Heather Arni, shown above, is chief executive of Edinburgh based homelessness charity Four Square.
Heather is passionate about helping people overcome disadvantages in order to turn their lives around, and took up her current position with Four Square in early 2013, having worked in other areas of health and social care for over 20 years. Four Square provide a diverse range of social care services and raise revenue through a variety of sources including sales of donated furniture through its Edinburgh warehouses. Heather’s current business mentor is James Ranklin, a Senior Manager with Lloyds Banking Group, where he has worked for almost 15 years. Although it has barely been 4 months since Heather and James first made contact, already the impacts of James’ mentoring on Heather and on Four Square have been significant. Not only has mentoring contributed to an increase in Four Square’s revenues and profits, but as a direct consequence of James’ input, Heather has taken on one of her volunteers – William - as a permanent full time paid employee. This life changing event for William has enabled him to break out of a cycle of unemployment and homelessness. Read for yourself how Heather evaluates her experience of Business Mentoring so far;
What were your initial thoughts on mentoring?
“To be honest, I had reservations at first, James was from a very different business background to mine, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from someone coming in from the banking industry to a social enterprise such as ours.”
How did the mentoring relationship work?
“After only 5 minutes with James I felt completely at ease, and after 20 minutes he was already coming up with ideas to improve the business that we would never have thought of.”
What business issues did you want to work on?
“We identified advertising, finance and marketing as three areas where we would really value James’ input. We had plans to open a 3rd store, but considering all the costs this would have entailed, James instead helped us develop our online website, and this has in essence became our 3rd store.”
What business issues did you work on?
“James was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the furniture we received and basically felt we were under-charging for some premium items. He suggested that we start to recycle and refurbish some items coming in, taking advantage of the shabby chic market, making our products more attractive to buyers.
“James also recommended that we target nursing homes and high end estate agents as sources of furniture for the business.”
Has mentoring had an effect on sales revenue?
“Since we began being mentored by James, footfall has increased in the stores and sales revenue has increased by close to 100%, there is no doubt James’ input has played a part in this increase.”
What other impacts of mentoring have you observed?
“After James recommended that we refurbish furniture we took the decision to employ William in this capacity as a full time paid employee. William had been working with us as an unpaid volunteer, working 6 days a week for about a year. He was finding it difficult to get a job and permanent housing but now William and his partner have moved out of their temporary accommodation and into a new home, and it was all down to an idea inspired by James!”
Would you recommend mentoring to other businesses?
“I think it has been excellent, I would definitely recommend it, no business owner can know everything and for someone like me – coming from a social care background with no knowledge of retailing - talk about a learning curve, it has been straight up!”