NSBRC – Our EO Story
A little bit about us…
The National Self Build & Renovation Centre (NSBRC) is the UK’s only visitor centre for people who are building, or improving, their own homes. Put simply, we believe people deserve better homes.
Since November 2014, the NSBRC has been an employee-owned business and we have a turnover of around £1.8M. We have a ‘hybrid’ ownership model, with all of our team owning shares, some directly and all indirectly through our Employee Ownership Trust and our SIP Trust. We are located on J16 of the M4 (Swindon) and we have 17 employees, having steadily grown from a team of just seven in 2014. We have been a member of the EOA since 2014 and are an accredited ‘Living Wage’ employer.
The issues we experienced in the past year.
As soon as the Prime Minister instructed the nation to ‘stay at home’, we realised the pandemic would have a fundamental impact on our business. It left us with some daunting questions to answer. How could we run a national visitor centre with no visitors(!) and how to do that from our own kitchens or hastily made home-offices?! Our main revenue source (c90%) is from exhibitors who pay an annual rental to highlight their products and services to our homebuilding audience. How could we maintain this income with our ‘market hall’ closed? We also offer a unique meeting and conferencing space and a range of educational courses – would we simply have to cancel all the dates in our diaries and refund delegates their payments?
How we responded.
We faced three key challenges to being successful (or indeed surviving) during this period:
Challenge 1. Providing value for our Exhibitors.
Our model is based on generating high quality enquiries (for our exhibitors) directly from visitors to the NSBRC. We needed to protect income from our exhibitors, by providing them with as much value as possible, and sharing any financial support we received, with them, when we could.
We adapted quickly by finding creative solutions, including launching some brand new services:
Response to Challenge 1). Within days, we launched our ‘Virtual Enquiry Service’.
This allowed visitors to our website to request information from all of our 230+ exhibitors. https://www.nsbrc.co.uk/partner-enquiry
We generated 2,557 virtual enquiries between the 23rd March 2020 and 11th April 2021. We also had 39,016 visits to our Exhibitor ‘Profile Pages’ during this time, with 12,531 click-thru’s to their websites.
In January and February 2021 (during Lockdown 3) we launched a brand new out-bound calling service ‘Self Build Pro’ – where we contacted previous visitors to see if we could help them progress their projects. We had 3,897 conversations with our visitors (from 8,112 calls made) and this generated a further 5,011 enquiries for our exhibitors.
Challenge 2. How to help our Visitors.
If our visitors could not come to us, we should go to them. The government were encouraging house building to continue – as a keystone of our economy – and we wanted to continue to support our audience of self-builders and home improvers. This would be a particular challenge, as we had never previously delivered our content online, as our remit had always been to bring footfall to our physical location.
We pivoted all of our content, usually delivered at the NSBRC, online – using Zoom as our chosen platform, due to its simplicity. Just 23 days into Lockdown 1 we ran our first ever online event – a free self-build course taster session – attended by 164 people.
Since that first event, we have produced a total of 245 hours of live content during the three lockdown periods. 5,081 attendees (or virtual visitors attended) across 34 events – including 16 educational courses delivered to 495 paying delegates.
We also followed all the guidance to become a registered ‘We’re good to go’ venue, and we welcomed 2,944 parties (5,390 adults) during the 5.5 months we were able to open, between Lockdowns 1 and 3, in a covid-secure and relaxed environment.
These activities proved very successful and showed that we could be agile and adapt in the most challenging of circumstances.
Challenge 3. Keeping our team engaged (and employed).
We had several colleagues who were unable to perform their normal roles during the lockdown period (such as our front of house team) who were all placed on ‘furlough’. We were determined to ensure that we did not lose any of our team, and that they felt engaged and supported, throughout an unknown (and uncertain) period.
Our EO culture was vital during this time. We are a close knit-team and life in lockdown has made us all appreciate the relationships that we enjoy, both with teammates and our customers and suppliers, more than ever. We maintain a genuine ‘family feel’, which means that we have all looked out for each other and there has always been someone to talk to and discuss any anxieties.
Crucially, our commitment to maintain as much open communication as possible, has allowed everyone to remain engaged in the business. The team shared ideas and feedback on new products and events. We used Zoom to provide all our employee-owners with a mix of business updates and fun quizzes and games.
The team were also prepared to take on new roles. For example, our Coffee Shop Manager and our Business Development Manager and Front of House Manager were all part of the six-strong outbound calling team. Some of our front of house (reception) team volunteered to come into the centre to paint our meeting rooms, toilets and theatre spaces, which proved their adaptability and commitment to the business. Our Managing Director and Marketing Executive became the ‘go to’ presenters for our online events, as our audience became familiar with, not only their faces, but their respective kitchen and bedroom layouts!
We also took advantage of our large theatre to show films, when we were allowed, in our very own socially-distanced ‘cinema’, which was really nice, as the team brought their children along and it allowed them to share the experience within their safe ‘bubbles’. Our MD, Harvey, also ran a solo half-marathon, inside the NSBRC, to raise money for our nominated charity.
The impact on our stakeholders.
Our exhibitors have hugely appreciated our pro-active and positive response to the pandemic. The result of this has been that we have actually increased our client retention rate (renewal of exhibitor contracts) to 83%.
Incredibly, we have been able to hit a key financial target, which has allowed us to complete the ‘buy-back’ of 2% of the ordinary shares from our investor. This was the fifth year, of a five-year plan, and by achieving our targets five years in succession we have increased the percentage of ordinary shares held by the employee-owners from 75% to 85%.
In June, we will be able to share our profits with the employee-owners. We always commit to retain 50% of profits within the business, and this year, understanding the potential uncertainty ahead for both our business and the wider economy, the team voted to increase the amount we retain in the business – showing their collective maturity and commitment to our long-term success. Our profit share will be paid as part of our EO Day celebrations at the end of June 2021.
Most importantly, we’re all looking forward to feeling the ‘buzz’ that only live events can offer, and getting the sense of satisfaction when you see people learning and doing business together, within our unique setting. Despite ongoing restrictions, we have already welcomed over one thousand visitors in our first four weeks of re-opening, and we are excited about producing live events as soon as we can safely do so!
We will look back on this unprecedented challenge with real pride. We have kept our promise of helping people build better homes, while supporting a community of stakeholders within the home building sector, by providing innovative solutions, with a personal input from our passionate team, that we can now take with us into the future.