Picking up awards . . and a winning habit

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IF there's one thing that every winner knows it's that success can help breed success.

Winning can become habit-forming, as any of the four Lothian-based winners of the Enterprising Scotland Awards will tell you.

Having scooped gongs in the Evening News Business Excellence Awards, SK Chase, Beetroot Blue, Bigmouthmedia and George Sharkey & Sons carried through their momentum and walked off with a variety of category accolades at last weekend's national Enterprising Scotland Awards for 2005 at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

And now, all four see their double successes as the morale-boosting platform that will drive them on to greater heights and further entrench Edinburgh and the Lothians as the flagship Scottish region for business excellence, after its representatives carried off four of the nine available awards.

And all hope that their triumphs will spur other local firms to try their hand at next year's awards.

At the ceremony, SK Chase, a gift voucher business, scooped the prize for innovation and creativity, online catering firm Beetroot Blue walked away with a gong for e-business, Bigmouthmedia won one for the best performing business (25 employees and under) and Sharkey, a commercial interior design and construction firm, was given the excellence in skills and learning award.

Alan Duff, managing director of Beetroot Blue, believes the publicity from the awards has already led to new enquiries and new clients. "We are able to track where these came from and coverage in the local press has generated inquiries," he says. "Companies should consider entering for awards - they are a shop window and a great opportunity for PR."

Angus MacLennan, finance director at Sharkey, is adamant that the awards have helped his company in two ways. First, while it is a substantial and successful business, people do not know who they are. "The awards have been excellent in raising our profile," he says.

And second, the pride that they instil in the staff lifts their own morale. "The awards reflect what they have put into the business," he adds.

Jim McFarlane, chief executive of Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh & Lothian, says the winners richly deserve the recognition and reward they have received, and hopefully it will encourage others to pursue the same level of excellence. "I'm delighted at the success of companies from our own area which reflects the growing spirit of enterprise and confidence in evidence within the city region," he adds.

All the winners agree that all companies should see if they can emulate their success. "Apart from being a morale booster if you win, it gives you the opportunity to step back from the company and look at it subjectively," Bigmouthmedia's Steve Leach says. "You can focus on the core elements and see how the company is running."

Mr MacLennan also recommends other companies should take the plunge. "We have got a lot out of it, such as networking and raising our profile," he adds. "Great coverage in the Evening News of the awards gave the staff a big lift."

Since the Evening News awards, each of the companies has moved on to a new level. SK Chase was set up by Kaye Clarke and Stephanie Wilson just a year ago. Since then, they have followed a dream to assist tourism businesses in tapping into a wealth of revenue and customer service.

And they have been rewarded with a number of high-profile clients including Gleneagles Hotel, the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews, Tayside Aviation and Channings Hotel in the Capital.

Beetroot Blue, part of the Heritage Portfolio group, is an online catering service, which the company believes provides an innovative solution with enormous potential for growth. It gives customers the opportunity to order food online, suitable for small groups of about five to a major event with around 600 people, that they can view before purchasing.

Mr Leach and his wife Heather Luscombe set up Bigmouthmedia in 1997. By combining the application of new technology with marketing goals, the company makes sure its clients rank in the top ten results of a keyword search online in their markets.

George Sharkey & Sons, established in 1969, completes interior construction for clients and won its award for the training programme it carries out for its staff.

The company opened its own training academy in 2000. In training its staff and through its apprenticeship programme, the firm has been able to avoid skills shortages. And it has been able to teach its staff to its own quality standards.

Mr MacLennan says the employees graduating from its academy are what enables Sharkey to differentiate itself from its competitors. "It is the quality of their attitude and how they have been trained," he says.

All of the companies are looking to develop further their businesses on the back of their success. Ms Wilson says one of the company's goals is to increase the profile of what SK Chase has to offer. "We need to raise awareness within the tourism industry," Ms Wilson says. "The market is worth 1.4 billion in the UK and hospitality hasn't tapped into it yet."

Providing prepared food is also a sector that is continuing to expand. With a clear market focus on a catering sector that is growing exponentially, Mr Duff says Beetroot Blue hopes to maximise the opportunities offered by internet access to its growing customer base.

Bigmouthmedia feels it is not enough having the best website in the market. If nobody knows it is there, it will not bring customers in to the company, it says.

Mr Leach says that the company's turnover could be as high as 10 million this year, more than three times higher than last year and helped by its recent award successes. "We are on target for where we want to be, but there is still a long way to go," he adds.

And when it comes to recruitment, Sharkey's Mr MacLennan believes the publicity of the awards has helped his company find the type of employees it is looking for. "We have had over 400 applications for joiner apprenticeships, from whom we took ten."

Each of the companies has big plans for the future. In the next couple of years, SK Chase plans to roll out a new range of services offering more offbeat experience packages, such as a round of golf to a champagne dinner, all the time creating new revenue streams for the operators.

Bigmouthmedia, which has offices in London and Madrid as well as its head office in Edinburgh, is looking to expand through recruiting graduates. Mr Leach wants to take on up to 100 at a rate of two or three a month for the next two to three years.

One of the biggest worries identified by Beetroot Blue's Mr Duff is clients' concerns that the products will arrive on time. "The biggest fear when people book online is whether the delivery will get there," he says. "The website has been designed to give reassurance to customers that it will."

Musselburgh-based Sharkey boasts a number of high-profile institutions, including St Andrews University, HBoS and Royal Bank of Scotland, among its clients. It now enjoys a turnover of 45m, with a dedicated workforce of more than 200.

It has recently introduced a graduate trainee programme, with a view to giving them the training to become successful managers.

The final word about these awards goes to Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh & Lothian's Mr McFarlane. "Ultimately the real winner is Scotland and its ambition to develop as a globally competitive business location," he says.