In late 2013 Mandy Scott, Managing Director of AA Flags, the international bespoke flag manufacturers based in County Durham, won the NatWest everywoman rural award, which the Countryside Alliance supports. We have spoken to Mandy about what the experience has meant, how business is going and why other female rural entrepreneurs should put themselves forward for this prestigious scheme. You will be able to read more about the Awards in our forthcoming Spring magazine.
What has winning the Everywoman Award meant to you?
In short, recognition for 22 years of hard work.
What is the biggest challenge facing your business?
Because I was only 24 when I set up my company, I found it a challenge getting people (especially men) to take me seriously. Because I was manufacturing textiles, I looked like a ‘cottage’ industry, especially being based ‘up North’. It’s difficult enough marketing your business to Southern based companies when they think there’s nothing North of Manchester! The old cliché ‘juggling family life’ doesn’t come into it for me, even though I am a single mum. I always put my daughter first, she’s 17 now and I have never felt like I have missed out on time with her because I was never a ‘greedy’ business person. I worked so we had a nice comfortable lifestyle, I never wanted to be the biggest or the best or the richest. You don’t have to work long hours, you just have to work ‘clever’ and manage your time wisely.
What advice would you offer to someone who has an idea but is unsure how to move forward?
Take all the free advice that’s out there, listen carefully, and for goodness sake remove your blinkers! Just because you think your product or service is a good idea, ask your potential clients, not family and friends, that way you get a true unbiased opinion. Do your figures, you’re in business to make a profit and if you’re left with a negative figure month after month, something is amiss. Go through the accounts with a fine tooth comb, put it right, or get yourself to the Jobcentre. Some people in business are busy fools, if you’ve made £200 profit at the end of the week, that sounds great, but some people just don’t get it. If you’ve worked 60 hours in that week, you’ve driven yourself into the ground for a little over £3 per hour! Time to visit that Jobcentre! I guess what I’m trying to say is be hard on yourself, true to yourself and if you’ve done your market research and figures right, you’ll succeed through determination and hard work. Be nice, don’t run before you can walk and when you employ staff, speak to them as you would like to be spoken to by your boss. Praise them when necessary, reward them for hard work and never let grievances get out of hand, address them before they escalate. Happy staff are productive, loyal and conscientious.
What has been the oddest/ most unique commission you have dealt with?
We were commissioned to manufacture a St George Flag to cover the whole pitch at Twickenham Rugby Ground. The monster flag had to be transported by haulage contract and cable tied together on site so we were promised a squad of blokes to help us when we got down there. Well, we got there, the flag arrived, but we were offered no help. By the end of the day, myself and another lady suffered severe heat stroke and spent two days in bed! Another strange job was when we made a replica Newcastle United shirt to be displayed on the Angel of The North. 5am in the morning some NUFC supporters catapulted lines of fishing wire over the sculptures giant wings and hoisted the huge shirt into place. It was installed for around 20 minutes when the Police came and ordered it to be removed, as it was causing traffic to slow down the main A1. Sometimes we are offered incentives to manufacture politically or racially offensive flags, but we have stayed true and politely refused. Morals maketh man (or woman) and in business, you will learn this very quickly.
What next for AA flags?
The textile manufacturing business in the UK has declined over the past decade and we are seen as a ‘sunset’ industry to some. Closure of North East based companies who used to manufacture garments for the likes of Marks and Spencer has forced skilled machinists to seek more permanent positions in supermarkets or other larger employers. I personally think that the future is with our younger generation, and if we can train youngsters to design and manufacture textile products, people will still continue to ‘buy British’ if the quality is great. AA Flags have just employed its first apprentice and the future is bright.
The website for AA Flags is http://www.aaflags.co.uk/