When former colleagues Paul Andrews and Scott Warrington spotted an opportunity to help schools rent their facilities after hours, they left their jobs to set up School Lettings Solutions. Now the business has a turnover of £3.2m. They talk entrepreneurship, growth and trust
Paul Andrews When schools, colleges or academies close their doors in the evening and at weekends, our staff open their facilities on their behalf for community use. Some of the facilities that schools have, particularly the new-builds in the last 10 years, are better than local leisure centres. For them to be sat there unused seemed like a waste. We handle everything from the booking to the cleaning.
Scott Warrington We operate on an income-split system. It costs schools nothing to use our service. For example, with a £100 letting on a Saturday morning, we would subtract the direct staffing fee and then split the income profit. The percentage split varies from school to school – factoring in the facilities on offer, whether they have a history of lettings and location – so it can swing from being more favourable to us or to the school.
Andrews We tailor the delivery to each school but generally customers can range from football and rugby groups to weddings, dog shows and locations for TV filming.
Warrington We originally worked together in 2005 at a school in Lancashire, managing the [out-of-hours] lettings to council services, but working in-house was frustrating. With no chance of promotion, we left. We later came up with the idea for the business and became entrepreneurs so we could realise our ambition.
Andrews We received £3,500 of social enterprise funding. Our old manager had taken up a headship at another school and he let us run a 12-week pilot in 2012 to let out the facilities. It became our first contract. Business snowballed, doubling year on year since.
Warrington Schools aren’t equipped to spend time marketing their facilities because they’re busy looking after the students, so one of the key things we do is marketing. We’re proactive in making sure every single community group, organisation, class and instructor knows about our schools and that there can be a venue for their group.
Andrews That first school had just spent £250,000 on drainage for its football field but didn’t open its facilities. Meanwhile the village’s junior football team travelled round Preston every weekend to find pitches. Visit at the weekend now and it’s full of kids playing football. That’s as satisfying as making money from the contracts.
Warrington Initially we did a lot of the roles together but the business was growing so quickly we drew a line down the middle. Paul handled the day-to-day stuff – he’s more of a numbers man – and I worked on the sales and met with schools. Paul had to make decisions without me always being there but I’d say on eight out of 10 decisions I would have made the same one.
Andrews We’ve had some minor debates but we’ve never completely disagreed on anything. Because we’re so similarly minded in how we want to do things, it just works well. It’s about having someone who’s trying to achieve the same thing and who you can talk things through with and make decisions, rather than being on your own.
Warrington Trust underpins it all. I don’t need to be in the room [all the time] because I know when Paul does something, he does it for the right reasons. We make mistakes but we make them together.
Andrews We’ve never really diversified from what we set out to do. There have been crossroads – we could have set up our own fitness ground or coaching courses – but we concentrated on the core business. Once a year we have a big meeting and look back at what we’ve achieved and how we could become more entrepreneurial.
Warrington We’ve always sought to build the business, not the job. As entrepreneurs we’re not precious and we know how to let go – it’s better to bring in managers with better skills than us to help grow the business than try to do everything ourselves. If you have people with a better skillset than you, let them loose on it.
Andrews We’ve grown quickly but we believe we have more leverage and can pass on better savings to schools, get a better product and make the service even better.
Warrington We have to remain ambitious. Our goal is to be the largest provider of leisure facilities in the UK, not by owning or building leisure centres but by continuing to work with schools. Quality is key. We have invested in a lot of infrastructure that allows us to keep growing.
School Lettings Solutions vital stats
Location Bolton-based, with partner schools across England
Staff 60 full-time, 450 part-time
Partner schools 120
Accolades Featured in Startups.co.uk’s Young Guns 2016 index of entrepreneurs aged 35 and under.
For more information, visit schoollettings.org