AllGas Ltd is an all-female, independent supplier of gas and electrical accessories in Wakefield, and recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Elaine Whylde runs the company alongside her two daughters, Sarah and Emily, and close friend Debbie. Tom Oldfield, Area Sales Manager at Baxi, caught up with them to find out why business is booming.
It’s pretty unique for a merchant branch to be entirely owned and managed by women. How did the business come about?
The company was established in 1997. At that time, there were no other merchants in Wakefield, so engineers had to travel to Leeds to pick up boilers and parts. We spotted an opportunity in the market for a local branch where tradespeople in the area could get everything they need without having to travel too far.
Things are a bit different now, how do you stay competitive?
Most of the large national merchants now stock some spares, but unlike us it is not their core business. We always stock plenty of product, including the full range of Baxi Genuine Parts, meaning people can usually walk away on the same day with the parts they need. That’s particularly valuable in winter when customers don’t want to be kept waiting for several days with no heating or hot water.
Sounds like you provide an essential service. What’s your favourite part of the job?
We’re all family here – related or not – so it’s a friendly and supportive place to work. Everyone just helps each other out. People from all walks of life come through the door so we often hear very interesting stories! We also have regulars who come in several times a week, but think of them more as friends than customers.
On the subject of customers, what’s been your experience of working in a traditionally male-dominated industry?
For the regulars, it’s normal now so they don’t even think about it. When fresh faces come in, sometimes they are shocked, as it is still rare to see one woman behind the counter – let alone four!
The service our customers receive is just as good as (although we’d argue it’s better than) any other merchant. Why should it be any different just because we are women? Sometimes non-regulars question our advice, but after they’ve tried it they normally come back and admit we were right after all!
It’s been 20 years hasn’t it – did you do anything special to mark the occasion?
We had radiator keys and tops printed with our 20-year anniversary logo and gave them out as gifts to customers. Our staff still wear the t-shirts to work to remind people how long we’ve been in business! Also, on the day of our anniversary we held a breakfast morning with free bacon sandwiches and cake.
Finally, what advice would you give to a young woman who wants to pursue a career in this sector?
Just go for it. It won’t be easy, but the rewards are well worth it. The key is to have a good sense of humour because engineers like to have banter and will respect you more if you can give it back to them. Just remember that it’s not personal, they are just used to communicating that way.