James Howard started a company to provide credible alternative support to SMEs in Yorkshire and beyond which were looking for simple payments via hand-held and virtual terminals and merchant services. The company started life as Direct Card Solutions for what Howard describes as a brief and “misjudged” period.
He now attributes a major part of the company’s rapid upwards trajectory to his decision to rebrand it as Yorkshire Payments, a move that allows it to capitalise on the county’s intrinsic solid, no-messing, straight-talking values in all of its marketing activities and simply the way it does business. It’s worth noting that James isn’t actually from Yorkshire, although he calls himself an ‘honorary Yorkshireman”. He grew up on a Wolverhampton council estate, leaving school with no qualifications.
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Howard had worked for another supplier which, he felt, wasn’t delivering proper customer care. “Nobody should ever sell what they’re not proud of,” he said. “I love being responsible for my own destiny and supporting the young team we have at Yorkshire Payments. I felt we could win customers and loyalty by offering good service, great value and working with Yorkshire companies which can relate to that. Big companies refer back to the age of the local bank manager and try to replicate it in the modern day but generally fail, we succeed and a certain type of customer rewards us for it.”
Before starting Yorkshire Payments he applied to be on BBC show The Apprentice. “I’d seen the programme, thought I could do better than most of the other contestants I’d seen and fancied a go, it was fun being involved but ultimately I’m glad I didn’t make it,” he admitted. “I want to build a reputation as a great businessman based on results and ethical trading, not on celebrity.”
In just four years he has built Yorkshire Payments into a fast growing business with a team of 16 and a projected annual turnover of £560,000. His ambitious growth plans aims to achieve a turnover of £2.2mby 2019. Most of the investment has come from within the company itself. “It is important to establish any enterprise with a good cash model so that investment required is kept to a minimum, and then live within your means. We’ve done that by substituting hard work and knowledge for cash and borrowing.”
Howard believes that it’s the company’s hands on style that differentiates it from its competitors, allowing it to deliver almost round the clock customer service and technical support. But he doesn’t believe in call centres – all customers are provided with a named account manager who knows their situation and is able to provide insight and resolve any issues immediately.
This, he believes, accounts for Yorkshire Payments’ 97 per cent customer retention rate. The company claims to be frequently 40 per cent cheaper than competitors as well. He points to customer care which includes delivering a payment terminal to a client on a Sunday night.
Again the Yorkshire connection has helped here. “We have sought to become part of a breed of Yorkshire companies which enjoy working with each other,” he explained. “We also believe that treating our staff well and trusting them results in them giving the best customer service possible.” Two employees who helped start the company jointly won a local Apprentice of the Year award. “It was then we knew we really did have something good going that would affect more than just the company profit line.”
Playing on its positioning as a challenger brand, the company has competed with several major corporate banks to provide card payment solutions for growing numbers of businesses across Yorkshire and, increasingly, the North East so that is now has over top 700 clients.
It has recently won two three-year contracts with leading players Global Payments and AIB and has also secured the enviable industry position of being the only independently-licensed provider based in Yorkshire to be registered by both VISA and MasterCard.
“We aim to double every year for five years and reach a position of strong market share in Yorkshire, we are concerned not to outgrow our ability to serve locally, so at that point we will consolidate and aim to help other like-minded people replicate the model in other areas of the country,” commented Howard.
Remembering his early years on a Wolverhampton council estate, Howard supports Yorkshire homeless charity Simon on the Streets, sponsoring local events to the tune of thousands of pounds. Here again the Yorkshire element is a key factor.
“It’s local and we support local,” he said simply. “I really struggle to see how a society that can’t offer everybody a warm place to sleep can describe itself as civilised. It’s a great team building opportunity for our employees, but most of all because we believe everybody should have support whatever the issues and challenges they face.”
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