Digital strategy helps business plug a hole in the market


Bg - fal - fbs plumbing services - alison sime 6

Name: Alison Sime 

Age: 55

What is your business called? FBS Plumbing Solutions, although locally we are still referred to as Falkirk Brass. This came about because my family used to own a brass foundry making everything from taps to letterboxes. As the company developed to meet market and industry needs locally, the trade counter was always referred to as Falkirk Brass and the name has stuck.

Where is it based? Gowan Avenue, Falkirk 

What does it produce, what services does it offer? The company has grown from a supplier of coloured sanitary ware to a distributor of high-quality bathroom products with a portfolio of over 20 leading brands as well as a full range of plumbing materials.

To whom does it sell?  Bathroom showrooms, local plumbers, bathroom installers and house builders.

What is its turnover? £1.75m

How many employees? We have just recruited two new members of staff to strengthen our sales team so our total is now 13.

When was it formed? FBS was set up by my father, Alistair Munro-Brown, in 1980.

Why did you take the plunge? When my dad died the business was initially run by a management team. An opportunity then arose for me to join the firm in accounts in 1995. Eleven years later I took over the running of the firm, shrinking its stock and sales by 25% to make the business more profitable. Since becoming MD, I’ve also expanded into new premises and opened a trade showroom, which has helped the business grow on average 10% over the last couple of years.

What were you doing before you took the plunge? The plumbing business was a very male-dominated industry in the 80s, and still is in many respects, so instead of working for my father I began my career with Mathieson’s the Bakers, building my sales and finance experience with them. 
I thoroughly enjoyed my 12 years working in the bakery industry, especially my involvement with the Scottish Bakery Training Group that looked at training and development within the bakery and retail sector. It certainly was a full on career and I made the decision to put family first after I found out I was expecting my second child. This then led me to move into the family business to work part-time as Credit Controller for FBS. I suppose I knew that after the children were older I would be looking for new challenges within the company and a good starting point is from a financial perspective.

How did you raise the start-up funding? Business funding was in place when I joined FBS but I was determined, when I took over as MD, to stop operating on an overdraft facility. This was achieved in 18 months and made us much more financially stable to move forward.

What was your biggest break? Probably adding the renowned, and local, Carron Bathrooms brand to our Scottish distribution portfolio in 2008. There is a real synergy between our companies as Carron Baths are manufactured in Falkirk about one mile from FBS HQ. We now have over 20 key bathroom brands in our portfolio - RAK Ceramics, Tavistock, Tre-Mercati, Vitra, MX, McAlpine and Royo to name a few. These are manufactured worldwide but it is always great to support Scottish companies like Carron Bathrooms and McAlpine and our closer European partners. FBS is known for its brands and for this reason we do not promote own brand products at present as the competition at that end of the market is fierce and margins are not guaranteed.

What was your worst moment? Nothing springs to mind, thankfully! There are always challenges but I thrive on finding solutions to problems to ensure our customers are totally satisfied with our products and service.

What do you most enjoy about running the business? I suppose it is being able to shape and develop the company to suit our changing market. I love the interaction with customers and suppliers and listening to what the market needs to ensure the continued success of FBS.

What do you least enjoy? That’s easy - the annual stock take at the end of January! Over 6000 types of products to count and cost but it has to be done.

What is your biggest bugbear? Like many small businesses, I find it difficult and frustrating to compete with the big national companies where excessive discounts are offered. This directly affects our bottom line. That is why I believe quality products, personal service, and excellent product knowledge is really important and helps FBS stand out. 

What are your ambitions for the firm? Our customer base is very local so my main ambition is to increase our profile Scotland wide, and thanks to help from Business Gateway Falkirk we are beginning to make headway. When we first meet Business Gateway we were essentially a hidden secret and our adviser helped us secure funding to launch our first website at the end of 2016. That gave us an initial online presence to showcase what we do and allowed us to direct enquiries for products to the showrooms we supply. I then attended a range of DigitalBoost workshops that made me realise if we didn’t grow our presence online then the business would ultimately stagnate. Our adviser also put us in touch with the University of Stirling’s Management School and we took on an MBA intern, Akshay Singh, for six months who devised a digital marketing strategy for us which is starting to bear fruit. 

What are your five top priorities? 
1. Increase our profile online.
2. Develop the team’s IT and digital skills.
3. Launch an online FBS brochure.
4. Develop a ‘find your nearest showroom’ facility on the website.
5. Investigate e-commerce.

What single thing would most help? Continued access to Business Gateway Falkirk and it's support network which has been invaluable in broadening my horizons and business skills.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned? If your team don’t have the skills you need when accessing outside expert advice to help you find them is a must. By connecting with Business Gateway we were able to take on an intern who highlighted that, as more or our regular customers become older and retire we needed to start attracting younger customers now and they want information at the touch of a button. Getting that support helped us up our game and really pushed us out of our comfort zone for the benefit of the company.

Find out how Business Gateway Falkirk can help you by visiting their local pages or call 01324 808266.

Outwith the area? Find your local Business Gateway office or call 0300 013 4753.

Ready to give your business a DigitalBoost?

Enhance your digital skills with workshops, 1:1 advice, guides and more.

Boost your business now

Download a report on your market

Understanding your market is one of the golden rules of business, so we’ve complied insight packs on over 100 different markets.

Download a Market Insight pack