Rob Cole, MD of Sheffield Sustainable Kitchens
We talk to Rob Cole of Sheffield Sustainable Kitchens, an ethical company which creates bespoke kitchens using recycled pieces and sustainable materials.
What is it the company does?
Sheffield Sustainable Kitchens are members of the Guild of Master Craftsmen. We design and fit bespoke kitchens and sustainability and ethics are at the core of everything we do.
Many of our kitchens have a story to tell, whether it’s the cabinet door fronts that were originally railway wagons, open shelving that had a previous life as a heavily graffitied school lab bench or worktops made from glass bottle shards set in a solid resin.
We also offer a refurbishment service, where we work closely with clients to enhance their current kitchen, replacing or renovating only those elements that are tired or worn, and making adjustments to improve the client’s existing space.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I manage the company and our business development. I still enjoy being hands-on, though, and happily get involved with troubleshooting when I’m needed, whether that’s in the office, workshop or out on site. I love being able to do some of the design work when called upon too.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I graduated with a degree in Geography from Sheffield University and did supply teaching for a year or so. I didn’t really enjoy it, so when an opportunity came up to help fit kitchens on a building site, I jumped at the chance.
I’d always fancied working with my hands and this seemed more fun, if a little less well paid!
Some 12 months on, in 2008, I set up my own business. I became a sole trader fitting kitchens on building sites. Eventually, I broke into the domestic market, installing kitchens for various kitchen retailers.
I got fed up of with working for other companies though. I felt they wasted too much material and often didn’t do things to the high standard I thought they should be done.
Making my business as sustainable as possible by using recycled and recyclable materials wherever possible was a no-brainer for me, I’ve always been environmentally conscious.
I researched found really interesting materials like recycled paper worktops and recycled glass surfaces, and sourced suppliers of high-quality wood that was being ripped out of schools, churches, offices and colleges.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I bring in snacks for the team! Seriously though, for me, leadership is about bringing people with you, understanding them and their needs, as well as sharing your vision and values with them. It all boils down to working on relationships really.
I try hard to make my team feel appreciated and valued, and they then do the same for our customers. I also think it’s important to admit when you get things wrong - and be humble.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?
Managing the growth of the business is always a challenge and we’ve grown a lot in the past few years. In 2014 there were just four of us - last week we welcomed our 15th team member.
I love the challenge though. And I love the fact that things are always different.
My role is very different from what it was two years ago, and it will be different again in another two.
We have come a long way. This autumn we are proud to have been shortlisted for the Sheffield Business Awards, in the category of Corporate, Environmental and Social Responsibility.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
By trying not to let it get to me and sharing laughs with the team along the way. I love going running in the hills around Sheffield and escaping to the mountains when I can. I don’t get quite as much work-life-balance as I’d like, but I do think it’s really important to let your hair down and have a life away from work.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Probably a train driver! I was obsessed with trains as a child.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I hate the fact that we are so tight on space in our current workshop in Nether Edge, Sheffield. We are collecting a stash of beautiful reclaimed timber lab benches for some kitchens we're working on at the moment and we are pushed for space as we try to do joinery, which I find frustrating. Plus a lot of the team cycle to work, which we actively encourage, but it puts more pressure on limited space. I would love to move to larger premises in the next 12 months.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
In bigger premises with a bigger team. I’d like us to expand our reach, serving a wider area and also manufacture in-house more than we are currently. Growing a business is exciting.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Never stop learning! It’s going to be a steep learning curve.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Invest in some advertising. I wish we had done that sooner. It has helped us reach new customers. And I wish I’d realised in the very early days of the business how much help and support is available for start-ups and new businesses. A lot of it free, too. So use it!
The UK Social Entrepreneur Index, sponsored by UBS, is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK.
Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.
For more info visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk.
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