The Federation of Small Businesses, for the fourth year running, welcomed dozens of local business owners to their Annual Business Lecture, held in partnership with University of Worcester.
This year's keynote speaker, Ed Webb, head of the family firm, Webbs of Wychbold, engaged his audience in a fantastic presentation about how the business has grown from a relatively modest seed merchants in the mid-nineteenth century to the multi-site 21st century visitor attraction it is today.
(L – R) David Caro (FSB),Tim Maxfield (UoW),Ed Webb, Rhys Humm,Judi Brazkiewicz (FSB)
Ed described changing times over the centuries and how Webbs adapted and updated to meet new markets, moving away from agriculture towards consumer, replacing bulk corn seed orders with, in the earlier days, gardens seeds and plants and then more recently the wide range of garden and home goods that most of us like to have around us.
Although Ed admits that times are not as easy as they were just a few years ago; he still works hard with his team of over 300 staff to ensure that the family firm continues to be the favourite for his West Midland customer base.
Recently the Wychbold site has added other brands to the retail offer, national names which, though not gardening based, fit firmly within the ‘leisure', or as Ed calls it, "what you do in your spare time" model.
His latest update is the new website. www.websdirect.co.uk brings the company right up to date with click and collect, delivery to your home and general information and browsing.
Add all of the above to the expanding wholesale supply Webbs offers to other retailers and the in-store food hall, cafe and other consumer must haves and you have a superb model of how a small family firm has taken proactive steps to remain within its expertise but still managed to diversify, securing the future of both the company, 300+ staff and 4000 suppliers which rely on Webbs for their own economic success.
When asked by FSB what town centre retailers might do to help their own economic survival Ed suggested that high property rents and business rates are stunting natural growth in retailing. He hoped that local business owners would negotiate with landlords to ensure properties remained occupied and at a sustainable cost.
And....How did Webbs get the brown sign off the M5? Well, says Ed, we just asked for it, and they said yes!
The supporting presentation of the evening was made by Rhys Humm, of Holywell Malvern Spring Water. Rhys gave his audience an inspiring insight into the way his company has gone from nothing to almost a household name in just a handful of years.
It all started when Mr and Mrs Humm, senior, bought the Holywell property. They didn't know anything about the spring waters and were intrigued by the beautifully fresh water from the spring at their home. Rhys undertook investigations and found that they were literally sitting on the original source of Malvern spring water.
The following years included all of the checked, planning applications and so on to kick start a brand new company, Holywell Water. The gap in the market was obvious and as Coca Cola withdrew from Malvern in 2010 Holywell was on hand to fill what had been a gap and was now a gaping abyss. Malvern spring water was first recognised as a leader at the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition of 1851, when Queen Victoria decided that she liked it, and the rest, as they say, is history!
Rhys has recently landed his first export deal, taking Holywell Malvern Spring Water to the Far East. The FSB has invited Rhys to speak at their forthcoming Business Grow Show at Worcester Sixways Stadium, where he will outline the process of reaching foreign markets.