An incredible Teesside success story is happening at Hartlepool Marina…
Just over two years ago, Darren Sutherland and Bob Moore were in charge of a team of six staff, having recently set up Utility Alliance.
The duo, vastly experienced in the energy sector, had opted to launch their own business after deciding that even though the competition was tough, there was more than enough business to go round.
Fast forward to the end of their second financial year, turnover figures in excess of £5 million are testament to their decision to go it alone.
As he sits in the company’s new headquarters at Hartlepool Marina – with a team of 140 staff on the floors below – Sutherland says the gamble has paid off.
“Of course it was a gamble,” he said.
“We were in jobs working in the same sector, and doing very well. We were setting up deals for hundreds of thousands of pounds, and something just sort of clicked that said ‘We can do this’.
“Myself and Bob set up the business, then Bob’s brother Phill – who is also hugely experienced – came on board with us a little further down the line. It’s just grown from there really.
“When we made it public that we were going to create 16 opportunities for apprentices, some people said we were setting our sights too high. Those 16 came in, then there was another 50, and we continued to expand.
“In mid-January we brought in 64 staff with a view to getting them trained as energy consultants. It’s an ongoing recruitment drive, and as staff learn the ropes, opportunities are available for them to move up the ladder within Utility Alliance.”
Utility Alliance works on a B2B basis, reviewing companies’ energy usage and billing and then taking over the running of the contracts and matching them with tariffs in the most cost-effective way for their client.
They work with businesses of all sizes, ranging from independent shops to retail giants and small office buildings to much larger national companies with multi sites.
Sutherland added: “All businesses need gas and electricity. And all businesses want to do what they can to save money. That will never change.
“What we found when we set up our initial business plan was that 85% of companies didn’t use an energy broker. They just got their supply, and paid the bill when it dropped on the mat. But some of the savings we have made have been in the five and six figure bracket.”
The company’s growth has been remarkable, both in terms of the increase in staffing levels as well as the balance sheet.
“We do pinch ourselves at times,” continues Sutherland. “But we are really driven from within and every time we reach a milestone we want to continue to progress. We won’t rest on our laurels. If we stand still, we go backwards.
“The bulk of our workforce is in the 18-25 age bracket, but we’ve also expanded the top level by bringing in team managers, a head of PR & Marketing and a finance team. As the company grows, the departments will grow. It’s an exciting time for us.”
Utility Alliance was initially housed in the Innovation Centre in Hartlepool, with adjacent offices within the centre rented out as business boomed.
Towards the end of 2016, it became obvious that the firm had outgrown its first home, and an agreement was made to lease Tranquility House on the marina which was previously occupied by Garlands and then Yuill Homes.
A significant sum of money was pumped into the building to give it a complete renovation, walls were knocked down, offices were created and teams of IT experts worked like Trojans over the festive period to ensure everything was in place when staff returned to work on January 3.
Sutherlands reflects: “We’re proud of what we have done to the building, and we have had some great feedback from our staff who really enjoy coming to work here. We’ve also had good feedback from neighbouring businesses who have noticed a knock-on effect from our arrival.
“We have almost 150 staff who will pop out for a sandwich at lunchtime, they might go to one of the bars for a drink after work. The marina in general has had its critics, but it would be nice if our arrival here could encourage other businesses to consider coming here.
“When I look out of my office window, I see the yachts and the hotels, then from the other window the view is of the port and the heavier industry such as Heerema. It really does show the old and new Hartlepool, and we’re glad to be in the thick of it.”
Utility Alliance – some facts
• Utility Alliance was formed in February 2015, with a team of just six staff.
• The company’s ongoing recruitment drive has seen the team expand to 144 by the turn of 2017, and that figure is expected to be over 200 by the end of the year.
• The team at Utility Alliance operate on a B2B basis, saving companies money on their utility bills regardless of their size after carrying out a full audit and bulk buying energy.
• Utility Alliance’s expansion saw it move from its original base on Queens Meadow Business Park to a prominent location on Hartlepool Marina in January.
• Whatever point the current contract is with any firm, Utility Alliance can review at no cost and with no obligation to act upon it.