Catherine and Kevin O’Leary have successfully developed the company over the past two decades
Catherine and Kevin O’Leary have successfully developed the company over the past two decades

From a fast car to a fast-growing business

At the turn of the millennium, with celebrations taking place to usher in the next thousand as Catherine Hartley and Fiona Thorne became the first British women to reach the South Pole, Kevin O’Leary made the bold and difficult decision to sell his pride and joy – a Porsche 911 SC Targa for £11,000. The money would be used to fund his new business, TVM Cheltenham. Two decades on and now one of the South West’s leading independent mobility providers, the experienced managing director spoke with THIIS about the journey of establishing and developing the company into what it is today.

The decision to launch a company is never an easy one, however, for Kevin, the time was right. Having recently relocated and with money in the bank, he decided to take the plunge and become self-employed.

His new mobility business grew quickly, providing a steady income to support Kevin and his family, growing into a sustainable local business to aid people to remain independent in their own homes for longer. That was the birth of TVM Cheltenham in January 2000.

20 years on and the company has developed into a solid business covering Gloucestershire, Bristol and surrounding areas, supplying a wide range of mobility and access solutions, from lifts to assistive technologies, alongside a range of services.

The journey

The company’s early success and rapid business growth happened as a result of Kevin identifying a gap and providing a solution in the marketplace. The astute mobility boss noticed that there were very few mobility companies specialising in hoisting equipment in the South West, with most of the work being completed by larger national companies.

Having worked for many years with two of the national companies, Wessex Medical (now Wessex Lifts) and Test Valley Mobility, Kevin offered his services as an agent to look after their client base in the local area. The move proved fruitful, solving the problem many new businesses face of getting customers in those difficult early years.

“A key highlight we’re proud of is being able to start, develop and sustain a successful small business without any financial help from an external source.” Kevin O’Leary

By working with the national suppliers, it allowed Kevin to maintain existing business relationships while developing good working relationships for his clients in the local area.

“In 2000, I was a self-funded sole trader, working from my home office and sub-contracting my services to Wessex Medical and Test Valley Mobility, covering the South West and up to Birmingham, installing and servicing hoisting systems and various other pieces of equipment, while gradually winning more local business,” explained Kevin.

“In 2004, Catherine and I incorporated the company and we became TVM Cheltenham Ltd. By then, we had secured the servicing contract in South Gloucestershire and were responsible for the maintenance of ceiling track hoists in Bristol, on behalf of NRS, who held the Bristol contract at the time.

“That same year we employed our first full-time engineer to concentrate on the servicing and repairs. This enabled me to invest my time on the installation side and to introduce complementary product lines for business growth.”

As TVM Cheltenham built a solid reputation with professionals in the locality, the company managed to secure new business whilst staying true to its relationships with the companies who had helped them at the start.

“One of the most positive changes over the last 20 years has been the development of hoist tracking systems.” Kevin O’Leary

Speaking with Kevin, he highlighted that two decades on, TVM Cheltenham continues to enjoy an excellent working relationship with Wessex Lifts and Test Valley Mobility (acquired by Prism in 2009).

“The company continued to grow, and in a short few years we increased the team to four, including myself and Catherine,” he continued.

“At this stage, we were installing complementary equipment to hoisting systems and we secured a workshop in Kingswood to operate from. Our next growth step came as a result of the South Gloucestershire Framework Tender for Hoists, Through floor lifts and Stairlifts.”

After bidding, the company was successful in securing the contract for the hoists which guaranteed it work for the next three years.

“We employed an electrician, who enabled us to register for NICEIC Electrical certification, and moved to larger premises in Yate,” Kevin added.

“In 2019 we successfully regained the South Gloucestershire framework contract for a further five years and we now employ a team of 11, including Catherine and myself.”

Kevin with Andy Hichens south Gloucestershire commissioning manager
TVM’s Kevin O’Leary with South Gloucestershire Commissioning Manager Andy Hichens

Challenges

Flourishing in those formative years, the company has managed to thrive in the mobility and access market, driven by Kevin’s vision, dedication, belief, effort, consistency and resilience.

When asked what was the secret to TVM’s success, Kevin told THIIS: “One of the keys to our success stems from listening to the needs of our clients and delivering a personalised service in a professional and reliable manner, at a reasonable price. We treat our service users in the same way we would expect members of our own families to be treated: politely and with dignity & respect.”

As any business owner will attest, however, running a company in any industry is rarely ever plain sailing, with bosses having to be able to manage challenges and changes, as well as importantly developing into good leaders.

“One of the biggest challenges Catherine and I faced was ensuring we had the right people to carry out the growing workload,” remarked Kevin.

“Personally, at the time, it was a complete leap of faith to let go of some of the responsibilities I had, especially as I had started the business as a one-man-band. As we grew, we began to implement a training regime to facilitate effectiveness and efficiency.

“In the early years, in my role as a developing leader, I made time to leave whatever I was working on at the time, in order to focus on, nurture and build confidence within the engineering team. This meant that I would spend time working in the evenings at home to complete additional management responsibilities, such as administration and financial reports.”

According to the experienced mobility veteran, despite the long and sometimes unforgiving hours demanded to get TVM Cheltenham to where it is today, the thought of leaving it all behind never entered his mind.

“In terms of building resilience, Catherine and I never felt like giving up, even though at times all we seemed to do was work,” he continued.

“We were, and still are, building a team that can share the workload, and we are proud to say that the company is now supporting the whole team and their families.”

Changes

With decades of industry experience under his belt and 20 years’ operating in the industry, the mobility MD considered how the business and how the industry has changed and evolved over the years.

“There is always change to make equipment safer in use, more reliable and more affordable. One of the most positive changes over the last 20 years has been the development of hoist tracking systems,” said Kevin.

“The devices allow a single hoist to transfer a client anywhere within that room, or if the structure of the property allows it, anywhere on the same floor using room covering and gated systems. This is enabling greater choice for people to continue living at home.”

With achieving the impressive milestone of 20 years in business is no small feat, Kevin reflected on how it feels to have enjoyed such longevity within a sector growing increasingly competitive.

“We are thrilled to be celebrating TVM Cheltenham at 20, although we’re not quite sure where those years went,” he admitted.

“An amazing achievement, not only by me and Catherine but also by the team. We’re grateful for the dedication of those who have joined us along the way, and together, we pride ourselves in the high standard of service we deliver.

“As we reflect on our 20 years in business, we can recall countless winning moments. A key highlight we’re proud of is being able to start, develop and sustain a successful small business without any financial help from an external source.”

Amongst his proudest achievements for the company include developing and gaining professional certified Quality and Safety systems, ISO 9001, OHSAS 18000, NICEIC and Which? Trusted Traders and enhancing them over the years to provide a better experience to our client base year on year; regaining the Framework contract for South Gloucestershire Council to continue supplying their hoisting requirements from 2019 to 2024; and the business now supporting its increasing workforce.

“Our company ethos is to provide a service that we expect for ourselves and our families. We respond to need, with courtesy and good manners, at a reasonable price. Nothing short of this is acceptable,” continued the passionate business leader.

“We only use selected products with a proven track record for reliability and performance, and our engineers are fully trained in the installation and maintenance of equipment. We allow people to develop within their roles, who in turn, contribute to the growth of the company.”

Ardoo Hoist Team training
The company installs, maintains and services a wide range of equipment within the public and private sector

No time to celebrate

Asked what TVM Cheltenham will do to mark the significant moment in the company’s journey, Kevin emphasised that he was keen to show his appreciation to the team that has helped make it possible.

“Catherine and I appreciate it has been a team effort to reach the 20-year milestone. To say thank you, each member of the team was given a Christmas bonus and a little something from Catherine and myself,” he explained.

“For us? I would like to say that we will be opening a bottle of bubbly. But anyone who knows me and Catherine will say we will most likely enjoy a cup of tea with biscuits and discuss what needs doing next.”

Never stopping to look at ways to continue developing the business, Kevin finished: “Looking forward, Catherine and I will continue to take each year as it comes. We will ensure the team is engaged and happy, as they develop and build their experience through continual training. Staying true to our values and standards, we will continue making loyal working relationships stronger and seeking out fresh ideas to overcome obstacles.”

www.tvmcltd.co.uk

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