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Margaret Manning: ?Happy customers are future profit?

“Look at what happened during the dotcom bubble,” she tells Real Business. “Companies grew at alarming rates because they milked their clients for all they were worth, then spiralled into administration the minute the economy turned. We don’t – and will never – operate like that.” Manning runs something called the Net Promoter Score. Every six months, she asks all her clients: “Would you recommend us to a friend ” The replies are scored between one and ten. “We want to find out how many of our customers are promoters [scores of eight or more] and how many are detractors [scores of seven or less],” she explains. “We base our employees’ bonuses on these results rather than on short-term targets. Happy customers, who are saying nice things about us, are our future profit." Manning opened an office in Sydney in 2001. She currently has 25 employees based in Australia and is expanding into Brisbane. “Australia, particularly parts of Queensland, has a strong commodities market, selling coal into China,” she says. “It hasn’t suffered at the hands of the recession as badly as the financial markets. I see more growth coming from Australia during the next five years than Europe. There’s a real feeling of optimism out there." Manning is a shrewd business woman. Where other entrepreneurs have been desperately slashing budgets, she has focused on “cash management rather than cost cutting”.

“When the recession hit, the first thing I did was hire the best, most experienced recruitment manager I could find,” says Manning. “During a downturn, there’s a bigger pool of talented, senior-level people looking for work. This year, we’ve recruited at a rate of two new employees per month.”

Reading Room pulled in sales of £12m this year, with Manning forecasting a 20 per cent growth in 2010. And she’s not stopping there: "I want 40 per cent."

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