In 2021, a new networking concept was launched – The Owners’ Network. Born out of a desire to connect budding entrepreneurs and business owners alike, The Owners’ Network acts as a hub for networking and innovation. Having recently celebrated its first birthday, the network has been creating positive change in businesses throughout the Midlands.
“The Owners’ Network was established as an exclusive group where business owners can network, form new friendships and improve their business acumen,” says Hana Smiddy, Inspiration Scout, Founder, and the driving force behind the network. “We wanted to create a progressive network which would allow local entrepreneurs to connect and engage with each other, whilst being inspired by experienced keynote speakers.
“In its first year, The Owners’ Network has grown significantly. We currently have over 50 business owners who attend our sessions. The success stories we have heard as a result of the network have been incredibly rewarding for myself and the whole team.”
Christian Paynton, Managing Director at The United Fresh Consortium, launched his business in May 2007. Before discovering The Owners’ Network, he felt as if he had hit a glass ceiling in his career. Whilst his brand’s concept of delivering an extensive range of local, high-quality produce across the UK had taken off, Christian was unsure of the next steps he had to take to help his business excel.
“My business partner Noel and I have been working with each other for the last 25 years. We both have a history in food supply businesses – on local and national scales – and so it seemed natural to launch a company together. Our mission was simple – to bring regional businesses who provide the finest produce together to supply as a national entity.”
“The United Fresh Consortium wasn’t an immediately operating business as we had founded the company ourselves. We knew what we wanted to achieve, we understood our marketplace and we were confident it was the right career step for both of us – yet it took time to build our reputation. This was an enjoyable learning curve – we had some experience, but learning the ins and outs of running a business as partners and as friends was really fun.”
“After our success plateaued, I was struggling to know what to do next. It was only after I was invited to The Owners’ Network that I suddenly had an insight into how we could further develop our business. It was almost as if the network had opened up a part of my brain I didn’t know I had. It made me think differently – previously I was a closed-minded 50-year-old who didn’t care for other people helping him, but after taking on board what I had learnt from the network – even after just one event! – I was proactive and raring to go. I have this analogy: we had a gate shut to an open, plentiful field because of my unwillingness to try something new. When that gate was opened it was lovely in that meadow, and it was opened thanks to The Owners’ Network. Today, we are a significant player in the marketplace – this is largely because our mindset has changed as a team.”
“I was one of the first people to be invited to The Owners’ Network first event and, apart from one when I was on holiday, I have been to every event since. I soon realised the transformative effect of networking – when I had tried before, I came away from networking events exhausted and with contacts from five of the same sorts of business. I was tired of being sold stuff and instead wanted to chat to like-minded business owners – this is where The Owner’s Network is different.”
The Owners’ Network prioritises connecting, engaging and inspiring local business owners in Coventry and Warwickshire. Unlike traditional networking groups, members of the network must fulfil specific criteria before they are invited to join an event. “Hana has been resolute in setting boundaries which she will not break – I’m not even allowed to bring my daughter even though she’s going to be the owner of the business one day, but this is what makes the events work. They are tailored to a small group of businesses owners, making them invaluable to everyone who attends.”
Each month, the network features an inspirational keynote speaker who shares their knowledge and business experience for attendees to apply to their own businesses. “There have been so many wonderful speakers including James Ketchell the British adventurer, who I really enjoyed listening to as he was ever-present and so interesting. Almost all of the speakers have been fantastic – everyone has a different perspective, and you gain something new from each of them.”
“The age range of the speakers and the variety of different businesses they come from is also brilliant. There was a young man who came in from an iced coffee brand who I didn’t think I would learn anything from. Not only did he introduce me to a product that I now drink out of choice, but I was amazed by his tenacity – I never expected to be able to take away something from each event I go to”.
“I never leave on time either because of the keynote speakers – not because I’ve been held up, but because I’m thinking, there are questions I want to ask, or I’m talking to or shaking hands with new people. I’ve been able to apply the speakers’ advice to my own business. Once we had Mr Happy explain that within the first four minutes of when you meet somebody, you have the opportunity to impact them genuinely and positively – I’ve now applied this philosophy to everything I do. If I feel grumpy before going into work, I will ensure I get myself into the right mindset before I head into the office – I’m very mindful that as the MD of the business, I set the tone for the whole environment. I want this to be a positive one, so we can excel as a brand.”
“Before The Owners’ Network I didn’t believe in the power of networking and, whilst it’s still not my favourite pastime, the team have helped me look at these events differently. It’s made a great difference to my business – we are now trading with five people from the network. One of them, Magnetar IT, will be working with us on a project to change our entire online system. We run our business online so changing the backbone of the way we work is a momentous step!”
“The reality is, if Hana didn’t work as hard as she does, there are so many elements of my business that would not be as good as they are now. We’re currently tracking towards a £50 million national suppliance and are providing fresh produce for some significant brands in the country. This monthly networking is benefiting my business as well as my staff, which is really important – I’m a better owner, manager and leader now because of the things I have learnt through The Owners’ Network.”
“The network has not only become a hub of knowledge and teaching in this past year, but it has also developed into a community. We have access to further resources like half-day courses, and I’ve even met some friends through the network – it’s a place filled with opportunistic, friendly people, and I’m very excited to learn even more as the network grows.”