Between 3rd and 6th April, we held our first ever Health & Safety Week, across the 27 sites that make up the CSG group. Designed to promote awareness of the issues of health and safety at work, the initiative also included a schedule of staff training and activities centred on maintaining the highest possible standards of assuring health and safety.
Sarah Taylor, CSG’s Compliance Manager, explained why we felt it was important to take a fresh approach to addressing the subject.
“Health & Safety is always highlighted strongly across CSG so the aim of the week was to really provide another way to encouraging our staff to engage positively with the whole topic. We wanted to ensure that everyone feels that it’s part of their work, re-iterating CSG’s aim to empower all members of staff to take personal responsibility for their health and safety.”
As you might expect, more practical, day-to-day considerations were covered by themes such as Vehicle and Pedestrian Safety and also Risk Assessment but the initiative also addressed more wide-reaching, fundamental issues like the importance of a Positive Health & Safety Culture and even Health & Wellbeing.
“When we talk about Health and Safety, naturally, we focus on maximising safety – and that’s understandably important – but there tends to be a lack of attention within industry on the importance of promoting health. This was something we were determined not to ignore because all the evidence suggests a healthier workforce tends to be a happier, safer workforce.”
This additional consideration meant the week would see a host of health-related features to illustrate those issues. Among them were the distribution of re-fillable water bottles to staff, to highlight the importance of hydration, and the provision of fruit at break times, rather than less healthy alternatives.
The importance of exercise and fitness were underlined during ‘bootcamp’-style exercise classes and there was even an opportunity for employees to take up a package of Occupational Health programmes from HealthShield, a society specialising in health and wellbeing at work.
With so much effort necessary to hold such an intense week of events (thanks to Sarah, CSG’s Health & Safety Manager, Kevin Mooney and many others), now it’s over, can it be said to have been a success?
“I think it was a different way of delivering some key Health & Safety messages and it provided a special time of focus, with people across the company talking about the issues all week so in that basic sense, it achieved exactly what we wanted it to.
“Beyond that, we found it brought people across the company who don’t normally work with each other started to work closer together. This resulted in a lot of unexpected team bonding. As a result of one of the ‘bootcamp’ sessions, one of our teams was prompted into starting up Friday night 5-a-side football matches! More generally, it’s been good to see a wide range of our employees realise that exercise of all forms is something they could do, even at their age or level of fitness.”
It’s interesting to note that a week of Health & Safety awareness, especially one in which the subject individual health was covered, one of the main additional benefits we found was the fact that people from very different parts of the group were encouraged to work more closely together, learning and even exercising together, which can only be of benefit to the whole company.
Improving each the health and safety of our workforce was one thing, improving the health of CSG itself, as a consequence, has been quite another.
As you may have seen previously on an earlier blogpost, we’ve been awaiting the arrival of the brand new CSG website and we’re finally pleased to say: here it is!
As you’d expect, the site is designed to smartly alter its layout, depending on the dimensions of the screen on the device you’re using so it looks equally impressive whether you’re accessing it on a 27-inch desktop machine or an old iPhone – and everything in between!
The information is designed to be easier to navigate, immediately helping you to distinguish between our commercial and domestic services. Further innovations such as a quote calculator for domestic collections (similar to the function on our Oil Monster site) are expected to be added in due course.
The new site features far more interactive information about CSG, especially our four core values: Customer Service, Innovation, People and Heritage. We’ve even commissioned a short video to explain our commitment to each of these ‘pillars’ that hold up everything else that CSG does. You can view these short vignettes on our About CSG page.
You can read more about the innovations we’ve developed that mean we can treat some waste streams that others can’t. In addition, there are case studies that highlight the ways we fit the needs of two of our most high profile clients and there are lots of short, informative biographies on various members of the CSG team.
As before, there’s also a comprehensive list of our accreditations and other documentation for you to download – as well as a handy guide to finding the right EWC codes for your waste requirements.
Last (but by no means least!), this very blog is now fully incorporated into the site, giving you a thoroughly seamless experience whenever you check back here every Monday morning, keen to catch up on our every blogged word – that is what everyone does, isn’t it?
However you choose to use the CSG site, it’s here for you and always will be – and we hope you like it!
“Knowledge is power”. “Data is value”. “If you can’t monitor it, don’t do it”. We’re probably all familiar with these rather trite sayings because aspiring managers everywhere love to sprinkle them into their meetings and briefings. It’s tempting to treat them as a fashionable irrelevance, like more notorious examples such as “blue-sky thinking”. However, just because a belief in number-crunching is so closely associated with management-speak, it doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. Far from it; unlike the more cringe-worthy sayings like “sweating the asset”, there’s lots to be said for, er, sweating the data asset – so to speak…
CSG is one of those businesses for whom more data is better than less. Financial performance, tendering capability, regulatory compliance and many other aspects of the business are all governed by clear, accurate, day-to-day data-gathering. Crucially, in order to operate with distinction in the waste sector, we also need to be able to practice what we often preach – a commitment to environmental excellence – and that means we need to be able to point to some impressively green statistics.
In 2015, we signed up to the Government’s Energy Saving Opportunities Scheme (ESOS), having met the quite stringent criteria, to apply. The following year, we joined the Logistics Carbon Reduction Scheme (LCRS). Both initiatives require us to manage and reduce our carbon impact and demonstrate more efficient ways of doing business. In order to start to do that, first, you need to know what your starting point is, which means – you’ve guessed it – closely monitoring our energy usage.
The font of much of our statistical knowledge is Antony Gerken, our Permitting and Compliance Manager. It’s Antony who ensures that our many and varied accreditations are attained – and then retained – amid ever-tightening regulations. When the time comes to renew an ISO certificate or add another to our long list of accreditations, Antony’s our go-to guy to get the job done!
In order to achieve better carbon efficiency, several years ago, we took the decision to refresh a large proportion of our fleet of lorries, a process that came to the end of its cycle last year. Now, with enough time having passed to generate enough usage statistics, Antony is able to quantify the effectiveness of our fleet investments of the last few years. A combination of newer, more efficient trucks, the ability to monitor inefficient driving and computerised job schedules, digitally communicated to drivers, have all promised more efficient mileage and less time travelled between jobs. Antony describes his most impressive finding:
“We usually average between 8-10 miles per gallon for our tanker fleet. In 2017 we hit an average mpg of 10.389, which is a significant improvement on 2016. If you assume we did the same mileage in 2016 and 2017, the increased efficiency works out at around 200,000 fewer litres used in 2017.”
As we all know, the standard unit of measurement for lots of liquid is the Olympic-sized swimming pool (2.5 million litres). 200,000 litres of fuel isn’t nearly enough to fill it, it’s about one-twelfth of the volume. You could try to visualise a depth of 16cm of diesel sloshing around in there but it may be more helpful to think of it this way: an average family car being driven in a way that requires it to be filled once a week uses around 2,800 litres a year. Our diesel saving alone in 2017 would have been enough to fuel over 70 such cars for a full year – the equivalent of a large housing estate or even a whole village’s annual use!
Another way to look at it would be to say that it’s the amount of fuel our more efficient fleet now requires to travel an extra 500,000 miles – the same as fuelling 20 CSG trucks to travel around the world!
In addition to the reduction of fuel being consumed, less diesel in also means fewer emissions being released. Antony calculates this figure to be 528 tonnes of CO2. Again, this isn’t an easy thing to visualise but there are ways to understand what that might be equivalent to, thanks to websites like yousustain.com. YouSustain suggest that the CO2 reductions we made through our fleet in 2017 are equivalent to the emissions of 104 cars for a whole year. Or 40 houses. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, one whole 747 flying from London to New York – and back.
Of course, while environmental benefits are their own virtue, let’s not forget the fact that using less fuel costs CSG less money. The more financially efficient our operation is, the more competitive our prices can be. As is most often the case, if the environment gains as a result of someone saving money, it tends to happen more quickly and, as savings are there to be passed on, everyone can gain from the initiative.
As you can imagine, the quest for greater sustainability and better efficiency won’t stop here – to many people, the challenges of environmental responsibility have barely begun – but we believe it’s an important step and one that demonstrates our credibility to adopt the most fundamental principles of the Waste Hierarchy. In operating more efficiently, we’re preventing the consumption (and emission) of a significant amount fossil fuel. That’s got to be something worth “running up the flagpole”!
In earlier blogposts, we’ve examined how CSG’s Heritage, Innovation and Customer Service make up three of the ‘pillars’ identified as upholding our brand values. In this, the final part of the series, we focus on the fourth pillar, our People.
Accountants are often quick to remind business owners that ‘wages’ constitute their greatest expense. Unfortunately, while one of the fundamental principles of accountancy is to ensure assets and liabilities are listed and balanced, a company’s workforce isn’t ever given the status of an asset. Looking at the ways certain companies seem to operate, that one-sided view of employment can appear to sum up their relationship with those they employ.
At CSG, it couldn’t be more different. Across the business, there is a strong sense that the people who work for CSG are not just considered an asset but are very much the company’s greatest asset. You only have to flick through the pages of ‘The Hart of Waste’, the updated edition of the official CSG book and you’ll see that photographs of people from all parts of the business today (captioned with their names and their roles) are interspersed with all the significant events you’d expect to read about in an ‘Official History’. This focus on the importance of ‘The Team’ doesn’t happen by accident – it requires a strong ‘people’ culture, something that can really only be driven by a Board who truly believe in it.
Today, CSG has a turnover of over £65m but it is still a family-owned business. Through Heather Hart, CSG’s Chairman the founder’s daughter, there is a deep connection to the days when ‘Hampshire Cleansing Service’ operated from a single site, where the owners worked side-by-side with the staff and where every member of the team knew each other well. Today, with sites all over the country, spanning various different sectors of the market, clearly, that level of closeness is not possible – but it doesn’t mean that the same basic relationship between the company and those who work within it should change. In fact, one of Heather’s recollections explains much about the way her influence has set this tone.
“My father was always ‘Mr Hart’ and when I started, it was natural to everyone that I’d be greeted ‘Miss Heather’. I was never comfortable with that and preferred just ‘Heather’, so we began to adopt a first-name culture, which still exists today.”
The chief defender of the faith in the basic decency and unlocked potential of people is CSG’s Managing Director, Neil Richards. Disarmingly engaging and frank, you don’t need to be in Neil’s company for long to see how passionate he is about the importance of people to a successful business. Just one question about his personal management style is all he needs to warm to the subject.
“I learnt early in my career that a business can only be as good as its people, that most people are good and just require the right management. As a manager, you have the choice to release their potential or dumb down their abilities. I’ve always tried to empower people, to add enjoyment to what they do. I believe the potential of a workforce is huge so it’s not just something I do because it’s ‘a personal style’ – it’s an approach that’s good for business!”
CSG and Neil seem to be made for each other. He frequently refers to the people at CSG as the “brain power”, even the “horsepower” of the company, a central metaphor in his philosophy that good people, managed properly can add significant value. It’s hardly surprising that in Neil’s six years at the helm, the company has grown from 382 employees to 482 and its revenues from £44m to £65m.
“The first time I met Heather, I knew we had the same values. I saw how the family ethos was most evident at our Hampshire office and I wanted to ensure it was felt as strongly across the wider organisation. The waste industry is all about dealing with and benefitting from change. You can’t manage change any other way than with people”
But surely there’s a limit to all this new wave of collaboration and inclusivity, isn’t there? Hasn’t it all gone a little too far from the autocratic days when “everyone knew where they stood”? Presumably out of habit, Neil is quick to spot the counter argument of ‘old school’ management thinking – and quickly debunks it.
“It’s a fallacy that a ‘people’ style is all based on just being nice and offering incentives and rewards. There’s actually more conflict, more harsh exchanges of views when you empower people – which usually results in the right decision being made.
“In management, you mustn’t ever believe in your own propaganda, you need to be self-aware and a positive influence – you get more from a spoonful of sugar than a barrel of vinegar. It takes character and humility to do that, as well as common sense – a quality, which, unfortunately, isn’t that common! I’ve also learned that you know the culture is right when people begin to coach each other.”
There’s a simple reason that it’s important to see people helping each other, people empowering each other, even people occasionally arguing passionately with each other. They’re all symptoms of a workforce that cares about the work they do – a commodity that can sometimes seem to be vanishingly rare in the wider economy.
Hard-bitten traditionalists may smile and say that’s all very well but such observations amount to little more than anecdotes, circumstantial evidence. Where are the facts that support the assertion that there’s such a thing as ‘people power’?
You need look no further than our HR team to find the answer. The data they administer shows the number of people whose length of service runs into the decades and, perhaps most persuasively, the number of employees who apply to re-join, having previously left the business. Such statistics simply don’t occur at organisations where the workers feel they’re little more than a number.
Of course, you’d expect any company who claims to be committed to recognising the potential of its workforce to hold the ‘Investors In People’ accreditation, something which CSG has done for many years. Then, consider the number of apprentices CSG has developed into full-time employees in recent years and the many and varied ways the company supports the personal charitable efforts of its team. Finally, look at the number of retirees with at least ten years’ service who continue to benefit from the activities of The Margaret Hart Trust – a possibly unique fund, created to assist those who have helped to make CSG what it is today.
Neil Richards’ mantra is “it’s all about the people” and there are few companies in the UK today who can claim to be as focused on making the very most of their human resource as CSG.
It’s 6am and another day begins for Ben Tully at our Botley depot. Ben is 21 and has just completed his apprenticeship and is ready to make the next move to become a tanker driver. Until he’s qualified to drive, he will remain a ‘second man’, assisting drivers in their daily rounds of collections from domestic and industrial customers across the Hampshire area, and beyond.
Before he even gets in the lorry, there are checks to make to today’s vehicle. First, tyre pressure and wheel nuts, then oil and water checks, before lights and then the pipes and equipment involved with pumping the waste. Finally, a top-up of the diesel tank, if necessary and it’s time to get started on today’s list of jobs. On most days, it’s 6:15 as they leave the yard.
CSG’s innovative PDA-based system arranges the jobs for all our tanker teams and so they consult the electronic device to see where they will be headed first. Like a SatNav, the system will expect the journey to take a certain amount of time and their ETA will be the similar to the time given to the customer to expect them. As long as there are no significant traffic delays, it all works perfectly.
Once they arrive at each job, Ben and his driver will work together to prepare the site for the collection, using cones to cordon off the area, where necessary. Pipes are laid out and manhole covers are lifted and fitted with our unique safety barriers while the collection takes place.
If the site is a petrol station forecourt, the brief closure of the station can sometimes visibly frustrate the odd motorist but the occasional over-reaction is something Ben has learned to take in his stride:
“You get used to it. I’m just doing my job but people don’t always see it that way. I’ve found that the best thing to do is just smile and wave.”
Lunch can be taken anywhere but the timing is dictated by the lorry’s tacograph, which must show that a 45-minute break has been taken after six hours. Like most drivers, Ben takes his lunch with him, together with a flask of tea and a bottle of water.
It can make for an unusually close working relationship, spending hours together in the confines of a lorry cab, driving from one job to the next. As with any working environment, some people may be easier to work with than others but such proximity often means that drivers and their assistants will very quickly get to know each other quite well – a closeness that can be quite helpful when the two are dependent upon one another once they arrive at the next site.
“It’s great when you can have a laugh together but whoever the driver is that I’m working with, I always find something to chat about, whether it’s football or things going on at work.”
The job can be quite physically demanding and being able to do the job in all conditions is essential. Ben takes it all in his stride.
“I often go to the gym after work but I don’t mind missing a day if it’s too busy because just doing the job can be like a workout. Cold weather is one thing but it’s better than working in the driving rain. Even then, I’d still rather be too cold than too hot because you can always put on another layer. We make sure we have spare clothes in the cab.”
Most days, Ben and his driver are back at the depot at around 4:45 but if the schedule and traffic dictate otherwise, it may be later than that. Again, the ‘taco’ has to be obeyed so timings have to be quite precise.
The next move for this former apprentice is to progress to driving a tanker himself. That means passing an HGV test and also attaining a CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) qualification for drivers. Having gained both, he will then initially drive on his own and can eventually expect to have his own apprentice. And so the cycle will start again.
CSG are a firm supporter of apprenticeships and have found the scheme beneficial to the development of many individuals in roles across the company. Our Managing Director Neil Richards is firm advocate and has in the past stated that investing in programmes that develop skills is a great way to counter perceptions that the waste industry is too reliant on low-skilled labour.
“Our apprentices are encouraged to develop skills and earn good qualifications with the prospect of a career with us, and earn a wage at the same time. We aim to steadily increase the number of employees following apprenticeship schemes in all areas of our business”
We wish Ben the best of luck in his forthcoming test and we’re sure it won’t be long before he’s working with his own apprentice.
1976 was an awfully long time ago. Looking back at some of the events of that year – the first commercial flight by Concorde, The UK winning the Eurovision Song Contest and inflation hitting 16.5% – one can easily feel as if it all happened in a parallel world to the one we inhabit today.
If you remember living through it, you will no doubt recall its long, hot summer but even that memory, vivid as it may seem, cannot change the fact that it happened half a lifetime ago. It’s easy to believe such anecdotes are little more than curiosities of a bygone age: footnotes in a textbook rather than relevant to 2018.
At CSG, something of real significance happened in 1976 – something to confront issues that are relevant to any age, to the present day. Margaret Hart, the wife of our founder, Edgar ‘Bunny’ Hart, had inherited his shares upon his death in 1971 and decided to use a substantial number of them to create a means to provide help to CSG employees and their families, current or retired, wherever it was needed. The aims of the project were formally drafted and the Margaret Hart Trust came into existence.
The Trust was founded to provide assistance where health problems result in financial difficulty and to help ensure that those who have retired can continue to live independently in their own homes. In addition, every Christmas, dozens of beneficiaries now receive a hamper of goods to ease costs at an expensive time of the year and every August, each retiree is invited to an annual Tea Party in Hampshire, giving them the chance to meet, share stories and partake in a magnificent tea. Holiday contributions are also made available to those who would struggle to afford quality time away from home.
Margaret Hart lived through two world wars and a depression, experiencing both the hardships they presented as well as the stoicism of people of those times to suffer in silence, rather than ask for help. She felt strongly that well-being was too important to sacrifice in the name of pride but she also understood that providing help must be done sympathetically, without intrusion on dignity. For this reason, the Trust’s very existence is placed into a wider context, the ongoing relationship we have with those who have contributed to our success.
Today the Trust’s Chair is Margaret’s daughter, Hilary Hart, who describes the very reciprocal ethos it still embodies.
“CSG’s growth over many years has brought increasing comforts to employees and shareholders. It was Mother’s wish – and ours today – to be able to share this good fortune with those who are in need.”
The “ours” in that statement refers to the seven trustees who meet regularly to guide and instruct the Trust’s Co-ordinators, Fred Pothecary and Diane Lane. It’s also a nod to Hilary’s sister, Heather (CSG’s Chairman) that together, they have continued to fulfil the objectives of their mother’s far-sighted initiative. Heather has also spoken of being “very proud” of the Trust’s achievements.
It’s difficult to disagree. The activities of the ‘MHT’ are tangible examples of the widely-held sense amongst the CSG team that they belong to an ‘extended family’, with Hilary and Heather to be greeted on strictly first-name terms. It enables those who may have once believed themselves to be simply “employees” to become more akin to life-members of a club. With UK workers in the same job now for only five years, half the figure it was in 1976, the permanence of the Trust’s outlook offers an appealing alternative to the short-termism that today’s workforce is commonly supposed to hold.
Day-to-day Trust activities largely comprise of gardening and home visits to retirees. Where personal mobility issues exist, they have been addressed with the provision of electric scooters. There’s also a constant administrative overhead in which information on forthcoming events is disseminated and queries are fielded. When misfortune intervenes, the Trustees convene quickly decide upon the appropriate level of support offered – sometimes, assistance with hospital parking fees is all that’s required but often, it can be much more than that.
Margaret Hart died in 1994, having seen the Trust play an important role for the last eighteen years of her life. Today, almost a quarter of a century after it became part of her legacy, what does Hilary believe her mother would make of its various activities?
“I would hope she’d be really pleased to see all the things the Trust has continued to do and I’d hope she would feel that we’ve honoured the principles she established. I know for certain she’d have loved the tea parties!”
And what of the future? Can an institution that appears to have more in common with Victorian philanthropy than business in the 21st century continue to do what is has always done? Hilary is unmoved by the suggestion that material change is inevitable – or indeed, likely.
“I think the Trust will build on its current principles of helping individuals and maintain the quality of assistance it offers. Enabling people to remain independent is hugely important – it preserves their dignity and allows them to continue to contribute to their community. Things will evolve, I’m sure. As our retirees are now more technically literate than was the case years ago, we’re able to make better use of digital communication. Not only is this more efficient for the Trust but it allows us to maintain a better level of contact. It’s important that we hold people together, recognise what they’ve done and never forget to appreciate them.’
While Partnerships and Co-operatives may offer similar support systems to their employees, Hilary and Heather still believe their mother’s brainchild to be a unique example of its kind amongst privately-owned companies.
The Margaret Hart Trust continues to be a triumph of corporate social responsibility but the fact it is still so unusual is perhaps an indication that the world may not have changed as much as we like to think. Forty-two years on from its inception, it continues to forge its own path, providing an example to other employers that the key to the future can very often be found in the past.
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” wrote the Roman satirist Juvenal around the turn of the 2nd century, raising questions of the capability of those in authority to discharge their duties responsibly. It’s a question that for the almost two thousand years since, civilisations have grappled with, resulting in the notion of auditing – to ensure that others can see that responsibilities are being met, as they should be.
Auditing and compliance are terms that every business has had to embrace more fully over many years, with ever-stronger obligations in areas of employment law, health and safety and day-to-day environmental standards. Beyond those more mainstream areas, a company like CSG, operating within a tightly-regulated arena such as waste processing and hazardous chemicals, you can imagine the sheer volume of regulation (and the consequences of getting it wrong) can be mind-boggling.
Of course, as a large, reputable company with many years’ experience in the field, this isn’t quite as daunting as it sounds – very many systems, processes and job roles have evolved over time to enable the management of the multitude of technical and bureaucratic requirements required of us. For the last ten years, though, we’ve felt it necessary to create our own extra layer of applying checks and balances, in order better to understand the way we continue to work within a constantly-changing regulatory landscape and, of course, to minimise risk.
That layer is the IAG, our Internal Audit Group, a committee of several Senior Managers and Directors who meet every two months and report to the CSG Board on all areas where compliance with regulations is a necessary requirement. Central to that mission is CSG’s Permitting & Compliance Manager Antony Gerken.
“The IAG came about as a result of our drive to gain ISO accreditation”, Antony explains. “From that initial requirement, it was clear that best practice involved learning from mishaps made by other people – to prevent issues from happening, rather than cure those that have happened.”
It is a sign of CSG’s stability and competence that most of the matters the IAG oversees are generally delegated back the team directly involved – it means the IAG’s principal role is an advisory one, where consultation from within CSG is sought and given.
“The very existence of the group is a means to encouraging the culture of every part of the company to continually accept and work better within our regulatory parameters”, adds Antony. “We’ve found that simply by raising the internal profile of the IAG within CSG, all the external audits we are regularly subjected to have become much smoother.”
The ‘box-ticking’ nature of ensuring compliance, especially with the more technical, seemingly less urgent areas of ‘red tape’, like Financial Compliance, gives the impression that this is very dry area of operation, suited to diligent bureaucrats with little need to apply ‘real-world’ understanding of the rules, like the Vogons of Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ – but that rather harsh stereotype falls down when you hear why it’s of interest to the IAG.
“Financial compliance sounds dull but it can often be the opposite: for example, one of our chief requirements is to be seen always to be working within the auspices of anti-bribery and anti-[money]-laundering laws”, Antony explains before adding, with a knowing nod, “which is especially important a consideration in certain other countries”, neatly making the point that, where compliance is required, the very nature of the exercise is to guard against problems and abuses that the rest of us, naively, would barely consider.
There are other advantages to all this watching. On a very basic level, having a broad range of experienced professionals to assess operational processes, bringing their collective experience to bear, means the remit goes beyond mere compliance. Inevitably, it leads to suggestions that make processes quicker or easier and therefore more efficient. Many times, real efficiency savings have occurred simply because a process has been more effectively scrutinised.
There’s also the secondary benefit of being better able to deal with upcoming rule changes from bodies such as the Environmental Agency, which is this: being seen to be better able to predict and respond to rules that affect the industry makes CSG stand out from its competitors. In other words, just being known to be more diligent is its own virtue, offering us a commercial advantage.
The nature of auditing is about understanding the fine detail, the micro-level of day-to-day matters but there’s one macro-level looming uncertainty that threatens to change so many areas of compliance that it’s already occupying much of the IAG’s thoughts – the expected impact of Britain’s impending exit from the European Union. It threatens to be a subject so wide-ranging, it will undoubtedly require its own blogpost, possibly several, and it’s still an area that offers so many unanswered questions.
Juvenal’s words are most commonly associated with the need to apply visibility to those in power. In order for the IAG’s questions about compliance in the world after Brexit to become answered, we’ll all have to watch a different set of watchers…
Our recent blogpost about CSG’s heritage showed the importance of history to this company. Developing the idea, we thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at one of our sites, our processing facility in Cadishead, near Manchester.
Like many towns in the swathe of territory between Manchester and Liverpool, Cadishead became thrust into the heart of the Industrial Revolution by the construction of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway from 1826. In fact, Chat Moss, an area of marshland just north of our site became notable for the challenge it provided to the railway’s engineers, led by the renowned George Stephenson. Four years later, on September 15th 1830, the new line, a marvel of the Victorian age, opened to wide acclaim – with Robert Stephenson’s famous Rocket among the first locomotives to run on the line.
Cadishead’s significance was further assured in the late 1880s, with the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal. On the day it opened, January 1st 1894, it was the largest canal of its type in the world and would enable Manchester, a city located some 40 miles inland to become Britain’s third-busiest port. With such strong transport links, this previously agricultural area had, within a couple of generations, become one of the most strategically important locations in the country.
If you’ve ever used the stretch of the M62 between its junctions with the M6 at Birchwood and the M60 at Eccles, you may have noticed just how uneven the road can be – and how often it seems to be re-surfaced. Local wisdom suggests that the ground beneath is so criss-crossed with mine shafts and extracted coal, even after over a hundred years, the soil is still settling into place, disrupting the surface. In the early 1890s, with the advent of the Ship Canal, nearby Cadishead suddenly became a hugely important location to load millions of tonnes of coal onto waiting barges.
An early map of the canal shows a high concentration of recently-laid railway lines nearby, crossing the canal and terminating at a loading areas on both banks – the viaduct remains today, albeit unused. It also indicates that while the immediate area around our Liverpool Road site remained quite agricultural in nature, even then, a mineral line ran alongside the canal, where today’s Cadishead Way by-pass (A57) begins.
As the area began to prosper from its now enviable location, it was clear that the site around Hayes Farm was far too important to be left unexploited and a local railway historian suggests that around the turn of the 20th Century, it became the home of the Lancashire Patent Fuel Company, a manufacturer of fuel briquettes. Around the time of the First World War, the company was acquired by the Manna Oil Refinery, a name which would make newspaper headlines in 1915.
It was on the 8th October that year that a fire broke out at the refinery. With highly flammable liquids stored on site and no public fire-fighting service in the vicinity, there was grave concern that a deeper tragedy may occur. Quickly, the Works Fire Brigade of the nearby Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS), a volunteer force of 25 men and their horse-drawn appliance. With seven police constables holding back growing crowds, they were eventually supported by the Eccles Fire Brigade with their more modern, motorised, fire engine.
Thankfully, no lives were lost although three of the men who fought the fire were severely burned. The damage to the site resulted in a £3,500 insurance claim (£370,000 at today’s value) and the resulting inquest decided that the Eccles Fire Brigade should take responsibility for Irlam and Cadishead. It would be another eight years until Irlam was afforded its own Fire Brigade and Engine.
In 1916, British Tar Products opened a site at the end of Hayes Road, making explosives for the war effort, gaining a capability that extended beyond the war with the production of other oil-based products. Tar became an even more important part of the local economy when, a few years later, the Lancashire Tar Distillers opened a plant in the shadow of the Cadishead Viaduct.
In1932, the then Duke of York – later to become King George VI – the father of Queen Elizabeth visited Irlam to be given a tour of the nearby CWS Margarine factory and Steelworks. Around the same time, this aerial photograph of Cadishead was taken – our Liverpool Road site is unfortunately just out of shot to the left of the picture.
With the country at war once again between 1939 and 1945, the area was vital to the war effort, supplying coal, steel and household goods to power and sustain the country. The strategic importance of the Manchester Ship Canal was not lost on the Luftwaffe, who repeatedly bombed Salford Quays, famously damaging Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground in the process. With so much vital industry and infrastructure, Cadishead did not escape the bombing, with properties on Liverpool Road amongst those hit by the bombs.
By the end of the war, Cadishead was given an eerie reminder of the reason behind the hardships of the previous six years. With victory in Europe declared, the U1023, a 500-ton German U-boat, captured by the Royal Navy, embarked on a tour of the country to raise money for the King George’s Fund for Sailors. She was sailed along the Manchester Ship Canal, passing a matter of yards from our Cadishead site, to Salford Quays, where she was on display between 6th and 11th July 1945.
With the war won and, eventually, rationing over, Britain began to recover her prosperity and, by 1957, with the words of the Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan that “most of our people have never had it so good”, Irlam and Cadishead was indeed teeming with industry and opportunity. Aerial photographs of the time show a thriving steelworks in Irlam separated from the British Tar Products site in Cadishead by the Cheshire railway line approach to the Cadishead viaduct. Britain’s post-war resurgence was quite literally forged in places like this.
On the morning of Tuesday April 14th 1970, five men were killed while being ferried over the Manchester Ship Canal by “Bob’s Ferry”, a service that had existed for almost a hundred years, which operated from Bob’s Lane, adjacent to our current site. Further upstream in Partington, a Dutch vessel was being loaded with 1,800 tons of petrol and, due to the negligence of those who should have been supervising the operation, upto 14,000 gallons had overflowed into the canal. It was never known what sparked the fuel but within seconds, upto a mile of the canal became engulfed with flames upto 60 feet high. On April 30th, a sixth man died, as a result of the injuries sustained.
In the 1970s, times were changing and Cadishead seemed to be a perfect example of the transition from one era to the next. Like many heavy industries in Britain in the that decade, it was clear that decline had set in and in 1979, the Irlam Steelworks closed, resulting in redundancy and uncertainty for hundreds of local families. In the same year, a Cadishead-born graphic designer called Ray Lowry saw the release of his most famous work – the iconic cover of The Clash’s most famous album, ‘London Calling’. The demise of heavy industry coinciding with the rise of the creative economy and popular culture were apparent in many places in 1979 but in this respect, Cadishead seemed to be a microcosm of the whole country.
In 1981, the Manchester Ship Canal railway closed, leaving the British Tar company to operate its own rail connection. By the mid-1990s, the Tar production stopped and the site was cleared, eventually used for housing development a decade or so later.
Our site at Liverpool Road in Cadishead was by this point operated by Lanstar, a derivative company of the Lancashire Tar Distillers who had occupied a site in Cadishead for over 80 years and had developed an expertise in treating industrial and hazardous waste.
With the emergence of ever-tightening restrictions on waste, this was an industry in its own throes of revolution and opportunity, just like Cadishead had seen with coal, oil and then steel over the previous century. With its enviable facilities and strategic location (although now, proximity to the motorway network had become more important that the Manchester Ship Canal), it was a prime candidate for acquisition and in August 2000, Lanstar Holdings was acquired by CSG.
With such a rich history, and a key part in the Industrial Revolution, the Co-operative movement and then the subsequent decline of mining and steelworks, Cadishead and Irlam’s development has, to a large extent, become a textbook example of the very history of industry in the UK over the last two hundred years. With CSG’s focus on recycling and commitment to development to achieve better waste outcomes in future, it combines two of the most sought-after elements to meet the challenges ahead: environmental sustainability and the so-called knowledge economy.
In many ways, this part of Cadishead is as well-placed to meet the needs of the future as it was when Stephenson’s Rocket raced past, all those years ago.
And so, as 2017 draws to a close, the time comes, once again, to wish you a Merry Christmas, to reflect on the year just gone and to look ahead to what may lie instore in the New Year.
With the festive season upon us, there’s also the more practical consideration of our Christmas opening times – which can be found here…
2017 has been another busy year, here at CSG, with more customers served, more volumes moved and more satisfaction with our services than ever before. It was a year that saw the launch of ‘The Hart of Waste’, the second edition of the book, which contains the official history and current portrait of CSG. It was also a year in which we strongly identified the four pillars that make our brand so strong: Customers, Heritage, Innovation and People.
More awards came our way in 2017, including the ‘Best Use of Technology’ in the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Awards.
We’ve seen many great strides in the CSG family of businesses, not least the opening of our new, ground-breaking sewage treatment plant in Worcester. We’ve also seen the addition of more Oil Monster trucks, covering a greater portion of the UK. At Willacy, we’ve seen a greater emphasis on overseas work and a move to apply their market-leading oil-based lagoon survey technology to water-based applications.
We’ve made donations to numerous charitable organisations and made meaningful contributions to the communities in which we operate. We’ve continued to develop the careers of the hundreds of people we’re proud to call colleagues and we’ve supported our local economies wherever we can.
In 2018, we plan to do it all again – with some significant advances along the way. In the New Year, we’ll launch the new CSG website, featuring a host of extra information and functionality – together with a brand new corporate video, to help spread the word of our accomplishments even wider.
Until then, it only remains for us to show our appreciation for your support and custom this year, to thank you for reading our blog and wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a happy, prosperous New Year!
We like a good fancy-dress-related fundraising effort at CSG and this Christmas is no different. In fact, we’re so keen to don the festive knitwear, we’re helping two Christmas charities, this year!
Today, our staff in various departments and depots have been wearing Christmas jumpers to raise money for Wave 105.2FM’s ‘Mission Christmas: Cash For Kids’ appeal, as well as Save the Children’s annual Christmas Jumper Day.
All in, we’ve raised over £160, which will be split between the two great causes. Thanks, as ever, go to our wonderfully caring team who keep turning up in all manner of costumes throughout the year – and donate to show their support for a number of very worthy initiatives.
Here’s a brief run-down of the year’s other charity and community efforts:
In January, CSG donated £1,000 to contribute to a fund for a statue to commemorate the efforts of Tom Dresser VC, a hundred years after one of Middlesbrough’s most distinguished sons was awarded the Army’s highest honour.
In February, we marked Valentine’s Day with a cake bake and a ‘wear something red’ day, in aid of the British Heart Foundation.
In March, there was flower power and shell-suits aplenty – and more besides – at our Cadishead site as the team there dressed from the decade they were born in, to support Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day.
In June, we were proud to pledge £500 to sponsor our own Cheryl West as she cycled from London to Paris, in memory of her friend, Angela Sharples.
Every day, the staff and visitors signing in to our Cadishead site have the option to buy sweets and soft drinks from Phil Jones in the weighbridge office, something that contributes hundreds of pounds a year to the British Heart Foundation, amongst other charities.
We currently sponsor three junior sports teams: Woolston Rovers Raiders U-8s, Cadishead U-8s and Grangetown Boys’ Club Academy U-10s in the North East.
Through our Landfill Tax initiative, we were also pleased to contribute £20,000 to the River Bourne Community Farm in Salisbury, Wiltshire – a sum which has helped them to build a new café, allowing for a warmer, more comfortable environment in which they can raise more funds for their own cause.
Corporate Social Responsibility has always been an important issue at CSG and, after so much effort supporting so many deserving causes in 2017, you can be sure that we’ll keep up the good work in 2018.
We’re pleased to announce that we’ve added a brand new centrifuge to our mobile fleet – and it’s available for you to hire!
Designed and built by GEA Westfalia, a world leader in process technology, the unit is able of take in upto 50 cubic metres an hour or, if you prefer, 50,000 litres. At that rate, it can go through an Olympic-size swimming pool in 25 hours!
Using GEA’s new scroll drive system, it produces upto 15,000Nm of torque – roughly 10 times that of the fastest supercars – and it’s capable of removing upto 1,700Kg of dry matter every hour.
It’s not all about brawn, there are brains as well: the system continuously monitors torque and will automatically change the differential speed in order to ensure maximum dry solid content at all times.
Aside from the impressive performance, it’s also one of the most efficient models on the market, with energy consumption now 40% down on previous generation machines. It also rather conveys all the dewatered solids into a separate area, ensuring it can be removed more conveniently – which is very sensible when several tonnes can accumulate after just a few hours.
Pete Smith, Willacy’s technical expert hailed the arrival of the new machine, saying “This unit brings hired centrifuge reliability to a new level and places Willacy Oil Services at the forefront of the UK hire market”
If you’d like to find out more about our new mobile centrifuge and how effectively it can help you maintain your systems, contact us today. You could soon be the beneficiary of our state-of-the art cleansing power.
It’s been an enjoyable month of compliments and affirmation, here at CSG – and an important reminder of the importance of recognition.
What started with a speculative conversation in early summer eventually led to us attending a prestigious formal event in London, surrounded by many of the UK’s most go-ahead businesses. How did that happen?
We’ve recently become a member of our local Chamber of Commerce as well as others around the country to help support our local economies; something we’ve found to be tremendously useful both for supporting our staff and also for developing contacts with potential customers. When we received a communication from the Greater Manchester Chamber, inviting us to consider entering their annual awards, we wondered if we should.
At this point, all the usual negative thoughts tend to fight for attention: ‘we won’t win’, ‘there’s bound to be somebody better than us’, ‘it’ll take up more time than we can commit’ or ‘it’ll cost too much for very little benefit’. None of the above is to say we’re not proud of our capabilities and achievements but when surrounded by the unfamiliar, it’s naturally the safest course of action not to be taken in by the allure of glamour and glitz. After much conversation about the chances of success in the various categories, Louise Holgate, our Marketing & Tendering Manager decided we should go for it – in the ‘Best Use of Technology’ category.
Over the next few weeks, with the Chamber’s very specific brief as our constant guide, we lifted the lid on all aspects of the whole CSG group, interviewing a range of knowledgeable people from all parts of the company, understanding all the technical processes we undertake. We asked questions about the technology involved: why it improved things, how long it had been done this way versus that, what difference did it make? One curious discovery we made was that very often, the people closest to the technology were so used to its capability, they didn’t always recognise the significance of what it enabled them to do. On several occasions, impressive processes that are done every day were seen as ‘everyday’ in nature – and that’s nowhere near the same thing! Using the freshness of a different perspective, we were able to remind ourselves – and, importantly, the very people who use the technology – just how amazing it all is!
Very quickly, we realised that all the examples we’d found tended to fall into two basic categories: principally, the technology necessary to do the job itself and then the technology to help us run the operation that supports the services we offer. Basically, What We Do and The Way We Do What We Do. At that point, we realised that not every competing organisation would be able to have that dual reliance on technology. Suddenly, we began to wonder if our chances of winning the award were better than we’d previously imagined.
With the information gathered, written up and the entry submitted, the use of time was already justified by the deeper understanding we were able to convey to the rest of the business about so many practices within it. As an exercise in internal PR alone, we felt it was time well spent.
Then, one day in September, we were contacted by the Greater Manchester Chamber to inform us that we’d won the Regional Award! We were invited to collect our award at a lunchtime presentation at the Chamber itself, on Deansgate in Manchester. Excitingly, this also meant that we would be automatically entered, as a Finalist, in the National Chamber of Commerce Awards in London, in November.
The Manchester presentation was an informal affair, a chance to talk to the winners of the other categories in a relaxed atmosphere, comparing experiences and making useful contacts. Each winner was announced and, in the customary way, representatives were invited to the podium to receive a framed certificate, naming their company as the award winner. A Chamber-branded backdrop and official photographer lent a little extra ceremony to the proceedings. Once all the categories had been awarded, each winning company wished each other luck for the National Awards in London, together with best wishes to the Greater Manchester Chamber, which was itself in the running to win the prestigious ‘Best Chamber of Commerce’ at the awards night.
A few weeks later, it was time for the main event, a black-tie occasion held near the Barbican Centre in London’s financial district. The winning companies from each of the various Chambers across the country assembled and took the opportunity to share stories and experiences in a rather more formal setting. We were welcomed by Francis Martin, the President of the British Chambers of Commerce and reminded that, as regional winners, we represented the very best of British commercial expertise before handing over to the host for the evening, TV presenter Kate Thornton.
And so to the main event of the evening: the awards themselves. Tension filled the air around the CSG contingent when the time came to announce the winner of the ‘Best Use of Technology’ category… …and unfortunately, it wasn’t us! No matter; the experience of getting this far had proved invaluable, providing a huge amount of positive publicity for CSG along the way. Added to that, the chance better to understand the finer details of many of the processes across the company and, by doing so, recognising their importance – and, by extension, the contribution of those who are closest to them.
It’s fair to say that most people in most companies would have asked themselves the same rather negative questions when faced with the opportunity to make an award submission. There’s nothing wrong with being pragmatic and unwilling to be distracted from more important day-to-day matters. The underlying message from our experience is that the true importance is the value of recognition – especially internal recognition. Of course, the ultimate accolade, the Award itself, was the most obvious form of recognition – and that’s a great thing to have – but perhaps it’s more important to be able to recognise the excellence that’s before our very eyes every single day – and ensure that recognition is acknowledged.
In that sense, just as the saying goes, our experience of the whole exercise shows that it really was the ‘taking part’ that was more important that the ‘winning’.
You may have read about the way we’ve defined the four main aspects of CSG, our brand pillars – and perhaps read more about two of them, Customer Service and Heritage. In this, the third of the series, the focus falls on another of our pillars: Innovation.
Most companies will claim to be innovative and, while many are, few will be as indoctrinated by the principle as we are – and with good reason. Since the early 1970s, when dumping of hazardous materials led to major regulations of the waste industry, environmental legislation has been made ever stronger. While we can agree this is to all our benefit, such stringent rules have forced those who make waste their business to think differently about their processes, their capabilities, even the very point of their existence.
In such conditions, innovation became essential for CSG to survive and flourish over the last 45 years, which is why it’s something we hold dear to this day. Here are a few innovations we’ve recently made:
Twenty years ago, one of our subsidiary companies (Willacy Oil Services) developed a sonar tool that charts levels of sediment in oil tanks, ensuring that the costly process of emptying and cleaning them is only done when absolutely necessary. This year, to enable diversification, we have been able to adapt this technology to water-based tanks and lagoons. It gives visibility of the extent of an inevitable problem, which allows customers to decide when (and when not) to commit to the cost of a full tank or lagoon clean, a unique selling point.
Our new sewage treatment plant in Worcester was uniquely designed to minimise manual effort and use a combination of technologies to ensure that the raw sewage is processed almost fully automatically into water that can be discharged back into a water course. Only the removal of solid ‘cake’ matter is now done manually. A more efficient process means fewer overhead costs, which can be passed on to the customer with a lower price.
We have developed unique and innovative processes for recovering precious metals from aqueous wastes including Nickel, Copper, Silver and Aluminium. We’ve added a service that uses industrial washing machines to clean ‘hazardous laundry’ – oily rags, wipes and spill mats for our customers – to avoid them being illegally disposed of. We also offer a fuel polishing service, in which contaminated fuel oils are passed through our specialist rig to remove the contaminants and return fuel that will not pose a threat to any pumps, engines or generators it is intended for.
All this innovation is a great way to offer unique or unbeatable services to our customers and, as you’d expect, innovation never stops, which means that our most important innovations are those we haven’t yet implemented.
We’ve also learned that it’s not enough to be innovative merely in the services we offer. Perhaps more importantly, we must also embrace innovation in the way we carry out our services, to increase both our capability and our efficiency – innovations like these:
Each of our hundreds of tankers has a device fitted to allow communication with Head Office. This allows jobs and routes to be sent to each driver to ensure more jobs are completed with the lowest-possible mileage – which means more happy customers and a significant saving on running costs. This fine level of control of our logistics gives us the opportunity to encourage online bookings for collections, something our Oil Monster site has already started to offer.
The trucks themselves are ‘smarter’, with driving data able to be monitored centrally. Greater visibility of driving style encourages safer, more efficient driving which also saves fuel and ensures a greater degree of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Innovation isn’t just a device to maximise opportunity. Our Health & Safety Manager Kevin Mooney recently demonstrated how it’s also a great way to reduce threat; his Manhole Safety Barrier is a fascinating invention, which may see a wider application than just CSG’s requirements.
Email, social media and web-based technologies are no longer considered ‘new’ but the way we ask our domestic customers for feedback, track the usage of our site and ensure we address the issues they raise is an innovation in our ability to respond effectively, enabled wholly by the Internet.
Finally, the very obsession and desire to constantly innovate are vital to CSG’s core strategy, driving most of our decisions to acquire subsidiaries and allow them to reach their potential.
We may think innovation is something we’re good at but it appears we’re not alone. Embracing any technology requires innovative thinking and earlier this year, we were delighted to win the ‘Best Use of Technology’ award by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, making CSG one of the seven finalists in the country.
As with any award, nice as they are to win, the real prize comes in the popularity and commercial success that an award-winning capability can attract. In future, we expect the demands of best practice to continue to increase processing costs for everyone in the waste industry – our continued success depends on our ability to maximise efficiency and minimise wasted materials and effort. Today, possibly more than ever before, our future depends on our ability to keep innovating.
Kevin Mooney is not a man given to taking ‘no’ for an answer. As CSG’s Health & Safety Manager, it’s a necessary virtue to have – it’s an area where tenacity can be repaid by life and livelihood itself and where meekly avoiding the occasional resistance can invite real danger.
One of his recent projects is a perfect example of that will to demand constant improvement, even where standard practice seemed to have decided progress had gone far enough. In the summer, Kevin unveiled his self-designed Manhole Safety Barrier. It works by temporarily removing the ability of a Manhole to fit a human through its aperture (something a manhole is, by definition, designed to do) at times when the cover needs to be removed but when human access is not required, such as emptying or jetting the tank below.
As CSG carry out over 55,000 tank clearances a year, the issue is clearly one to merit such consideration. While CSG have never documented a case of an operator falling down a manhole, it was still deemed an important issue to address – using the core Health and Safety principle that prevention is always better than ‘cure’.
The device consists of a straight bar with two hinged arms, forming a cross, which can be securely fixed into the four corners of a manhole. Effectively, the ‘X’ shape turns a manhole into four ‘hose-holes’, ideal for getting the job done without leaving a hole large enough for a human to fall through.
It’s no surprise that Kevin has brought a hands-on approach to his work. When he joined CSG, earlier this year, he revealed that he’s a keen restorer of classic cars, spending many an hour on his beloved MG BGT. That practical approach, combined with a professional understanding of what’s necessary to minimise risk, has led to the invention and subsequent development of this handy implement.
“I enjoy tinkering with things so it was quite satisfying to be able to use that approach to a work-based project” he enthuses. “As well as being able to secure the manhole, I knew the device also needed to be light and compact enough to be conveniently stowed on the lorry and easily carried by the driver.”
Having made and tested a prototype, Kevin then worked closely with a manufacturer to ensure every element of his design was adhered to during the production process. The first batch of 50 has now been made, with another 100 to follow before each CSG tanker is thus equipped. Interestingly, a number of other companies whose activities involve working around manholes have also shown an interest in the barrier, suggesting the development of such a product was perhaps overdue.
Kevin remains unabashed about his self-engineered solution: “I identified a risk and found a solution to the problem, which, in a nutshell, is what I’m here for. We looked at things in the market but nothing suited so the only difference was that I had to adopt an engineer’s view in order to find it.”
With the success of this project and, given Kevin’s practical capability, is it possible he’ll bring these skills to bear again?
“I would imagine so. If the need exists, I’d be happy to build something that reduces the risks we ask our staff to work under.”
‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, as the saying goes. It would be difficult to find a better real-world example than the MSB – the Manhole (or is it the ‘Mooney’?) Safety Barrier…
We’re surrounded by technology from our smartphones we carry to the cars that we drive. Each new version knows it must out-perform its predecessor and therefore offers ever-greater levels of capability. We used to be amazed if our mobile ‘phone had a camera in it – or if our car told us what the outside temperature was but now it seems we feel cheated if we can’t check our front door camera from a train in a tunnel or set our SatNav to an airport of our choice within ten seconds.
Technology is great but it must be harnessed on order to be useful. Over the last couple of decades, we’ve all become accustomed, in varying degrees, to adopting strategies to make the most of the technology we use every day, whether that’s understanding which Google search terms are likely to provide the most success or discovering the fewest keystrokes necessary to set a microwave to cook on full power for sixty seconds. In our need to master our technology, we often have to adapt our very understanding of the world to its languages and protocols. It’s often said that the true test of being bilingual is the point when dreams take place in the second language. The tech equivalent of that is the moment after a mishap has taken place in the analogue world (like spilling a cup of coffee) if your first thought is ‘use the Undo command’.
The same is true with industrial technology. It’s one thing for Willacy Oil Services to design and build world-leading tank-cleaning machinery but all the capability in the world isn’t really worth having if it isn’t being used properly. There are many customers all over the world who have benefitted from buying our unrivalled technology and all the equipment we deliver is accompanied by a team of our staff to give on-the-job training to the customer for the first few days of its operation. Usually, by then, the customer’s team are keen to put their new purchase into action. At that point, everyone is happy. But what happens next?
A combination of a number of factors can soon lead to a usage problem. Our machinery is built to last and is invariably used for infrequently-performed tasks – some tanks may be cleaned only once every fifteen years. Meanwhile, recent research has shown that the average amount of time working for a single employer is now only five years in the UK – or four years in the US – and it’s soon apparent that the sophisticated Willacy hardware owned by a company is likely to have outlasted the personnel who last used it – let alone those whom Willacy initially trained. There are obvious implications on the correct usage of such machinery if those using it are trying to remember what they were shown, years ago or, worse still, simply trying their best because they never even met the person who last used it.
With this in mind, Willacy have decided to offer tailored training on all the technology we offer, as an after-sales service option. This is in addition to the wide variety of training available (such as working in confined spaces or working with breathing systems) to ensure the cleaning process itself is carried out as safely and effectively as possible.
“We have knowledge gained from the experience of doing hundreds of jobs and we try to apply as much of that know-how as we can into our training” said Gavin Lucas, Willacy’s General Manager. “The proper use of the machinery we’ve supplied not only ensures the jobs are done more effectively but it also reduces the chances of faults or performance issues occurring on the machinery itself.”
If your company has any Willacy-made technology on its books, whether you’re using it or not, we invite you to contact us to see how we can help you make the most of its capability. Sometimes, it seems you can apply an ‘Undo’ command in the analogue world, after all.
By now, you may be familiar with CSG’s recent efforts to identify the most important elements that make us what we are – which we’ve called our brand pillars. Last week, we examined our unique approach to customer service. This time, the focus falls on another area that makes CSG so special: our heritage and no examination of CSG’s heritage would be worth reading if it didn’t feature our Chairman and the eldest daughter of our founder, Heather Hart.
Edgar ‘Bunny’ Hart had started his Hampshire Cleansing Service in 1934, with the purchase of a single tanker and dreams of greater success, which he was busily pursuing several years later when the time came to start a family. Heather was thus born into a household dependent upon the success of a new business in a world shrouded by the uncertainties of war. It’s likely to have been a time which offered more than a little stress to disrupt this domestic idyll but Heather recollects little about her father’s work, back then.
“I remember knowing that my father was ‘back from the office’, when he arrived home but at that age, I didn’t question what that might mean.”
One reason for that may have been that Bunny was also an active member of the Home Guard, tasked with monitoring enemy activity, principally around Britain’s southern coastal towns. The Home Guard may now be inextricable linked with the hapless efforts of ‘Dad’s Army’ but in reality, their role was one which put them in the front line of any threat to occur on British soil.
Another reason why the two Hart daughters were shielded from the family business was the fact that their mother, Margaret was keen to keep the two spheres separate. She always insisted that they would not be forced into the business, by default. It’s something of a stereotype that family businesses are apt to carry discussions readily from the boardroom to the dining room table but if that ever happened in the Hart household, it was only when the girls were absent, a situation made more likely by their attendance at boarding school.
Heather’s first memory of visiting ‘the office’ (CSG’s original site at Botley, Hampshire) came when, aged “between 12 and 14”, she and her younger sister, Hilary rode their ponies there – literally all the way into their father’s office. When one of the ponies did what comes naturally – and what can always be expected of them at such moments – all over the office floor, Heather recalls “Bill Norton from the yard dealt with it”. As unfortunate as the incident was, at least you might conclude that it was the best possible place to have such a waste removal requirement!
By her mid-teens, Heather had become more aware of the nature and culture of her family’s business. At 15, something happened that was to push her further into the world her father had created:
“One of my father’s employees, Rosemary Rogers (always known as “Ro”) decided to marry Bill Voller, one of the drivers. Unfortunately, her parents disapproved of the marriage and let it be known that they would not be attending the wedding. My father offered to attend in support of Rosemary and, as my mother was ill at the time, I was to accompany him.”
Not only did this more closely acquaint Heather with the business, it was also clear that those who worked there were regarded by Bunny as a kind of extended family. It was a formative experience.
Despite her mother’s concerns, Heather later sought to develop her interest in CSG – to Bunny’s great delight – and began to work in the office a few days a week “learning bits and pieces, shadowing Father and reading lots of Directors’ correspondence”. As her compulsion to join the business had been entirely self-generated, her mother was placated. Heather’s involvement therefore seemed to suit everyone.
Within a few years, Heather had become elevated to the Board, already widely experienced and yet, in her own words, “not knowing I was learning – but then I’ve always underestimated my own knowledge”. Around this time, Bunny’s health was beginning to falter but still, Heather had no expectations to succeed him – “it wasn’t in anyone’s mind, certainly not mine. I was in control of the cash book at that time as we did not have an accountant in those days”.
Upon Bunny’s death in 1971, Heather became thrust towards a leadership role, a mere seven years after her first day in work. Heather refers to her status over the next years as a “gap filler”, diverting her attention variously to Human Resources, Sales and gaining British Standards accreditations. As modest as this description sounds, her approach of adding or enhancing systems to produce continuous performance improvements in different areas sound more like the actions of a trouble-shooter, adding value to the business and maintaining the family interest.
Within months, she and CSG would find themselves at the centre of an emergency making national headlines that many observers, Heather included, believed would shape the very future of the whole waste industry.
It was February 1972 and police were called to a site near a children’s playground in Nuneaton to find 36 drums of highly toxic sodium cyanide ash dumped on open ground. The incident made front-page news and resulted in an emergency debate in the House of Commons the next day. Sweetways, a CSG subsidiary had been engaged by the authorities to move the material to our Botley site, where it was safely treated.
MPs were calling for reform of an industry that had failed to prevent an incident that could potentially have resulted in a major tragedy but many in the industry seemed resistant, aware that stronger regulation threatened to disrupt their livelihoods. CSG had to decide if it was better to position itself as a more responsible operator, with the expectation that tougher legislation would gain more business in the longer term, or add its voice to those keen to maintain the status quo. Unanimously, the Board chose the former option, embracing the brave new world of regulation and greater professionalism.
From today’s perspective, it seems as if it was an obvious choice but ours is a perspective shaped, in part, by that decision. It must have taken a great deal of courage to see through the uncertainties and dissenting voices to choose to reject the comfortable certainties of the past and invite a huge level of change, based on little more than a belief that that’s where opportunity lay.
Today, 45 years on, Heather is sanguine about the seismic shift that she and her fellow Board members saw coming.
“I think we all knew there was a need for the industry to be more responsible. The issues we faced were how to achieve that: via what processes and over what timescale? Many of the changes required increased costs or risked turning away business. Of course, we had to make these changes but we also had to remain in the market long enough to see them through.”
History now shows that this single issue heralded many of the changes the waste industry has since undergone: professionalism, consolidation, specialisation, while not alien concepts beforehand, have all become commonplace in the years since 1972.
One thing that hasn’t changed much in all that time is the strong culture within CSG; where employees are still able to think of themselves as part of the ‘extended family’. As in the rest of society, the style has become less deferential, although here too, Heather can claim to have driven this progression.
“My father was always ‘Mr Hart’ and even the Board used to refer to each other in this way. When I started, it was natural to everyone that I’d be greeted ‘Miss Heather’. I was never comfortable with that and preferred just ‘Heather’, so we began to adopt a first-name culture, which still exists today.”
It’s a culture that’s often remarked upon by new starters and it’s one that’s made more evident by the number of people who’ve been on the payroll for twenty, thirty, even fifty years. To Heather, this is more than just a statistic; it’s part of the very essence of CSG.
“The importance of having a mix of different people, with different experiences and backgrounds, each learning from the other, is hugely underestimated.”
Today, CSG has revenues of over £60m and profits of over £4.5m. In such rarefied business circles, the term ‘family business’ is often derided, as shorthand for parochialism or lack of professional impetus. Is CSG really still a family business?
“We’ve always needed professional management at the highest levels – and we’ve backed them – but the involvement of the family adds focus”, Heather insists.
Perhaps the most prominent evidence of CSG’s unique heritage is the Margaret Hart Trust, set up in 1975 by Bunny’s wife, (Heather and Hilary’s mother) as a lasting tribute to CSG’s Founder. The trust was established to provide later-life assistance to any retired CSG employee with over 10 years’ service as well as any current employee who might be long term sick.
“It assists with gardening, stair-lifts, holidays amongst many other things – and we have a lovely party for all those it helps every year, which is great fun. I think its greatest achievement is that it has consistently enabled people to keep living in their own homes for longer. My sister Hilary chairs the Trust and we are both very proud of it.”
CSG has always tried to combine the best of both worlds: the achievement and capability of a dynamic corporation with the lighter touch and firmer identity of a family concern. It’s a rare combination and one that’s a testimony to the vision, not just of the man who started it all, but to his descendants who have worked to retain the essence of that family business, established 83 years ago.
Simplicity is great. If humanity has one over-riding achievement, it’s the ability to take the previously unknown, simplify it into a concept, give it a name and make it forever understandable.
Intangibles like democracy, supersonic flight and reality TV are not in any sense naturally-occurring yet appear as concrete a fixture of our times as the Classical elements of earth, water, air and fire. The difference is that, as artificial constructs, there must have been a form of process to produce them and define them. Consider the case of ‘Customer Service’.
From the Middle Ages, sellers eagerly cited the Common Law edict of Caveat emptor (literally, “buyer beware”) as protection against costly, unwanted liability. The seller was seen always to be in the right and the buyer merely a challenge to the status quo. It’s not a particularly fair rule but it’s simple to establish and enforce
Basically, the seller’s honesty was assumed and if everybody agreed the buyer had almost no legal rights, no-one should ever be disappointed by any outcome, no matter how disadvantageous. Exhorting sellers to accept any moral imperative to ‘do the right thing’ was like expecting night not to follow day. Rightly or wrongly, simplicity won the argument.
As often seems to be the case where regulation fears to tread, commercial pressures show the true willingness of business to adapt. A shrug and a “you know the rules” may protect sellers in the short term but in a competitive environment, it doesn’t take long for buyers to decide they’d rather not deal with those who simply hide behind convention when things go slightly awry. The issue becomes thornier still for the seller when one considers that people have a habit of telling each other about their experiences – and bad news tends to travel faster than good.
The winds of change were about to bear down on Caveat emptor, spectacularly so, in the late 19th century, with the rise of the American retail magnates, specifically Marshall Field, to whom that most quoted of business quotes is most often attributed: “The customer is always right”. His radical principle took hold elsewhere – most notably at the new hotels of César Ritz in Paris and London. The ethos of the new consumerism could not have been more opposite to Caveat emptor. Revolutionary as the words were, it was however just another simple rule, with all the efficient inaccuracy of the last one.
The deification of the customer assumes their honesty and integrity – hardly a practical concern when selling haberdashery to well-heeled ‘Gilded Age’ citizens of Chicago or afternoon tea to aristocrats in Piccadilly. Transfer the principle of infallibility to a wider audience (including a less-than-scrupulous element) and it doesn’t take long for sellers to retreat to the safety of a legally-upheld disinterest in satisfaction.
Essentially, selling guidance became: ‘legally, don’t give in; commercially, don’t hold firm’. It couldn’t be more bi-polar or contradictory. Only in the years since the Sale of Goods Act (1979), was the matter necessarily complicated, encouraging greater professionalism. For buyer and seller alike, simplicity may have been the best way to achieve clarity throughout the last millennium but it finally seemed to meet its match in the information age.
Simplicity saves troublesome fact-checking, awkward judgement-calling and irksome justification of unpopular decisions so the attraction of a “rules is rules” approach is understandable – yet we live in a world of limitless, ubiquitous competition, we eulogise our brand values and venerate “customer relationships”. Customers are promised not just ‘satisfaction’ but ‘delight’ and have their own social platform, a potential for well-worded complaints to ‘go viral’, however disingenuously they represent the facts of their experience.
The net result is that upholding consistent, mutually-fair customer service is more difficult today than it’s ever been. Some simplicity helps ensure consistency but clearly, a one-size-fits-all approach guarantees that sooner or later, the wrong outcome will be reached.
There will (and should) always be judgement calls. As in judicial process, consideration must be given to things like previous good character and mitigating factors. I recommend you ask yourself these three questions. They’re based on my B2C experience but they’re just as relevant in the B2B world – although perhaps with bigger values:
Who am I arguing with? If you’re at risk of making an enemy, know who it is. It’s up to you to decide how much more leniently you’ll look on your best customer than, say, someone you’ve only had one purchase from (that you know of). What’s their social following? More particularly, do you have evidence that this customer has a history of disputes? Picky people are one thing, serial fraudsters are another. Decide on that before deciding to what extent you are inclined to give them what they want.
What will it cost me to make this problem go away? Are you arguing over a small amount just because you can? Yes, it’s been 29 days since the purchase but is it worth having an argument over a five-pound item? Even if they’re in the wrong, or being unreasonable, how much money is at stake today, compared to what you’re likely to lose by not investing in a “gesture of good faith”? It’s better to lose the battle and win the war.
How often does this problem occur? Even a small monetary loss to resolve a particular complaint can prove unsustainable if it’s likely to recur frequently. You do have to worry about setting a precedent and today’s five-pound concession could easily become a thousand-pound problem if you’re not alert to the issue (begging the question of why your team or your supplier hasn’t addressed it previously). Conversely, a hundred-quid hit can seem like an outrageous amount to get you out of a situation but if your analysis shows a sequence of failures on your part that’s truly a once-in-twenty-years perfect storm of ineptitude, you should probably pay it gladly and trust your attempt to resolve the matter amicably is acknowledged and valued by the customer.
Look out for my next column, about the way that BETA seems to divide opinion, even among those who don’t appear to know enough about it, in the October issue of the ETN, out October 1st.
If you’ve spent any time involved with the Waste industry, it’s a fairly safe bet that you’ll be familiar with the Waste Hierarchy. As long ago (or as relatively recently, depending upon your viewpoint) as the 1970s, the time came for waste to cease to be thought of as something you could just ‘throw away’ – which usually meant simply burying it or burning it (and burying what was left). Disposal as a default method had finally become seen as unsustainable.
In 1975, the EU – or the EEC as it was, back then – announced a directive, which sought to rank the options available to minimise the creation and impact of waste. Like most directives, its guideline status meant that it could easily be ignored and, by and large, it was. Fourteen years later, the idea was revisited and drawn up into a hierarchy of management actions, to encourage its more widespread use.
At the dawn of the 1990s, the concept of recycling began to gain some favour – where conditions allowed – with notable successes in campaigns to use recycled aluminium drinks cans or literature printed on recycled paper but these were examples of ‘soft’ social pressure rather than ‘hard’ legislation taking effect on areas that were, technically speaking, arguably ‘easy wins’.
Only by the turn of the millennium were the principles espoused by the hierarchy finally drafted into UK law, a quarter of a century after the concept was first proposed. To put that into perspective, when in 1998, ‘Bob the Builder’ was first broadcast, encouraging children to “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle”, the mantra was still officially nothing more than an idealistic guideline.
Of course, in the years since then, legal expectations and waste practices have changed almost beyond recognition; the industry has had to re-invent itself from one that largely just ‘got rid of’ waste to one that was willing to go to ever-greater lengths to find a way to reclaim it in one way or another. The relative inertia of the 25 years beforehand has been well and truly washed away with a growing tide of ever-more stringent waste regulations in the 17 years of the 21st century.
Jen Cartmell, our Operations Manager, based at our Cadishead facility explains further:
“Higher landfill taxes not only had the effect of calming the demand for simple disposal but they also encouraged operators to develop alternative solutions and created the conditions for them to invest in those alternatives. That, combined with the higher standards expected of those who make money from waste has led to a far more professional industry today.”
Following on from those ‘easy wins’ of the 1990s, the move to expand the scope of treatment and recovery has led to ever-more intricate processes to extract reclaimed materials in one way or another. Inevitably, the ubiquity and the residual value of oil has led to oil recovery being one of the most lucrative areas in this burgeoning sector, a logical development reflected in CSG’s strategy by our acquisition of Willacy Oil Services in 2015.
With the industry’s successes in extracting waste oil for re-refinery, together with the growing capability for separating precious metals from waste streams to create a ‘circular economy’, it’s tempting to think of waste treatment and recovery as a modern-day form of alchemy, the mythical ancient art of turning base metals into gold. For centuries, many cultures have tried in vain to find a process to do just that. Are we, figuratively speaking, now at that point with a large proportion of our waste?
A qualified chemist, Jen is quick to point out the limitations. Treatment processes are vital to recovering the material but they’re only one part of the equation – and very often, the easiest part.
“In order to have a truly viable treatment and recovery capability, you need three things. First, a guaranteed supply of a particular waste stream, in which there is little variability of supply or composition; second a reliable, process which efficiently allows the material to be recovered in a re-usable state; and third a market for that recovered material. Even if you’ve mastered the recovery process itself, if you can’t guarantee a steady stream to apply it to, you can’t make the investments needed to operate it and, obviously, if it’s too difficult to sell what you’ve recovered, it’s clearly not an economically viable proposition.”
Simply put, even if you’ve worked out the ‘how’ to treat and recover, you always have to be able to prove the ‘why’, the commercial incentive to actually do it. Such pragmatism can seem rather negative but only because it flies in the face of the conventional view that re-cycling is akin to a magic process, capable of solving the world’s consumption needs. As consumers, we’re invited to buy into that rather simplistic viewpoint because it increases the effectiveness of those ‘easy win’ examples like aluminium and paper. If you look at these two cases objectively, they’re both perfect examples of the three-stage rule Jen explained – offering a steady supply of waste and a strong demand for the reclaimed matter. Particularly in the case of paper, if a more digital world significantly reduced the need to buy as much of it, there would be far less incentive for anyone to recycle it.
There are some great examples of advances being made to broaden the principle in other areas – fly ash into bricks and desulphurisation gypsum from power stations into plasterboard. Here at CSG, we’ve been able to develop commercially-viable methods to treat and recover tanalised timber and recover nickel from aqueous wastes, painstaking methods of recovery to sell to a market that was previously less well-supplied. Even so, in both cases, the reclaimed products currently struggle to match the success of our subsidiary J&G Environmental which takes large volumes of rejected egg boxes and merely shreds them in order to make them a valuable animal bedding product. Once again, it proves the process of recovery isn’t everything.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the growth of treatment and recovery is the fact that it’s still in its infancy. As an industry, we’re only a couple of decades into even entertaining the idea that waste materials can be reclaimed and re-sold – and you could argue that so much has already been achieved. Future development will not be without its difficulties – Jen is concerned that the suspension of the Environment Agency’s Definition of Waste panel is currently a disincentive for many companies to invest heavily in treatment and recovery research – but history teaches us that commercial imperative is not to be resisted for long. There are some intriguing areas of opportunity, should the will be there to exploit them, with phosphorous suggested by experts as a particularly lucrative example. Similarly, a means of more finely treating the waste water system to harness microscopic traces of gold that wash from our jewellery could represent a big enough prize for someone to attempt it.
To take advantage of such imaginative thinking, you have to decide what could be achievable if anything was possible. Having identified what’s achievable, you then have to decide how you make the technique possible. Whether in the name of science, discovery or commerce, such ‘blue-sky’ thinking has always been a potent driving force. It’s a sign of how far the waste industry has come in a relatively short time: two generations ago, it was little more than a dirty job for hardened souls, in two generations’ time, it really could be the preserve of alchemists.
You may have read of our recent efforts to define the strongest parts of what makes CSG what it is. After much discussion, we arrived at four distinct elements, what we like to call our ‘brand pillars’ because, together, they hold up everything that CSG does.
With this in mind, we’ve decided to dedicate an entire blogpost to each of the four pillars and first up – arguably in order of importance – is ‘Customer Service’. You may think the way a company treats its customers and responds to them is quite an obvious contributor to their success but if it’s so obvious, why is it that so many of us experience poor service so frequently? What, then, makes it such an indelible part of what CSG does – and why are we so proud of it?
With CSG operating across such a broad range of customer types, the ways in which we’re able provide excellent service can also vary enormously. For example, in the case of our biggest accounts, with huge volumes involved and clarity of purpose vital, the levels of service we promise are often written into our contracts and tenders. Perhaps a more acid test of our ability to offer an unbeatable level of service is in the business-to-consumer (B2C) environment, where we’re usually asked to react quickly to very specific requests by a wide range of consumers, often with very different levels of expectation.
With that in mind, perhaps the best person to ask is Dean Hough, our Telesales Manager, responsible for providing a fast, professional response to all our domestic and small business sewage collection services. He’s the man who’s there to ensure a very specific flavour of ‘CS’ is present within CSG. A veteran of a number of call centres throughout his career, he’s now charged with the task of keeping our B2C customers happy, every time they contact us. How do his objectives here differ from other places he’s worked at?
“You could say it’s essentially the same requirement: handling calls efficiently in order to make sales but in reality, it’s nothing like anything I’ve ever done before” he says, with disarming candidness. “We tend to have a very distinct type of customer with very specific requirements, which are a world away from those of most call centre-based businesses. For that reason, it would be totally wrong for us simply to copy the techniques of even the most successful call centres. Everything we do has to be right for CSG and the customers we’re here to serve.
It’s true that, due to the vagaries of demographics, our base of domestic sewage customers (owners of houses with septic tanks) tend to be, on average, much older than a standard cross-section of the community. Similarly, such properties tend to be rather more remote than usual and that can uniquely influence the conversation with the customer.
“We’ll generally take maybe five calls a day in which we’re just asked for advice about the customer’s system, its upkeep or when it was last emptied. There’s not always an obvious path to ‘convert’ the call into a sale so we don’t necessarily push the conversation in that direction. It’s important that we help when we’re asked but it’s enough that we’re happy to leave it at that and only ‘make the sale’ when the customer is ready. That sort of thinking would be inconceivable in other industries I’ve worked in, like software or insurance, but what they would feel is right for them isn’t necessarily right for CSG and our customers.”
That’s not to say we ignore the influences of so-called ‘best practice’ of the whole call centre sector. Unsurprisingly, there are areas of Dean’s experience that have been incorporated and tailored to the way CSG deliver service to customers.
“Like any professional organisation, we still have processes and targets but we always ensure they’re done in a completely different tone, with a much lighter touch than the more hardened, clinical style that most people would associate with telephone-based customer contact. We’re very aware that to some of our customers, a call to our sales team may be their only conversation that day.
“Our team come from a variety of backgrounds, not necessarily just sales. We find a good grounding within the waste industry helps to foster an understanding of and therefore competence in a subject in which they’re being asked to provide assistance. On top of that, before anyone ever takes a call, we provide a fair amount of training and even arrange for them to spend time out on the road, accompanying our tanker drivers on their rounds. We’ve long known that if you’ve seen at first hand the day-to-day issues that can create problems, it’s much easier to give the right advice when, for example, access to a septic tank is difficult. It’s pretty simple, really – you have a better appreciation of what can go wrong if you’ve already seen it in action. The more appreciation my team has, the less assumption there is – and usually, assumptions lead to problems.”
It’s fair to say that even the briefest look at CSG’s history will show that customer service has always been a strong part of our culture and ethos. As the person charged with upholding, even improving that long-standing commitment, does he find it a daunting prospect?
“I wouldn’t say so. I don’t feel under any extra pressure just because CSG’s standards are already so high. I’m a perfectionist so it’s more the case that my aims and CSG’s are exactly the same. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to admit that we’re not perfect (yet) and there’s lots of things I’d like to do to keep improving. I think the fact that CSG is still a family-owned business is a huge reason for its focus on customer service and I’d say that, while it might be easier for me to suggest lots of easier improvements to a less customer-focused business, the flip side is that I’d expect to find it harder to get the backing I’d need to make those improvements. Here at CSG, that very strong existing focus means that there’s also a much greater willingness to support me in this role – and I find that very motivating.”
Customer service seems a simple enough concept but it’s one that frequently seems to find itself complicated and distorted to meet the eye of the beholder. What’s the simplest way to define good service, in order to ensure that it can always be assured?
“I think, at its heart, customer service is really a question of empathy – the ability to know what the other person ultimately wants – in some cases, even before they do. Of course, people are all different so it’s difficult to demonstrate empathy until you know enough about the person, their personality, what situation they’re in, what’s motivating them at that moment. Even that’s pretty meaningless if there’s nothing you can do with that insight so it’s necessary not to be too governed by hard and fast rules. Experienced people are always an asset, as is diversity within the team, increasing the ability to view a situation from more than one angle.”
What about internally? Isn’t there a danger that very existence of a team specialising in customer service can have the adverse effect of implying to the rest of the company that it’s a consideration they can then more easily ignore?
“Whenever we need to take corrective action, we know we need to show empathy not just to the paying customer but also to our internal customers – all the colleagues who rely on each other in order to get the job done well. Ultimately, we’re all on the same side, trying to achieve the same goal so if something has gone wrong and needs to be put right; failure is failure and we have to take ownership of that. That sort of terrible side-effect doesn’t happen when there’s good communication and everyone is dealing with each other in the way they would expect to be dealt with. We often say we’re ‘Working together for you’ and it’s not just a strapline – we really are.”
In the end, for all the well-intentioned ideas, the refusal to limit to ‘wrap-up’ time (the amount of time spent talking at the end of a call, after the sale) or the removal of counter-productive individual incentives, numbers will still prove the success of the strategy. Customer retention rates, longevity, average life-time value are all longer-term measures of customer behaviour that almost define the very point of offering an unbeatable ability to meet and exceed expectations, consistently. Customer service is not really about what it achieves today but what it continues to enable in future. In an era where we’re used to demanding and delivering instant gratification, it’s worth remembering that its true value is one that arrives very steadily, over time.
Over the last year, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about CSG, what it means, what it stands for and what it is that sets us apart from our competitors.
Technically, you could call it a re-branding exercise but you might forgive us for being a little hesitant to use that phrase in public because the very term ‘rebranding’ has, ironically, something of a brand problem of its own.
There have been rather too many examples of companies being too keen to press the ‘re-brand’ button, without really seeming to understand why it was needed – or why change isn’t always better. Particularly horrific examples include the British Airways ‘ethnic’ tailfin liveries, which caused huge controversy in 1997 when they were announced – a decision that was promptly reversed just four years later. Equally cringe-worthy was the débacle that was the decision to re-name the Royal Mail ‘Consignia’ in 2001. It was only a year later that the new name was ‘consigned’ to history.
Why the history lesson? Principally to assure you that our exercise is nothing like those (in)famous branding mis-fires. We’re certainly not considering changing our name to some meaningless term or messing with our visual branding to the point where we become unrecognisable.
Our intention was to establish the things we’re strongest at and put them at the forefront of our identity – which is just an exercise in common sense, when you think about it. Land Rover never seem to miss a chance to tell you how good their vehicles are off-road and why shouldn’t they – it’s their very reason for being! We’re very aware that all our customers have a choice of waste partner and only by presenting ourselves in the best way possible can we hope to become – or remain – your first choice.
With all that in mind, we spent many hours discussing the most fundamental aspects of CSG, with a view to agreeing our absolute core values that are demonstrably part of our make-up. Here’s what we agreed on:
We pride ourselves in our commitment to our customers old and new. Maintaining a high quality service and working to provide solutions that are both sustainable and productive. We aim to offer a value for money service and are always willing to go the extra mile to develop customer relations and remain engaged with our customers’ needs.
Our people are what enable us to offer our high quality services. We help build people and teams to work together, take pride in their work and offer opportunities where we can help promote the best in each and every employee. In turn, we can pride ourselves on delivering a first class service; knowing we have aimed to achieve our very best.
As our industry grows we are facing more challenges; looking at new ways to help protect the environment and ultimately ourselves. This in turn offers us opportunities to push the boundaries and grow. Finding new processes, investing in research and development and increasing our technological infrastructure relays a pioneering and competitive service.
Building the very best from our valued past, to develop a continued successful future. Over 80 years of growth and development has allowed CSG to become one the UK’s largest privately-owned waste management companies and we will continue to use our past and deep rooted heritage to drive our progression.
Together, we refer to these values as our four ‘pillars’, as they uphold everything we do and all that we seek to achieve. Having identified them, the next challenge is to prove that this is more than mere “marketing fluff” and that we consistently represent each of these pillars in all that we do.
With that in mind, we’ll be blogging in greater depth about Customer Service, People, Innovation and Heritage in the coming months. You’ll also recognise their influence in our new website and our new video, both due for launch later this year. As any cattle-brander already knows, the exercise only works properly when you have a lot of irons in the fire.
At the recent launch of the new edition of the CSG book, ‘The Hart of Waste’, much was made of the fact that there’s a new CSG website in production – including a snazzy new corporate video! We thought it was time to ask around and find out more. Here’s what we learned…
First of all, the new website is on schedule and is expected to ‘go live’ “before the end of the year”. The edition of the site it replaces will have been in use for over seven years – which is a long time in ‘website years’. If popular myth has it that that you multiply a dog’s age by seven to arrive at a ‘dog years’ age, then perhaps it’s fair to raise the factor to fourteen in the case of websites. Whichever way you dress it up, the conclusion is the same: the site is in need of an update.
Since 2010, there’s been an explosion in web browsing from hand-held devices and websites today simply have to look as good and behave as well, whether you’re using a smartphone, a tablet or a desktop computer to browse it. It’s therefore no surprise that the new site will be ‘responsive’ – i.e. the site responds to the screen requirements of each device used to view it – unlike the 2010 edition.
In an industry such as ours where so much of what we do is guided by changes in legislation and process, there’s an almost constant stream of updates to keep on top of, which means that the new site will contain even more information. At last count, we expect there to be around 15,000 words, spread across over a hundred pages but who knows how much this could rise to?
It’s not all about the written word, though. We’re very mindful of the stats we’ve seen that emphasise the value of multimedia elements such as imagery and video on keeping web browsers interested (or ‘engaged’ to use the tech term), which is why we’ve spent so much time and effort creating and capturing what we do in order to present ourselves as professionally and as engagingly as we can.
As we’re already doing with our Oil Monster site, we’re keen to harness the interactive power of the web. Instead of the site merely being a means to put information before the visitor, there will be the facility to order and enquire directly to our Sales team, via a simple online form. You won’t just be able to ‘read’ or ‘watch’ – you’ll be able to ‘do’!
Finally (well, probably not finally, but this is the last of the information we could get at this stage), the new site will be heavily influenced by the recent branding work we’ve done and will be designed to reinforce the ‘four pillars’ of what we believe CSG to embody: Customer Service, People, Innovation and Heritage. It’s no surprise that, having put so much effort into defining what we stand for so strongly, we should then reinforce those principles in our website – so that’s what we’ll do!
We expect there’ll be other improvements too but that’s all we can tell you for now. As with all these things, the number one question you’ll have is “when?” but with all the work involved, that’s always the hardest to confirm. “Later this year” is the best answer we could get but you can be sure that as soon as we have more specific information than that, we’ll share it with you!
For decades, CSG subsidiary Willacy Oil Services has been one of the leading providers of specialist oil storage cleaning services in the UK. From their Flintshire headquarters, close to the huge Stanlow oil refinery, they quickly established a reputation as reliable exponents of oil recovery and sludge stabilisation – a reputation that soon spread to many of the UK’s other refineries.
Within a few short years, their reputation spread further and by 1998, Willacy’s services were required at the Mongstat refinery in Norway. A year later, a call came from Australia to perform their services at a refinery there. With a significant proportion of their revenue starting to come from overseas clients, the company was becoming truly international.
In 2008, Willacy were asked to lend their cleaning services to the Petrotrin refinery on the island of Trinidad. Since then, work there has become a regular fixture on their calendar. Trinidad and Tobago has a long association with petrochemicals – the distinctive sound of the steelpan in calypso music was defined in part by the availability of oil drums there in the early twentieth century.
Similar in capacity to Grangemouth (at around 200,000 barrels per day), the refinery operates in one of the most oil-rich areas of the world. It surprises many to learn that, over the last seven years, neighbouring Venezuela has overtaken Saudi Arabia as the country with the highest level of ‘proven reserves’, as defined by OPEC. Clearly, it’s an important area for Willacy to prove their capability.
Petrotrin is also the only oil refinery in the world that sits next to a wildlife park, the Pointe a Pierre Wildfowl Trust. As you’d imagine, this adds a level of sensitivity, which has obvious ramifications on the way they must operate. For almost a decade, Willacy have been a key partner to helping them maintain this important balance.
Gavin Lucas, Willacy’s General Manager explains how this responsibility is fulfilled and co-ordinated, over 4,000 miles away from their head office.
“We maintain a team in Trinidad, led by Keith Walker, who has twenty years’ experience, working in the Caribbean. Just as we would do for a UK client, we build the machinery here, mostly centrifuge and de-watering systems. In their case, we then fly it out there, where it lives and is maintained.”
Over the years, the teams on both sides of the Atlantic have become as adept at remote management as they are at waste oil recovery, a task made slightly easier as communication technology has continued to shrink the world. There are still factors to consider, British workers are given regular downtime to return home and, as in many other oil hot-spots around the world, worker security is an ever-present issue.
The work at Petrotrin has always been important in its own right but additionally, it has proven Willacy’s capability to offer long-term strategic partnership in far-flung places. Similar work in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and other Middle-Eastern countries has arisen as a result.
Back at home, CSG & Willacy are currently developing their offering, spreading their talents across other sectors in the UK. You can be sure it won’t take long for them to transfer that knowledge and capability to another willing client thousands of miles away from their Sandycroft base, a service that, like the steelpan, can be traced back to its Trinidadian roots.
This time last year, Cheryl West was, like most working mums, occupied with dividing her attentions between her work, family and friends. With three school-age children and a demanding job as CSG’s Technical Waste Assessor, at our Cadishead depot, she knew all about the difficulties of maintaining a suitable work-life balance – but something was to change her perspective so significantly, it led her to do things she never thought possible.
Seven years previously, she’d struck up a friendship with Angela Sharples, another of the mums at her daughter’s school and the two soon became best friends. Unfortunately, Angela was diagnosed with cancer but after treatment, seemed to have successfully fought it off. In September 2016, she found out that it had spread to her liver. In November, Angela died.
Jolted by such a sharp reminder of mortality, the effect on Cheryl was immediate. “Angela had been a runner, was adventurous and visited places like New York and Las Vegas. I felt I had to do something like that so I bought a bike that week. I had no idea what I was going to do but I needed to do something.”
Initially, the plan was to participate with her friend, Carolyn, in the London to Brighton ride (54 miles, done in one day) but when Carolyn suggested they opted instead for London to Paris (280 miles, done over four days), Cheryl agreed. “I didn’t really give the distance much thought – I just thought they were both a long way”.
By Christmas, their place on the ride was booked and from January, Cheryl started her training with Saturday rides. “I hadn’t ridden a bike for about ten years and had never ridden a road bike before. The first time out, I did about a hundred yards and just thought ‘No’. I had no idea about where to ride so I rode around a circuit in a housing estate again and again and did about four miles. I wasn’t particularly confident.”
Despite her perseverance, Cheryl knew she was doing things the hard way and joined Breeze, a ladies-only cycling group for beginners. “I was soon doing eight-mile rides, the group was helping me and my confidence was much higher.”
As the weeks wore on, Cheryl had raised her level to participating in 16-mile rides, was introduced to the Bury Clarion Cycling Club and invited on a 30-mile ride. By March, she’d participated in a ladies’ night ride around Bury in support of Bury Hospice – a distance of 60 miles – and booked herself on a training weekend, which involved 90 miles of riding. Clearly, the cycling bug had struck.
In early June, she completed the ‘Tour de Manc’, around 64 miles: “That was hard – the first 20 miles were flat, then came the hills…”, before the time came to take on the London to Paris ride, broken into four days between June 22nd and 25th: London to Dover (followed by a ferry crossing to Calais), Calais to Abbeville, Abbeville to Beauvais and Beauvais to Paris. “I didn’t know what to expect in France. There were hills but they didn’t seem the same – they seemed easier than at home. There was some great scenery, some pretty villages, especially Beauvais, and it was amazing to ride along the Seine. Wherever we went, there was lots of support.”
And then, of course, came Paris. Like the Tour de France, the ride was to hold its closing stages along the famous Champs-Élysées, a route which involves some particularly unfriendly cobbled areas. Unlike, ‘le Tour’, Cheryl’s finish involved negotiating the traffic – and the whims of Parisian drivers – around the Arc de Triomphe. If you’ve ever driven around that part of Paris, you may find that fact alone as impressive as the achievement of cycling almost 300 miles in four days!
Having completed her mission, Cheryl is well on the way to raising £2,500 for Bolton Hospice, in memory of Angela – with CSG pleased to contribute £500 towards her target. Seemingly, she’s undergone a lifestyle transformation to achieve her goal and honour her friend. Does this mean she’ll be back to do it all again next year?
“No. The thing I learnt most from Angela is to do different things, find new experiences. When I spoke to older riders, it struck me how many stories they had to tell, how varied their experiences were. Carolyn and I only have this experience so we decided that if we do something different every year, in a few years’ time, we’ll have that level of experience. We may do another ride – we’ve looked at one in Italy but I’m not sure about all the hills! One thing we are going to do next year is kayaking in the fjords of Norway. I’ll still have my beach holidays but I’ve decided that we need to do different things as well.”
Before all that, Cheryl will be back in the saddle to do a 100-mile ride around the North West of England in September, another challenge that requires a level of training – with an unforeseen bonus: “My middle daughter, who’s a good swimmer, has become interested in cycling. If she wants to start riding, I’ll certainly be glad of another training partner!”
It’s no exaggeration to use the phrase ‘life-changing’ to describe Cheryl’s experiences of the past year. Through tragedy, she’s gained a new perspective, raised thousands for charity and given inspiration from a friend’s memory. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” sang John Lennon in ‘Beautiful Boy’, his ode to his son, Sean. In her efforts to commemorate Angela’s example, Cheryl has broken the cycle of work and home and, through her efforts, reminded us that we all need to make time to live. C’est la vie…
The great and the good of CSG gathered in a Hampshire hotel recently to celebrate another landmark occasion in the company’s long and illustrious history.
The cause for celebration was the launch of CSG’s second book, ‘The Hart of Waste’, an updated history of the company founded by Edgar ‘Bunny’ Hart in 1934. As with the previous book on CSG, ‘Waste Matters’, published in 2002, the new book was written by Nigel Watson, an accomplished writer and corporate historian.
The guests gathered at the Solent Hotel, close to CSG’s Fareham head office at the end of the day. The fact that our AGM had been held that afternoon meant that many important stakeholders could be present. One such luminary was CSG’s former Managing Director, Ken Pee, who’d flown in from his home in Cyprus for the occasion.
After a convivial drinks reception, we were invited into the function room and entered a room dressed with CSG branding, a projector and screen and, of course, a table groaning under the weight of numerous copies of the new book. Many guests filtered into the theatre seating area while others chose to stand towards the back of the room while they waited for proceedings to start.
First to speak was Heather Hart, CSG’s Chair and Bunny’s daughter, who welcomed the assembled throng and explained how it was that this second book came to be commissioned – a conversation over a glass of wine, on holiday with her sister, Hilary.
In historical terms, it may seem that fifteen years is a barely significant interlude but such is the pace of change in all areas of life, a mere decade and a half seems like half a lifetime away, particularly in some aspects of life. For example, a quick Google search uncovers an article in which 2002 was predicted to be “the year of Broadband Britain” – which means most people were still accessing the internet by dial-up modems. In fact, Google itself was only four years old, back then and as likely to be the search engine of choice for most people as Yahoo, Excite or Alta Vista – remember them? Facebook didn’t even exist (Mark Zuckerburg enrolled at Harvard in 2002 on his way to creating thefacebook, as it was once known) so social networking and social media were little more than concepts. It really was a very different world.
In the world of waste, the pace of change has been just as bewildering. A veritable slew of legislation in the last fifteen years has led to innumerable disposal practices that were commonplace in 2002 becoming outlawed – each requiring a more professional, more regulated technique of treatment. It may be ‘only fifteen years’ but in truth, it’s easily enough to warrant an entire re-telling of the official story of CSG.
Having given some insight into the creation of the book and with all the right people thanked for their participation and assistance, Heather passed the microphone to Neil Richards, CSG’s ebullient Managing Director. Neil paid particular tribute to the unique way that CSG is run, a reliance on self-sufficiency and a faith in old-fashioned values that encourages a sense of belonging and shared purpose amongst all who join the business.
Neil referred to the very distinct culture at CSG, a careful mix of the familiarity of family businesses with the professionalism of large corporations. It’s certainly no accident that the new book carefully inter-weaves pages of every element of the current CSG team all the way along the company’s timeline of events throughout its 170-odd pages and it perfectly reflects Neil’s words.
The evening was rounded off by a sneak preview of CSG’s new company video (more on that, later this year) before the books on display were given to each of those present. Many even took the opportunity to ask Heather to sign their copy – which she was delighted to do.
As the conversations carried on around the room and into the night, there was a clear sense that the launch of a book charting a company’s history was, far from being merely a documentary of the past, more a starting point to the next chapter in the remarkable story of success that all started with one man’s dream.
Centrifugal force is one of the more entertaining laws of physics. Many of us have swung a bucket of water around our heads (hopefully, without spilling any) in an attempt to impress small children – indeed you may even remember it being demonstrated to you when you were young. Later on, you may have been amazed to watch the ‘wall of death’ motorcycle stunt in which a rider emerges unscathed after riding a motorbike around the vertical wall of a circular pit.
For die-hard devotees, there’s even a fairground ride, the fearsome ‘Hearts & Diamonds’, where brave souls stand unharnessed in a giant circular cage, to be whizzed around such that the entire cage can be rotated to almost 90 degrees. The sight of 50 or so screaming people seemingly stuck to the walls of an oversized washing machine drum is something that tends to live long in the memory, acting as a firm inspiration either to ‘definitely’ or ‘never’ try it for yourself. Either way, most people would agree that watching it is more fun than your average physics lesson.
When it’s not thrilling funfair riders on a Saturday night, centrifugal force has a day job – and it’s one that we really couldn’t do without: separating solid matter from water. Many industries use large quantities of water to carry out a number of processes, whether it’s washing potatoes or to apply a glossy coating to some types of paper. Having completed its process, the watery substance can’t simply be flushed away. It needs to have the solids removed – which has the secondary benefit that the water is left in a re-usable state.
How do you reliably remove potato earth or kaolin paper gloss (or a multitude of other substances) once it’s been mixed with water? You’ve guessed it – a centrifuge, albeit quite a specific type, much more sophisticated than the ‘washing machine drum’ you might initially imagine.
With such a significant demand and in so many places, it’s no surprise that there’s a need for a fleet of the things, with different capabilities and all able to visit your site in order to do their thing. In recent years, CSG have developed their oil-based expertise and have become a leading exponent of cleansing and clarifying fluids in the water-based world.
CSG’s selection of mobile centrifuges are available for hire, lease or even purchase. They can take upto 98% of the solid matter out of its watery suspension, which as a minimum, leads to its more efficient disposal or, in some cases, enables the only way to dispose legally.
With throughput rates of 20,000 litres up to 60,000 litres per hour achievable with some machines, they can guzzle through some serious quantities of sludge – and very often, they need to, as some customers require entire lagoons to be cleaned. Lagoon-clearance is a significant undertaking that may even require a roving dredger or a floating pontoon to literally suck the matter from the lagoon floor and pump it to the centrifuge at the waterside to separate it from the water.
With so many different kinds of application, surely there are limits to the types of location that such sensitive machinery can be taken to. Not so, says Pete Smith, CSG’s Technical Sales expert:
“Many of our most remote locations are at drinking water treatment sites, which can only be reached down quite winding lanes. Our biggest machines are transported on 30-foot trailers so if the lanes are too narrow or if there isn’t room to turn the vehicle around, we can send smaller systems, which will fit in the back of a van.”
The equipment is designed well enough that it can be operated with minimal training, although an experienced CSG operator is an optional extra to whoever wishes to hire it. Pete is keen to point out that ‘cleaning’ water does not make it potable, suitable for drinking, merely clean enough to be regarded as re-usable or fit for discharge.
Whatever the type of customer, their application and whatever the specific type of solid matter, CSG seem to have a centrifuge and a method for the job. While techniques can change significantly if the matter is coarser (grains of sand or grit) or finer (dissolved powders), the primary principle is always the power of separation afforded by centrifugal force, perhaps also the most environmentally-friendly law of physics.
The contribution was made via the Landfill Communities Fund, an innovative scheme, which incentivises operators of landfill sites to work closely with and provide financial assistance to environmental projects in nearby areas.
Established in 2010, the River Bourne Community Farm is 63 acres of land adjoining the River Bourne and has developed into a sustainable working farm, supported by staff and by volunteers. It is a ‘Community Interest Company’ designed specifically to operate for the benefit of the community rather than shareholders.
It provides a resource for local education, as both a venue for school visits and also as a place of learning for BTEC students. Describing itself as “a 1960s working farm”, it places particular emphasis on its sustainability and ecologically sound practices – which were central to farming at that time, before the era of agricultural intensification.
The money will be put towards the cost of the farm’s new purpose-built café. It’s expected that a warmer, more comfortable place to offer refreshments (made with good, wholesome ingredients, of course) will not only increase revenues but also improve visitors’ experience, resulting in more visits!
Currently, the farm’s café operates from a portacabin. As you would expect, the new building will have impeccable environmental credentials. It will be an insulated timber-frame cabin, designed to fit in with its surroundings, offering accessibility to all its visitors. Work started in the spring and it’s expected that the new café will be opened in the autumn.
River Bourne’s Farm Office Manger Jane Wilkinson explained further:
“We are so excited about the prospect of a purpose-built community café. Our families and other visitors are really looking forward to a bit of warmth and comfort! The cafe will play an important part in farm operations and will contribute to the future sustainability of the farm.”
CSG are proud to be associated with this wonderful project and wish the River Bourne Community Farm every success! If you’re ever in the Salisbury area, we recommend you pay them a visit!
The concept of apprenticeship seems to be a strangely controversial one. We often hear how, in “the good old days”, being an apprentice was admired as the only way to enter a trade and how it combined on-the-job learning with real-life values of respect and professional conduct – something worth preserving, you’d think.
And yet a quick Google news search on the subject throws up a myriad of pages that are anywhere between lukewarm and critical of the Government’s latest initiative, the Apprenticeship Levy, with fears of flawed planning, spiralling costs, even job losses all being cited. It all seems as if the merits of apprenticeship are in danger of being forgotten amongst all the doom-mongering, hidden-agenda crossfire.
Daniel Fairhurst is a real-world reminder of what this is all about. At 19, he’d already started to gain experience of electrical work, with seven months with a council housing company in Salford, working on refurbishments. As with many a 19 year-old, thrust into a shop-floor environment, he describes his younger self as quiet and shy. Aside from learning the ropes from older, more experienced colleagues, he quickly understood that the less technical aspects of the job were just as important: “the tenants were still living in the houses while I was working on them – which made things interesting from time to time. One time, there was a guy hiding in his mum’s loft, on the run from the Police!”
After accidentally landing a job at CSG (he’d handed in his CV to a lady at a nearby company who’d happened to pass it to her husband, working at Cadishead), Dan was enrolled on three-year apprenticeship programme, which incorporated City & Guilds and NVQ qualifications with Salford College.c
Earlier this year, Dan, now 22, completed the programme and gained his Level 2 & 3 qualifications. Three years into his career with CSG, he’s come a long way from the quiet lad who joined the company.
“I’m definitely more confident when I’m in work. Obviously, I’m more confident about the stuff I’m qualified in but I also trust my common sense a lot more and I feel more able to show the real side of my personality. Usually, when there’s an issue with any machinery on site, it’s down to us in the Electrical team to diagnose it. If it’s a purely electrical situation, we’ll deal with it. Sometimes, there might also be a mechanical aspect, which I’ll pass on to the Engineering team but I’ll let them know what I think it is and what I think they should do. We like to keep Engineering on their toes – and we know they’ll give it us back if they get a chance. There’s a lot of black humour involved but it’s a positive part of the job and it keeps you sharp. There’s a kudos to being able to say ‘I spotted this’ – and I like being right! I’m very competitive: a poor loser and an even worse winner.”
In many ways, this is a part of apprenticeship that’s just as important as gaining the formal knowledge and experience required to do the job. While it can easily be dismissed as unproductive ‘banter’, the dynamics of working closely with other people, other departments and other companies, each with their differing rules of engagement, encourage a set of soft skills that are often just as useful as those that require a qualification. Words like ‘rapport’ and ‘negotiation’ can often seem like old-fashioned notions from a time when tasks weren’t so process-driven and people were often expected to ‘wing it’ to get the job done.
Today, we’re often conditioned to view any departure from process as a failure – and in lots of cases they are – but that’s not to say that the older values are out-dated. In fact, the opposite is probably true: if it’s true that fewer people today rely on softer skills such as empathy, humour and building rapport, those who can utilise them will stand out more prominently.
Every time Dan is called to a job at Cadishead, whether it’s a £150,000 metal recycling baler or a malfunctioning kettle, he’s not just assessing the electrical considerations (although that’s obviously the most basic requirement), he’s also balancing the priority of the job to the company, compared to the rest of that day’s workload, he’s working within set operational parameters, particularly those of Health & Safety and he’s trying to meet the immediate needs of the person or people most closely affected.
In short, he has the capacity to be everyone’s friend – even though circumstances can often dictate that he has to disappoint someone. I made a point of asking how much of all of that was covered in his coursework. “There’s always a Health & Safety aspect to any of the work we do so I’d say we covered that but the rest of it is just up to me to use my common sense”
Far from merely being ‘common sense’ the world of work is now beginning to value soft skills and encourage their development. Like the very concept of apprenticeship, where values were passed down for centuries before the idea seemed to fall out of favour and then, with recent initiatives, began to experience a renaissance, even common sense itself has become recognised as not being common enough, in need of passing on, in all its various forms. The wheel has turned full circle, it seems.
In fact, for Dan, it keeps turning. With one programme completed, he’s about to embark on the next one, an Apprenticeship Levy-funded HNC in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Trafford College. It’s a sign of his growing development and importance to CSG but it’s also an opportunity for which he’s “particularly grateful”.
Away from work, Dan keeps up his competitive streak at the gym. But when time allows, he’s a keen attendee of various festivals around the country and expects one day to make his way round Europe to some of the biggest festivals in the world. He’s made a habit in recent years of spending St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, which sounds like a mission not for the faint-hearted! He’d also like to set his sights further at some stage, with Australia on his bucket list of destinations.
In the meantime, he’s working on his next target, which is to live “for at least a couple of years” right in the centre of Manchester – just as soon as his student mates graduate and start earning money! I put it to him that it sounds like something similar to the setting of ‘Friends’ – and if so, which character would that make him? We’d already discussed a love of food so the instant answer came as no surprise – “Joey!”
Dan is a perfect example of the benefits of apprenticeship – to employer and employee alike. His growing skill set, encouraged by further learning and day-to-day experience in a nurturing environment are just what CSG and, by extension, any company, should hope to gain from the principle. It’s also encouraging to think that across the country, the Apprenticeship Levy is encouraging the next wave of skilled workers, just like Dan and definitely not, as the song says, “stuck in second gear”.
We were pleased to welcome a new member of the team to our Cadishead office, last month. Daryl Tunningley joins us as a Marketing Executive, giving particular focus to our online activities.
Daryl, 26, hails from York and grew up around one of Britain’s most picturesque cities, although he jokes that the downside to all that historic splendour is that “you spend a lot of time dodging the tourists!”
He began his career curating website content at Persimmon, the house builder, at their Leeds office. Before long, he’d developed the role to such a degree that he became their Marketing Co-ordinator. “I just developed an aptitude for marketing, combining my writing skills with an appreciation for good design but above all, applying common sense and logical thinking to make improvements based on what the analysis was telling me.”
Marketing is a field which has attracted some strong stereotypes over the years, with many still believing it to be the domain of brash, risk-taking ‘Mad Men’ types, too often full of their own self-importance. In fact, in most companies, day-to-day marketing has undergone something of a quiet revolution over the last decade. Since the arrival of the Internet, search engines and, more particularly, social media, it’s now a department awash with very detailed performance data, measuring every click and every view of every piece of content available. Someone has to sift through this tidal wave of information and turn it all into knowledge, which in turn informs the strategy.
You sense this is a role perfectly suited to Daryl. He speaks precisely and unhurriedly, favouring clarity over brevity, suggesting a level of thoroughness that the marketing dinosaurs of the past would find irksome. “I like the fact that my role gives me an end-to-end view of the whole business. This gives me a better chance to understand every part of the process and ensure I can support each one in the best way possible.”
Daryl’s capability for self-teaching is not restricted to his working life: he plays his Fender Jaguar electric guitar “when I can”; his musical ability another product of his auto-didacticism. He also reads widely, with particular interest in Science Fiction and History, “mostly European and any period from Medieval to Modern. I find it fascinating to see how – and why – it is that we are where we are at this point in time.”
Perhaps most surprisingly, Daryl’s embrace of the world of social media comes to an end when it’s time to go home. “I don’t engage in social media at all in a personal capacity”, he tells me, which at first seems an odd paradox but on explanation, becomes perfectly logical. “I remember hearing once that ‘chefs never cook’ and that explains how I feel about it. Social media is a powerful tool but I view it as a means to lead people to the content on our site. The analytical aspect of it all is the most interesting feature for me.”
His next big project is to co-ordinate the design and build of the new CSG website, in production later this year. Needless to say, the ability of the site to provide as much meaningful data as possible will be at the top of his wish-list.
In the meantime, he’s still in the process of increasing CSG’s reporting capability and analytics. If you happen to be the first person who’s taken the time to read as far as this, the last sentence of this blogpost, he’ll probably know all about it.
Earlier this year, 25 of our team underwent training to enable them to work safely and correctly in confined spaces.
Confined Spaces Regulations have been in force since 1997 and are designed to protect workers from the risks associated with working in areas defined as ‘substantially enclosed’, such as a lack of oxygen, amongst a host of other dangers.
The course covered the potential hazards of working in confined spaces, explored the precautionary measures that are available and looked at how those factors combined to inform risk assessment. It also included modules on gas detection and the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and escape apparatus.
Finally, there was a chance to put the theory into practice with a practical exercise, in which the trainees had to physically enter and get out of a confined space before a selection of multiple-choice questions at the end of the day.
“The training was necessary to ensure that we reinforce a safe system of working in such a potentially hazardous area, while of course continuing to meet our obligations to our employees and the law. With all that in mind, we considered the day to have been a tremendous success” said Sarah Taylor, Compliance Manager at CSG’s Manchester operational facility.
This was one of a number of training initiatives undertaken by CSG this year, demonstrating our commitment to continually raise our standards by investing in our fantastic team.
Brett Ashton is a difficult man to pin down. I called his mobile one morning to discuss this article, only to be met with the reply “Sorry, I’ll have to do this another time – I’m in a nuclear power station”. As conversation-stoppers go, it’s a pretty good one so we rescheduled at a later date.
Of course the reason Brett can be so elusive is that he’s simply just so busy. As Engineering Supervisor for CSG, he brings an extensive knowledge of pumps and pumping – an ideal specialism as moving liquids is a mainstay of our services. He alternates his time, seemingly daily, between our Head Office in Fareham and any of a number of sites that he oversees.
Service and Maintenance team based at our Head Office in Fareham. Brett Ashton far left.
“I’m really a troubleshooter”, he explains to me, when we find a more appropriate time to speak. “I carry out the surveys, examine the data, provide the quotes and source the parts. I do still get my hands dirty but I’m really here to pass on my knowledge when it’s required.”
Aged 32, he started his career in the Royal Navy, not uncommonly for a son of Portsmouth, and served for two years as an Engineer, mostly aboard HMS Manchester. Thereafter, he worked in London, maintaining pumps for a variety of clients: “hotels, department stores, fast-food restaurants; mostly heating systems but all pretty similar pumping requirements”.
For the last four years, he’s applied his specialist knowledge here at CSG. He patiently explains the rudiments of pumping: “you’re either looking to get the right level of flow (in litres per minute) or the right distance, which is represented as a curve on a graph. The complicated bit is when you need to move the curve with the current you have”.
Slowly, it dawns that ‘current’ and ‘flow’ are not interchangeable terms. ‘Flow’ refers to the liquid motion but the ‘current’ is of the electrical variety, the means of powering the whole operation. Brett casually confirms the realisation “I’m actually a trained plumber and a qualified electrician, which is funny really because usually, they don’t get on!”
Confident and yet self-effacing, he certainly doesn’t give the impression of a person given to internal struggle but his point is well observed – anyone who’s worked on a building site will know the two trades can be capable of mixing about as harmoniously as… well, electricity and water.
It’s certainly not a job for people who don’t like exams. Brett has had to undertake confined space training, is a qualified slinger and banksman and is UKPIA-accrediated to work on a forecourt. He’s recently added to this roster by taking a Level 2 & 3 City & Guilds qualification to bolster his electrician’s credentials. “It involved two years of travelling to London for weekends and a lot of A-level maths!”
Perhaps the most enviable aspect of Brett’s work is the wide variety of places it takes him to. Aside from his regular presence at that nuclear power station he’s responsible for operations at schools, Forestry Commission sites, RAF barracks and even TV and Film Studios. As it’s a working studios, you have to check your mobile phone in at the front desk because there’s a strict ‘no photography’ policy – so there’s no chance of a selfie with any of the film stars you might come across!”
Occasional brushes with celebrity are nice enough but they pale in comparison to ensuring a job is well done. Brett explains how smarter technology is helping him to do exactly that. “Many of our pump stations now have a smart element to them. This means that not only do they monitor the levels and spot a fault, they can diagnose the problem and email the client and the team here at CSG. Now, we often don’t need to send out an engineer to look at what’s going on, which is more efficient all round and saves the client money.”
Unsurprisingly, for someone so busy, Brett remains just as active outside of work. A black belt at karate at the age of 13, he also boxed for the Navy at Lightweight (60Kg). Running and weight-training burn off whatever excess energy remains at the end of the day.
Perhaps the most surprising part of our discussion comes when he declares he’s a big fan of rugby league, in particular the Leeds Rhinos. Portsmouth is a long way from the sport’s M62-corridor heartland and over 250 miles from Leeds so why the affiliation? “My Dad used to play for Leeds – when they were just called Leeds – so that’s the main reason but I’d still far rather watch a game of rugby league over union and I try to get up to Headingley to watch a game, when I can.”
What does the future hold for this rugby-league-supporting ex-serviceman of many talents? “I’ve always preferred to see money as a means to travel rather than just owning stuff and I would like to see more of the world but with a young daughter at the moment, we can’t be too ambitious”. It’s clear that, sooner or later, this elusive engineer is hoping to be even harder to pin down – for a few weeks of the year, at least!
The data is in and we’re pleased to see our customer service targets (for our domestic customers) being met and in some cases, exceeded!
Being a customer-focused organisation, we’re keen to see what we do well and where we can improve so we make a point of asking the best experts we can find – customers! A short survey after every septic tank clean gives us the opportunity to see how well we’re really doing at keeping them happy. It’s also proven to be a great way to get ideas to improve what we do.
In February, we saw that 96.3% of our domestic customers surveyed marked us with a 7 or above (out of 10) to the question “How likely would you be to recommend CSG to others?”, a fantastic achievement, we’re sure you’ll agree. In March that same measure actually went up to 96.8%!
It was the same story for higher scores, with February’s level of 10-out-of-10s (68.8%) being eclipsed by the level in March (77.4%). It all points to greater satisfaction – which is the key here because nobody is likely to recommend a service with which they are anything less than satisfied!
We believe that recommendation is the highest accolade we can aim to achieve from our customers so to see such a huge proportion of those we surveyed stating they’re highly likely to recommend us is a wonderful endorsement of our services.
Of course, having set such a high benchmark, the challenge now is to ensure such standards are at least maintained and, if possible, improved further. We can also drill into the data for each of our depots to see how and if the story changes from one to the other.
Waste management is an industry not particularly known for embracing such ‘soft’ ideas as customer service and feedback and we feel especially keen to ensure that CSG remains committed to listening to all our customers and doing all we can to continue to improve our image and appeal to everyone we serve.
On an unremarkable industrial estate just past Queensferry in North Wales, less than a mile from the English border, lies an operation that can claim to be at the very frontier of industrial cleaning.
Willacy Oil was established in 1989 by George Willacy to clean the parts of the oil industry that other cleansing companies couldn’t reach. If you’re familiar with that part of the world, you’ll know it’s dominated by the huge Stanlow refinery, the second-largest in the UK. It’s not surprising that as specialist a service as this should have flourished in such an important petrochemical area.
Over the years, Willacy’s excellence in cleaning tanks and lagoons of waste oil and sludge meant that their reputation grew far and wide. As a result, they found their services were required around the world. How these tasks are performed, often in restricted areas, hazardous to humans, requires a level of technology that’s the envy of many an overgrown schoolboy and was enough to persuade CSG to add Willacy Oil Services to our growing roster of businesses back in early 2015.
The tour of the facility starts in one of the workshops. Various machine parts await installation or servicing. The surroundings are clean and organised, slightly more ‘lived in’ than the clinical minimalism of a Formula 1 garage, but certainly a world away from the greasy, blackened den that many people might expect to see.
My guide is Mike Evans, affable and knowledgeable in equal measure. He patiently explains the intricate details of the processes and parameters of a screw pump that’s currently being installed onto one of the machines in the second, larger workshop. In theory, safely removing large quantities of toxic sludge is a simple enough process – it’s only incredibly difficult in practice.
In a far corner sits a tracked machine, partly dismantled, looking like a more agricultural version of ‘Johnny 5’ of ‘Short Circuit’, the 80s family film. In reality, the machines used for these ‘special ops’ cleaning missions are more akin to the army’s remote-controlled devices for de-fusing bombs as they perform the very manual task of sludge-clearing without the need for a human to be there. When you consider the fact that many of the jobs they’re required to do will be in areas that offer poor access, poor lighting and ventilation and may involve harmful substances, it’s clear that there are serious safety reasons for all this technology and it’s far more necessary than merely an excuse to indulge a wish to use remote-controlled toys.
In addition, tank-cleaning can be an eye-wateringly expensive overhead for the client to absorb, especially when you consider the impact that downtime can have on profits. For this reason, it’s a task that may only be done every ten to fifteen years for any given tank. With such high stakes, the job has to be done perfectly and as quickly as possible, however unfavourable the conditions may be.
Willacy’s machines are not just made here at Sandycroft, they’re constantly being maintained, serviced, modified and re-fit in an effort to continually increase their capabilities. Through a strict adherence to the Continual Improvement Process, it may be said that Willacy’s machines have actually evolved over time to become better adapted to work more efficiently in their various environments. Not for the first time, it strikes me how similar all of this is to the hit TV show ‘Robot Wars’.
As we continued around the yard, we encountered an array of similar-looking, subtly different machines, each suited to its own particular task. Open-air lagoon cleaners can be taller and are liable to be utterly submerged while closed tank cleaners must maximise their access capability by being reducing height as much as possible. Pumping capabilities differ, as do the snow-plough-like sludge-pushing attachments.
Of course, where oil is concerned, getting the troublesome sludge out of the tank is only half the exercise. Next, it has to be re-processed, which means pumping it to another, rather anonymous-looking, machine. To most people, it’s a blue box; to anyone who knows anything about the process, it’s very obviously a centrifuge.
A centrifuge is necessary to spin the waste matter around and split any residual oil from all the clogging sediment. Again, it’s easy to be misled by all the chunky machinery – it may all look rather unsophisticated to the untrained eye but in practice, it’s vital to know what type of oil is being reclaimed because each variant will have very specific settings in the centrifuge to physically coax it away from the unhelpful foreign solids. Depending upon the oil type, the centrifuge is set to a specific number of revolutions per minute (rpm) – just like you’d choose a particular setting for a spin cycle to suit absorbent woollens or more water-resistant polyesters.
Having been successfully separated, the reclaimed oil is sent to be re-refined (yes, that is the correct term) while the sediment cake is correctly disposed of. The client now has a clean tank, which can be thrust back into action and a quantity of valuable oil back in a usable state.
There are wider opportunities to utilise many of these techniques beyond the oil industry, with water-based cleansing being the most obvious application. Originally referred to simply as ‘non-oil’, this may be the sector that affords Willacy the greatest opportunities for growth.
It’s easy to see why the oil market alone has served Willacy so well over the years but it’s also interesting to learn that they’re constantly embracing technology to ensure their services are as sought-after as ever in other markets. Mike shows me their latest innovation – a water-based variation of Sonar-mapping device which can show, to within a centimetre, how deep the sludge is, and how evenly spread, within a tank.
“The original sonar device [known as SPOT – Sludge Profiler for Oil Tanks] was developed around 1996 so it’s been around for 20 years – and has been tweaked and improved during this period”, Mike explains. “Our latest innovation is a re-development of the original SPOT technology – which was designed for oil within enclosed crude oil tanks – to apply it to water environments. The sonar tool and software can now be used to map the levels of sludge at the bottom of lagoons, interceptor bays, or any other open stretches of water where there may be forms of sludge or waste settled. This will help us diversify and use our skills and knowledge developed and gained within the oil industry and adapt that into water and other industries.”
The more the client knows about the scale of their sludge problem, the better able they are to manage their assets. The need to monitor sludge levels isn’t new but the technology allows a far safer and more accurate means of testing than the old-fashioned ‘person with a stick’ method.
Another sign of Willacy’s eye on the future comes in the form of their new website, currently still in development but due to be launched in the next month or so. You can be sure there’ll be an announcement as soon as the site goes live!
Whatever the future holds, you can be sure that with CSG’s dynamism and Willacy’s focus on excellence, the innovations that originated in this unassuming Deeside facility will continue to impress clients around the world for many years to come.
You may not have given much thought to the way your septic tank works – which is fine as long as it is working – but knowing just a little can help you ensure that it remains in good order for many years to come.
Okay, here’s the really basic information, which most people already know:
Human waste contains harmful bacteria and can be a means of spreading viruses. Throughout human history – and in developing countries today – the source of some of the greatest threats to life has come from diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, which are transmitted via human waste.
Most houses or buildings with waste facilities like toilets discharge their waste directly into the main system of sewerage drains allowing the immediate removal of sewage to a place where it can be treated.
A relatively small proportion of properties are not sited closely enough to the network of drains and so have to discharge their waste in other ways. The most common alternative is to use a septic tank.
The septic tank’s main purpose is to receive substances such as human waste and hold them such that most of the resultant matter can be allowed to soak away into the surrounding area in a state which is less hazardous to the local environment.
So far, so good but this tends to be where, for most people, the knowledge ends. As we do with so many areas of technology, it’s tempting to see it as a ‘magic box’ that just does what it’s designed to do. How then does it actually work?
The process requires little more than time and what we may call ‘natural processes’ in a sealed environment, which ensures that there is no contamination of the wrong matter.
Essentially, the waste will sort into three states. It just needs to be given enough time to allow it to happen, unhindered. The three states are:
As they are denser, gravity dictates that they will settle at the bottom, where they will continue to decompose, which means break down further until they leave a dense sludge.
As the solids become denser, the liquid matter separates from it. The more solid separation that occurs, the more safely it can be returned to the surrounding area.
The crust is made up mostly of floating fats, oils and grease (and food). This matter collects at the surface of the liquid and should not be discharged with the liquid.
The design of the tank is such that, having enabled the separation of the liquor from the sludge, it allows the liquid matter just beneath the surface (the ‘cleanest’ bit, without the scum) to percolate back into the soil around the tank, the ‘soakaway’ area. Here the cleansing process continues, as the soil itself naturally removes coliform bacteria, viruses and nutrients from the effluent or liquid waste.
For this reason, it’s necessary to see a septic tank as merely the first stage in a process and not the whole solution to the problem of waste processing. Equally, the availability of a suitable soakaway area is just as important as the tank itself.
As the whole process relies on natural decomposition and the power of the soil as a way to treat harmful substances, problems can occur if the waste it treats contains too many chemicals, biological agents or bleaches and with our temperate climate the anaerobic digestion rate is so slow that a septic tank functions much more as a sedimentation tank.
What happens to the three states of matter over time?
With an appropriate level of soakaway area, the liquids will continue to percolate into the soil and harmlessly back into the ecosystem. The chief threat to this may be after periods of extreme wet weather. If ground is already soaked with rainwater, it may lose the capacity to accept effluent, which may bring it to the surface or congest the system, leading to a ‘back-up’ of waste. This problem should never occur as long as the correct soakaway parameters were considered when the septic tank was first installed. Even so, it’s advisable to have a healthy suspicion about this threat whenever there is a sustained period of extremely wet weather.
The scum will remain trapped in the tank as the barrier pipe allows the dispersal of the liquid while stopping the scum or crust entering the soak-away.
Eventually, the level of sludge will build up and begin to compromise the ability of the septic tank to do its job. For optimum efficiency, we advise you to have your septic tank de-sludged regularly in accordance with variables such as how many people live in your household – as this may require you to have it serviced more frequently.
You might have wondered, at the beginning of this blogpost, why on earth you’d ever need to know the inner workings of something that many people may feel is an area best left unexplored but there are many reasons why it’s a good idea that you give some thought to the humble septic tank that spends its life anonymously doing the worst of jobs, hidden away underground.
A little knowledge on the part of every septic tank owner should ensure that it continues to work perfectly – but as many unfortunate people may attest, it’s only when a septic tank stops doing its job as well as it should that it becomes truly appreciated!
On 12th January, we celebrated our 83rd birthday – the anniversary of the date when our founder Edgar ‘Bunny’ Hart started trading as the Hampshire Cleansing Service.
As a company, that makes us eight days older than Fujifilm, who were ‘only’ formed on January 20th that year, in Japan.
Needless to say, in all that time, a lot has changed in the world – including our approach to waste management – and we’ve grown steadily over the years to become one of the country’s most respected waste companies.
Then: The vehicle that started it all: the 800-gallon Dennis tanker that Bunny bought in December 1933
Now: One of our fleet of over a hundred tankers in its CSG livery
Then: 1934 Admin. A page from the Hampshire Cleansing Service account book.
Now: 2017 Admin. Some of our many office-based staff, aided by a huge infrastructure of data and computing power.
It’s a fitting testament to the vision of Bunny Hart and his family who still run CSG today that a company started all those years ago has not only survived but is primed and ready for the challenges of the next 83 years!
Other events that happened in January 1934:
Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman died of pneumonia (6th)
The Flash Gordon comic strip was first published in the United States (7th)
Actor Richard Briers (The Good Life) was born in Surrey (14th)
Illustrator Raymond Briggs (The Snowman) was born in Surrey (18th)
Actor Tom Baker (Doctor Who) was born in Liverpool (20th)
Actor Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk) was born in California (22nd)
Samuel Goldwyn purchased the film rights to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for $40,000 (26th)
Salvador Dali married his muse Gala in Paris (30th)
…or ‘Who on Earth are Feefo and Why are they Emailing Me?’
If you’ve placed an order from Robinsons this year, it’s likely you’ll have received an email from a company called Feefo in the days and weeks that followed to ask you to rate the items and the service you received. Of course, I expect many of those who received this email chose not to respond.
Let’s be real for a moment, there’s no way we should expect otherwise – we’ve all done that, haven’t we? With that in mind, I extend my sincere thanks to anyone who did take the time to complete the short survey, however you chose to rate us and whatever you said about us, good or bad. Without your honesty, we wouldn’t have the same ability to grade the quality of our service – and we wouldn’t have the chance to put things right if they’ve gone wrong here and there.
In the past, I’ve blogged about improving our commitment to transparent behaviour and since then, I’m pleased to say that we’ve been far better able to react to occasional problems and we now have much more confidence in our ability to consistently provide the level of service we expect of ourselves. We’ve also (touch wood) not encountered any instances of severe chat room criticism since the one in June last year that made us change the way we think about this subject. Please let me know if you know different, though! I don’t want you to think that all this makes us complacent, that we can consider the job is done and just concentrate on something else now.
Transparency is an all-or-nothing commitment and it’s now something we look at every day, to measure not just the usual performance stuff, like how many orders we sent out but how well we’ve done impressing the people who received them. And so, before I finish this post, I must ensure you know how we are now more honest with you, as a result of our kind Feefo respondents. To quote Jack Byrnes (Robert de Niro’s character) in ‘Meet The Parents’, I need to complete the “circle of trust”.
The performance data from the Feefo emails is freely available at any time on the Robinsons Review page on the Feefo website for anyone to view. It’s also used to add details to our Google listing, to indicate that our service levels might make us a better choice for anyone searching for the things we offer.
In the old days, Marketing Managers tended to be cautious of such measures because the rating might go down. Today, we accept that we have to ensure that it remains as high as we can be because we’re aware (and we’re also very happy) that everyone can see it. As I type, the proportion of people who rated us as ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good’ is 93% – which is about the same level as M&M Direct, Joe Brown’s and other large mail order companies that most people have heard of. It’s reassuring to know that our customers rate us so highly but of course, we shouldn’t be really happy until it’s trending at 100%. I honestly hope you feel this is as important as we do.
If you’ve received your Sale Catalogue and you’ve found something you like, I invite you to go to bed early tonight, just like I’ll be doing. As you’ll no doubt already know, our Winter Sale starts online tomorrow morning at the less-than-Godly hour of 3am and we all need to be up and fresh in time for it. Why on earth do we put ourselves (and you) through this inconvenience?
The simple answer is that we’ve found over the years that it’s the safest – and fairest – time of day for us to start a sale. Here’s a little of what we’ve learned over the years: I’m afraid to say that starting an online Sale in working hours has proved to be a complete ‘no-no’. We tried it one Christmas Eve and it instantly killed all our systems. It meant that I had slightly depressed Christmas that year and I’m sure lots of customers were disappointed.
Unfortunately, the fact that it was so easy for everyone to access the Sale was precisely the reason it was so difficult for us to handle. We had to find a way of ‘frightening off’ some of the initial surge in demand. The obvious solution is, I’m afraid, unsociable hours – which is why we’ve started our Sales overnight for the last few years. In fact, midnight used to be our preferred time but even this could lead to problems. If the site still ran slowly over the first hour or so, customers who had planned to stay up until midnight to spend half an hour shopping online were still up at 2am and starting to complain that they hadn’t been to bed yet.
We felt that not only was 3am even more inconvenient (and therefore even safer), it also meant users are more likely to have had some sleep and therefore any delays (perish the thought) should be less troublesome – we hope… There’s also an inherent fairness in making things really awkward for everybody. It means that those who inconvenience themselves the most are most entitled to the deals which are least commonly available, so morally, it seems to work well. It’s the same ‘law of the jungle’ that governs other areas where demand hugely exceeds supply, like tickets for Cup Finals or Glastonbury.
It sounds like Customer Service heresy to say so, but it’s the simple fact that few retailers will admit – even though everybody knows it: If you want something enough, you’ll do what it takes to get it. There, I’ve said it. Please don’t think less of me. I’m just trying to be honest with you!
All Sales are naturally very busy times and to an extent, we as customers do with in reason accept that fact – don’t forget, we’re all somebody’s customer, so I feel I can say that. When Next (for example) hold their retail Sales (ususally from 5am), there are almost always long queues at every store. The thing about Sales at retail is that it’s obvious to all how many people are there – because you can see them all. While each person has made the effort to travel there, I’m sure that if the event was ridiculously over-subscribed, the fact that such a crowd would be obvious to others often serves to make some of them think again and drive straight back home. Retail Sales are therefore self-limiting to some extent.
On the web, it’s not that straightforward – for anyone. We have a good idea of the number of people who visited the site on the first day of each of our previous sales, so it would be inaccurate to say we don’t know what to expect, but that doesn’t mean to say our estimates will be right this time. It’s also a lot easier to join in as a customer, because you don’t even need to leave your bed, so even our best estimates could be way out. Of course, this has a bearing on the amount we invest in our systems to accommodate this expected demand.
From the customer’s viewpoint the unpredictability will be even more frustrating. Over-subscribed websites work slower (or fall over completely) and items sell out sooner, all things likely to frustrate people and understandably so. At least the company holding the online Sale will know why things are slow – or worse – because they can see the visitor stats. The poor customer may appreciate it’s busy but they won’t know the just how many people are also online’, so there’s a chance they’ll get even more frustrated. Unlike with retail, this self-limiting factor just isn’t there. I should pause here to point out that I appear to be painting a very negative picture about the process. That’s because we try wherever possible to bear in mind a ‘busiest day imaginable’ scenario – so we can prepare to handle it. I refer you to my earlier blog about store openings The Perils of Success, in which a similar theme is explored: being too busy can be worse than not being busy enough.
Yes we’ve had our moments over the years where our online Sales have sailed close to the wind of disappointment in some quarters and I’m also sure it’s impossible to impress all of the people all of the time – although we’ll never stop trying to do that. Over the last two years, I feel we have got a lot closer to the kind of infrastructure that allows us to deal with such a vastly inflated demand.
This year, I believe we’ve been able to improve our capability even more, so I’m optimistic (make that cautiously optimistic) that this Sale will be our best ever – for all of us! In recent years, we’ve been let down firstly by hardware (the boxes of physical kit we have) and then by bandwidth (the ‘speed’ of our web connection). Consequently, it’s required us to add more web servers and a load balancer to ensure that more people can interact with the site at the same time. We’ve also freed up our systems by removing functions like ‘WebChat’ and ‘Others also bought’ for the busiest times.
The other big difference this year is that we’ve been able to increase our bandwidth by a factor of 12. Does this mean we can handle 12 times the demand? In theory, yes but in practice, we’ll have to wait and see… Eventually, if our IT team have done all they can do and we’re still busier than expected, we will at some point run out of things to sell. In effect, our stock levels will have become the ‘weak link’ in the system. We buy and make available ever more stock for our Winter Sale each year and we’ve done that again this year but obviously no seller expects to hold significantly more than they believe they can sell.
Again, to the frustrated customer, a problem here may look like we don’t know what we’re doing – but that’s because they can’t possibly know how many other people are online – or what they are buying. To give you an idea of our online Sale stock this year, it’s more than we currently have at our Ashton and Cannock stores combined. Will that be enough, just right or too much? My answer today, the day before the Sale is that I think it will be about right – although I’m sure that some of the lines will sell out very quickly. I will however know a lot more by this time tomorrow – if I’m still awake!!
If you’re planning to go online tomorrow at 3am, good luck and email me with your comments either way.