main business partner. I have been a member, customer and partner for over 20 years and will be for the next 50, until my royalty income is willed to my son or a local charity.
Andrew Smith and many other businesspeople at ABN and BNI, both locally and nationally, have helped over the years and I like to think the help has been two-way.
I’ve recently joined FSB, which has allowed me to help even more local business owners through its numerous benefits. I’ve also had great support from business and life coaches, particularly over the past five years. I would not be without a coach now I understand the benefits.
Finally, I need to give a special mention to Graeme Bryce, who was not only a great friend but also a mentor before he sadly died.
What has been your biggest mistake?
Listening to those who did not care about me. Pay little attention to those who are not paying your bills.
What is your greatest achievement?
Helping to raise a son, Cameron, of whom I am incredibly proud. My ex-wife, Aileen, and I were given the only advice I will pass on to parents – decide your rules and stick to them. I am immensely proud that Cameron and my partner, Jane Parker, are both in the business with me. The model I work with does not require employees but business partners, all working towards their own version of success.
What do you still hope to achieve?
I have a BHAG – a “big, hairy audacious goal” – to help more than 500,000 families throughout the UK to benefit from the savings, simplicity and service I provide.
I will need the help of a team to deliver that goal and, as such, I will need to upskill as a leader.
What do you do to relax?
I love to spend time, with Jane, by the sea. We live in Johnshaven, near the shore, which I love to run along nearly every day before making my way to Grassic Gibbon country.
What do you waste your money on?
I am a sucker for chocolate and sweeties. Pre-lockdown, quite a chunk of my money was spent in local independent shops on coffee and cake – and I look forward to returning to that habit as we ease through lockdown.
How would your friends describe you?
I am sure my friends would describe me as honest and loyal. Openness and honesty are the bedrock of my life and business.
What would your enemies say about you?
What other people think of you is none of your business, as long as you do everything with the best intentions in mind.
What do you drive and dream of driving?
I drive a soft-top Mini and dream of buying back my first car, a racing green MGB Roadster, with wire wheels and chrome bumpers.