AN award winning entrepreneur took centre stage at a women’s networking event.
Emma Elston MBE, co-founder and director of UK Container Maintenance gave an ‘inspirational’ talk to local businesswomen at the Holiday Inn Chester South on June 13.
Founded in 2013, the West Cheshire Women’s Network provides an opportunity for businesswomen to come together.
Co-hosted by Natwest PLC, Ellis & Co Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers, West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce and Cheshire West and Chester Council; the group meet four times a year with a different guest speaker at every event.
Emma and her husband Julian set up UK Container Maintenance, a re-manufacturing business, from their bedroom in 1988.
Fast forward 20 years, and UK Container Maintenance is a market leader in the waste management industry with an annual turnover in excess of £7m.
Emma holds a number of much coveted awards; she received an MBE for her services to manufacturing in 2015; was named as North West Female Entrepreneur of the Year & Business Woman of The Year in 2012 and was awarded the NatWest Everywoman Demeter Award in 2010.
Since establishing the business in 1998, UKCM has saved local authorities £250 million with the repair, refurbishment and modification of a notable 1.5 million waste and recycling containers.
“I really was not academic at all, but when I left school I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” said Emma.
“We started the business when I was 23 years-old. Julian observed how many broken bins there were and that he would be able to fix them himself with his own van.
“I went to our local library and copied a business plan, I had no idea what to do, I hadn’t done one before!”
Emma visited her bank with her business proposal and asked for a loan, which was refused.
“We clubbed our credit cards together and bought our first van. We started off doing free work around Manchester, and it grew from there.”
Emma admits the early years were ‘very hard’, living on her mother’s drive in a caravan with a new born baby was not what she ‘envisioned’ but three years later the business started to make a profit.
“The waste industry was a very male dominated industry 20 years ago and I didn’t know anything about bins, I had to go out and sell our service,” said Emma, who is a mother to two boys aged 13 and 19.
“Because I was new to the industry I would talk to my customers, ask for their feedback and for their guidance, and that is still something we do today, and it that is important to me and the business.”
With more than 70 staff, UK Container Maintenance is a real family run business, with Emma’s sister, brother, brother-in-law and son all members of the team.
With her ‘heart’ business going so well, Emma decided to mentor and ultimately invest in another business five years ago.
“I think I’ve become a serial entrepreneur” laughs Emma.
“For me running a business isn’t all about making money, it’s about the excitement that rush, to know that you’ve created something special.”
In March this year Emma was made a director of the prestigious Women of the Year Awards.
“I was thrilled to have been made a director, I think it’s very important to give something back,” said Emma, who supports numerous charities through her businesses including Elle For Elle, The Prince's Trust, The Joshua Tree and Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY).
“I mentor young men and women, it’s so important to share your own story.
“I am proud of who I am, I have an amazing group of people around me including friends, family and customers.
“I believe that if you are going to do something, you need to deliver, try to make it happen whatever it takes.
“Yes thing fail, but don’t take it personally...easier said than done! You have to believe in your business to make it work. We took a massive risk on our business, but it paid off.”
The next West Cheshire Women’s Network event will be on Wednesday, September 25 (9.30am – 11.30am) at The Holiday Inn Chester South.
Events are free but attendance must be registered, for further details click here.