Great Annual Savings is rewriting the rule book for the much-maligned cost-saving utilities industry to benefit customers, businesses and communities in the Durham and Wearside area, and beyond.
The Seaham-based company, which employs more than 300 people from its Spectrum Business Park base, is now one of the leaders in the field following the collapse of Utilitywise at the beginning of 2019.
Under the leadership of innovative founder and chief executive Brad Groves, the company continues to grow from strength-to-strength, with new premises in the pipeline and additional staff from Cornwall to Aberdeen.
That includes some of the 1,000 who lost their jobs when Newcastle-based Utilitywise went into administration in February, who will have noticed GAS’s approach to the sector is very different.
Great Annual Savings Group has enjoyed healthy expansion since its launch in 2012, moving from its original base in South Shields to Seaham where there are already plans to move to new offices on the same site, closer to the coastline.
The company helps businesses minimise their variable costs and save money in a number of fields, including energy procurement, energy and water cost management, business waste, fire safety, telecoms, insurance, card payments and electric vehicle charging.
But it is the approach to customer care and service which will set Great Annual Savings Group apart as it looks to change perceptions of companies operating in the energy industry.
Phil Andrew, associate customer experience director (pictured), said: “At GAS we are keen to stand out by doing things the right way in an unregulated industry which has gained itself somewhat of a nuisance tag.
“We have matured in seven years and we have a sales division that thinks differently. It is not just about getting customers on board and abandoning them. We want to enhance the customer experience. Many of our relationships and ways of doing business are the envy of our competitors.
“It is mutually beneficial to have a close relationship. Our customers should not feel that they have signed a contract and that is the end of the partnership. It is the beginning. It needs to develop, act as a link which can build a network with other businesses. And it is built on trust, not suspicion, which has been the case in the past in our sector, I think.”
From Groves’ Spennymoor Town FC boardroom, the Durham club he has propelled through non-league football for the last 10 years, Great Annual Savings has set up a Business Club in the town which meets once a month to generate and share experiences, opportunities and, hopefully, business.
It is a model its staff have expanded into a number of football clubs, including Grantham Town and Worksop Town, and they are also a member of Sunderland AFC’s business club.
Great Annual Savings’ healthy growth has of course enabled Brad Groves to expand his workforce. Given his background, it is no surprise the working class lad from Easington Lane, who was director of a FTSE company at the age of 26, is keen on the apprenticeship route for potential employees. When he was 16, and still dreaming of being a professional footballer, he joined Monument Sports in Newcastle, which was eventually acquired by Blacks Leisure Group.
And when injury ended the promising sports career, he took the apprenticeship with Monument Sports, eventually going on to hold a directorship with Blacks.
He stayed until he was headhunted by Caudwell Group where he became managing director at its London base until his return to this region in 2008. Since then 25 apprentices have started and flourished at Seaham, in sales, IT, finance, HR, marketing and compliance.
And once they are in the building and on the payroll, it is that approach to creating opportunity which really sets Great Annual Savings apart from its rivals, through visible sponsorship of cultural events such as Lumiere Durham, Hardwick Live and the Oyster Festival at the same venue near Sedgefield, which has totalled more than £100,000 over two years, to its commitment to local charities.
Employees at Great Annual Savings can (and are expected to) join the Give As You Earn scheme which has raised more than £70,000 for its three corporate charities, Heel and Toe, Animal Krackers and County Durham Food Bank.
As well as giving up one day per year for one of those causes, staff must raise additional funds through their own fundraising. It means Great Annual Savings workers are as likely to be found hanging from a charity zipwire off the Tyne Bridge or Monkwearmouth Bridge, as they are on the end of a telephone.
Phil Andrew added: “We have a discretionary bonus against your targets and you have to do something for one of three charities and do something over and above to raise some money, so we have had parachute jumps, cake bakes, staff Mastermind competition and this month we are having a pool competition, you name it.
“Brad has raised and donated thousands over the years for charity and I think his attitude is, if he can do it, then his employees should be doing the same.
“One of the market leaders going out of business presents an opportunity for us to show we can provide a good service, and we look after our customers, ethically support businesses and re-invest in the local community.
“We are creating jobs as well as having a positive impact on society. We are long-term, not just flash in the pan. Brad came back to the North-East because he wanted to make a difference.”