Masterclass Delegate Story - Sarah Chanter, Eteaket

Crieff Hydro

Sarah Chanter, General Manager of leaf tea company Eteaket, attended a Masterclass hosted by successful Scottish resort Crieff Hydro. Sarah explains what she learned about building a team, and recognising the challenges faced by companies of all sizes.

There are worse ways to learn about how to run a successful business than by visiting Crieff Hydro, a vast Victorian hotel and spa nestled in the Scottish countryside a few miles west of Perth. The business is styled as Scotland’s best leisure retreat, covering 900 acres and offering a choice of 214 rooms, with facilities including two swimming pools – one of them an original from the Victorian era – as well as an 18-hole golf course and a choice of up to 60 different activities on site.

“Two things I took from the talks were how to market your business and how to build a team. The second of these aspects hit home in particular during the tour." Sarah Chanter, General Manager, Eteaket

Managed by Chief Executive Stephen Leckie, a fifth-generation descendant of the original founder Thomas H Meikle, Crieff Hydro will celebrate 150 years of continuous trading in 2018. In today’s incarnation, the business employs around 600 staff and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year. The hotel is steeped in history, and over the last 15 years has been consistently modernised by a £40 million investment programme. Stephen has also led an expansion of the hotel chain into a network of eight locations in Scotland and the north of England.
 
Lessons in balancing a business
 
Managing Crieff Hydro is a tussle between maintaining the traditional roots of the business while giving people 21st century amenities, and constantly investing in upkeep and growth. This makes Crieff Hydro a perfect case study from which smaller businesses can learn.
 
Sarah Chanter, General Manager of leaf tea company Eteaket, was one of a group of growth business bosses to visit Crieff Hydro on a Masterclass organised by Breakthrough. Delegates were treated to an involved learning experience over two days, taking in valuable business advice as well as the picturesque setting.
 
Eteaket was set up six years ago and has created three main business streams. It has a tea room in Edinburgh city centre, an online business selling teas and accessories, and a wholesale business supplying tea to the retail, events and restaurant trades. The business supplies around 300 customers with loose leaf and teabag products. It also has an enviable client list that includes Michelin-star restaurants, and supplies tea to – of all places – China.

“Now I’m even more confident about the quirkiness of our approach, to be sure of our direction but not scared to experiment and give things a go." Sarah Chanter

So why would a business with so much going for it require a Masterclass from someone else? “The event attracted my attention because it’s good to know other businesses are going through the same peaks and troughs as we are,” says Sarah. “It’s about sharing experiences and learning from what others have to say about their businesses.”
 
“It was amazing to sit in a room with people from all different sectors,” she adds. “There was someone who sells gym equipment. There was a recruitment business. There was industry and machinery. Tea-making is a very specialist thing, but to know these guys have the same concerns is really refreshing. It’s a bit like having your back patted, but it’s also inspirational to hear the Chief Executive and Managing Director [John Jennet] of Crieff Hydro talk about stumbling blocks. Considering the enormity of their business, I wouldn’t imagine they had any challenges like we do.”
 
Connecting with your team
 
The group of delegates met in the evening of the first day and were welcomed to Crieff Hydro over a dinner together – hosted by Stephen – a great opportunity to break the ice and make introductions ahead of the main tour and presentations the following day. Sarah says this created a relaxed feel and helped the group hit the ground running.
 
The following day featured two main presentations from CEO Stephen Leckie and MD John Jennet, as well as an extensive tour of the facility. The talks covered a range of business areas, not least regarding how to stay relevant over 150 years. But for Sarah, two main points stood out. “Two things I took from the talks were how to market your business and how to build a team. The second of these aspects hit home in particular during the tour with Stephen afterwards; he knew every member of staff’s name and they knew him too, as ‘Stephen’ not ‘Mr Leckie’.”
 
“You hear people talk about that level of access in the boardroom but it’s rare to actually see it,” Sarah adds. “When you think they have 600 people – we have 12 – so it’s something to aspire to, commanding that level of respect and having that connection with such a large team.”
 
Another Breakthrough benefit
 
Crieff Hydro was Eteaket’s second participation in the Breakthrough programme. In October 2013, company owner Erica Moore attended a Trade Mission to New York, where she not only met “one of our most valuable contacts” but also, as a direct result of the Mission, can now count BAFTA among Eteaket’s clients.
 
Together the Trade Mission and the Masterclass made for an incredible learning experience for Eteaket. “One thing I have learned is that mistakes are part of life, even if you are a really successful business,” says Sarah. “Now I’m even more confident about the quirkiness of our approach, to be sure of our direction but not scared to experiment and give things a go. The other major lesson is that people are vital to a business whether you have 12 employees or 600. Each person must do their role to the best of their ability, and when they do it needs to be recognised and rewarded. Crieff Hydro are great at that and we want to keep the same spirit as we grow too.”
 

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