From installing at the wrong address to keeping London secured: early lessons learned in the safety business
When first starting out in business, it’s natural to make plenty of mistakes. After all, it’s how you learn and grow, as well as giving you something to laugh about in years to come. However, not many business owners have made the same mistake that Jeremy Ewen, Managing Director of WLS, made in the year 2000, installing an alarm at completely the wrong address. However, more than 20 years on, he’s now the owner of a hugely successful business in a very important sector of the construction industry: safety and security. So, how did Jeremy reconcile this mistake and learn from it in order to build such a successful venture? Here, he talks about what went wrong and the early lessons that it taught him about working in this important industry.
“Back in the year 2000, a friend of mine, Jonathan, contacted me to look at a new flat he was purchasing with a view to having an alarm installed to improve its safety and security features. He had not yet moved in, but was in the process of exchanging contracts. So, I met him at the flat, we discussed what he wanted and how it was going to operate, and I returned to the office in order to prepare the quotation.
A month later, the flat purchase was complete and WLS was instructed to carry out the installation. The works were organised in the usual way by our installation department. On the day that they were due to start, I contacted Jonathan’s wife, Kim, to make sure that the engineers had arrived and everything was going to plan. This is where it all started to go wrong. She informed me that actually, they hadn’t arrived, and would I be able to find out where they were? Of course, I immediately called the lead engineer and asked him where they were.
“We’re installing the alarm, Boss,” came the reply.
Somewhat bewildered, I called Kim back to check that they were definitely not on site. They were not. At this stage, I just couldn’t understand what was going on, and I had to go and see for myself. I arrived at the flat and, sure enough, the engineers weren’t there. I called the lead engineer again:
“Where are you?” I said. “You’re definitely not here.”
“Yes we are,” came the reply.
It was only then that I thought to check the address.
“26 St. George’s Square?” I asked.
“No, 140 St. George’s Square,” came the reply.
I couldn’t quite believe it, but I walked to the other side of the square and sure enough, my engineers were there at 140, installing the alarm. Shock and amazement ensued. I asked them why they were installing it there. Their response? They were just following what was written on the quotation!
“Show me,” I said. They did. And there, written plain as day, was the address written as 140 St. George’s Square. I then met the tenant of 140 and asked her why on earth had she let some strangers into her home to install an alarm system?!
“Because I have been asking my landlord for an alarm system for over two years and I thought that he had finally relented!” came the response.
In the end, the error was all mine. I had put the wrong address on the quotation, mixing it up with the street number of my friend’s previous address. I have to confess that we didn’t complete the installation at 140, but we did (eventually) end up with a happy client at 26.
But what did this teach me in the early years of my safety and security business?
Firstly, I’d say it taught me the valuable lesson of double checking your client’s address before you send your engineers there! Apart from that, though, this was a defining moment in my business life that has definitely taught me a thing or two:
Everyone makes mistakes…
It’s a fact of life and of business. There is not one single business owner out there who hasn’t made a mistake in their time. In the construction industry, people are often scared of making mistakes because of the big consequences that they can cause. But, as long as you’re not making mistakes at the expense of people’s safety, truly you shouldn’t let the prospect of them frighten you.
…But mistakes don’t really matter!
Leading on from that, the vast majority of mistakes don’t matter in the long run. When installing the alarm at the wrong address happened to me, I was mortified. I thought that my reputation was going to be ruined and that I would never work on another property again. Of course, I was completely wrong. I’ve been able to grow my business beyond what I thought was possible in the last 20 years, installing fire alarms, CCTV, electric gates, and more, across London and beyond. And, my big mistake has simply become a funny anecdote that, thankfully, my customers find amusing.
It’s important to surround yourself with good people
After installing his alarm at the wrong address, my friend Jonathan could have turned his back on me and decided never to support my business ever again. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and we remained friends. If you’ve got the right people behind you, navigating the trials and tribulations of any business becomes a whole lot easier, even when things do go wrong.
The construction industry is a great place to be
The construction industry is full of lots of different moving parts and sub-sectors, such as the fire and security services that WLS provides. If my mistake taught me one thing, it’s that I’m very thankful to be a part of it, and see all of the talented people and businesses that go into constructing homes, offices, infrastructure, and more. So, if you’re in a similar position to me twenty years ago, I would encourage you to never give up. There’s room for everyone’s business to flourish in construction, so don’t let any silly mistakes put you off. I promise that, in another twenty years, you will be laughing about it!