G-Hold’s Alison Grieve Gets To Grips With Her Finances
“When I grow up, I want to be an inventor,” said 7-year-old Alison Grieve into her cassette recorder.
Years later, the very same Alison Grieve is once again being recorded – this time on popular TV show, Dragon’s Den. And while Alison’s hand-hold inventions, created to reduce repetitive strain injury (RSI), didn’t quite catch the eye of the Dragons, she did go on to strike deals with tech giants Microsoft and Apple.
So you win some, you lose some…
Alison’s manufacturing career began in 2010, after an unfortunate incident with a precariously balanced tray of champagne glasses. The light bulb moment that followed would lead to several new inventions, including a tray with a retractable clip which offered a way to ergonomically and safely hold and stack trays. The new and improved version of the humble tray proved a hit with catering businesses, and Alison was well on her way to becoming the inventor she’d always wanted to be.
The science of holding
Today, Alison’s manufacturing business is based out of Edinburgh’s Argyle House and remains focused on ‘the science of holding’. After demonstrating her Safetray invention with a tablet device at conventions, Alison realised that holding a tablet for hours on end was tricky business. She wanted there to be a more comfortable, secure and easy way to handle a tablet all day and realised numerous other people would want this too – healthcare professionals or construction workers for example. Alison wanted to create a device that would make handling a tablet all day, every day comfortable and reduce the risk of RSI, and so G-Hold was born.
While the G-Hold device may seem simple, the process to create something that could be assembled easily and cost-effective at scale was rather complex. Deciding how the parts fit together, how the components would be moulded and which durable materials could be used at volume all took careful consideration. Finding the perfect balance took time, but it worked – G-Hold has hit profitability three times, and each time Alison has reinvested in the business and continued to drive it forward.
Keeping up with demand
The education sector has been one of G-Hold’s strongest customer bases, whether they’re selling through partners in education or directly to schools. US-based Home Shopping Network and QVC UK have also proved to be valuable channels for direct sales, and Alison recently did a deal with Currys.
As she predicted, the healthcare sector has shown significant interest in G-Hold too, and the business has recently entered into a partnership with a company that specialises in high-end arthritis products. Something Alison has found all her customers appreciate is their super fast turnaround times, and she adds “when you build a reputation like that, there’s nowhere to hide”. So how does G-Hold keep up with demand?
It turns out Alison is a big proponent of UK-based manufacturing. Her company has been doing their own assembly for six years, and throughout that time they optimised processes and got to know what a great working environment for assemblers looked like.
While many believe it’s difficult to scale unless you manufacture your product overseas, Alison found that she had greater control of the production process by keeping it here in the UK. And if there was ever a case to be made for the benefits of UK-based manufacturing, COVID-19 was it. Many manufacturers found they could not access their stock, with products stuck in shipping containers for example, or they had to deal with price hikes for shipping as suppliers’ logistics changed. Clearly a complex supply chain can pose its own kind of risk. Having a factory much closer to home (four miles up the road, to be exact) made dealing with the challenges of the pandemic far simpler for Alison and her team.
At the start of lockdown, online orders surged with many schools ordering G-Holds to accompany the tablet devices they were issuing their teachers to use at home. Alison’s in-house assembly team of freelancers were able to respond to the demand quickly and safely, working to complete 35,000 units whilst maintaining social distancing. The company has built a freelance assembly team that can be grown or shrunk according to demand. To have a team like that, you’ve got to pay competitively, Alison tells us. Her assemblers are paid an enticing amount per unit, because in the gig economy you want a nice vibe and something that will make it worthwhile to come and work there.
Taking hold of cash flow
As well as dealing with increased demand for her product during the lockdown period, Alison felt more than ever it was important to get her business finances under control. The impact of COVID-19 was felt keenly at G-Hold from the very start of the pandemic, as they were on the brink of closing a significant strategic deal and it subsequently fell through. As a business that already understood the importance of cash flow forecasting, Alison knew she had to take action to keep her company on track. She took advantage of government PAYE and VAT deferral schemes, as well as applying for a Bounce Back Loan and pausing non-critical subscriptions to ease cash flow. Throughout the pandemic, having a cash flow forecast really helped Alison navigate the uncertainty and get through any sticky points.
“It was so amazing to be able to use Float because it was much easier to plot future earnings. We were doing things laboriously on Excel. Float feeds directly from Xero so we don’t need to translate anything – it automatically feeds through.”
Historically, Alison used spreadsheets to look at her forecast finances, but she’s increasingly finding Float helps her make big business decisions – such as when she applied for support in the form of the government loan. She believes a key deciding factor in being approved for the loan was being able to explain her balance sheet and understanding the interplay between that and her P&L budget and cash flow.
Alison particularly appreciated how easy and intuitive Float is to use and understand, as well as the stellar support of our customer success team.
“Float’s team is listening to us as customers, to constantly be understanding the market. There’s an openness there, they listen.”
Dealing with the financial side of her manufacturing business hasn’t always been straightforward for Alison, as she openly admits.
“It’s taken me the best part of a decade to fully understand the nuances of balance sheets, P&L and cash flow, and to be able to present that to investors and stakeholders with clarity and grounded assumptions.”
As well as short term cash flow fixes to help through the pandemic, Alison takes regular measures to keep her manufacturing business on track. For example, every year she applies for Research and Development tax relief for SMEs, where businesses deduct an extra percentage of their qualifying costs from their yearly profit. She’s also very careful about stock management – constantly monitoring to make sure they don’t have too much or too little in place to meet demand.
Inventing the future
So what’s next for Alison and G-Hold? Well, like a true inventor Alison is busy finding new and innovative solutions to common problems. She already developed a Working from Home Kit which includes a standard G-Hold tablet holder; a new G-Hold phone holder and stand; newly invented G-Hold Home Hangs to hang monitors and devices on walls using picture hooks to enable workers to work standing up without investing in standing desks, and a stretch guide to support postural health at home.