East Durham Business magazine feature: AAA Caring Caretaker

Jun 27, 2023 | Business

After nearly eight years in Newton Aycliffe, the firm is about to complete it’s move to flagship premises in Bowburn as it embarks on an ambitious growth journey.

AAA is also under new leadership, as MD Alison Stephenson takes over from dad Richard H Tucker MBE who is easing into semi-retirement. Leanne Fawcett caught up with the team to find out more…

AAA Caring Caretaker might seem like an unusual name for a company, but it has certainly been well thought out and is most definitely memorable. Quite simply, the name was chosen because founder Richard H Tucker MBE wanted to be the first in the phone book. But each letter also has meaning – Assurance, Accreditation and Aspirational – which are themes that sit at the very heart of everything the business stands for. Why Caring Caretaker, you might well ask. Well, that really does describe the business – it’s a cleaning, groundworks and storage and removals company that takes care of your business in a caring way. Yes, it might sound a bit fluffy, but when you meet the team you really do get to understand why this is so apt – this is a family outfit that has been built on trust, relationships and a mutual understanding between company and client that they’re in safe hands.

Don’t be under any illusions though. This is a company going places and 2023 is set to be its biggest yet. Alison Stephenson, who is now at the helm after taking over from dad Richard to oversee day-to-day operations, explains why. She said: “Since launching in 2015, our growth has been rapid, and even during the Covid pandemic, we managed to diversify so we remained as busy as ever.
“It quickly became apparent that we had outgrown our existing premises in Newton Aycliffe and needed to find a new home from which we could begin the next phase of our development journey.
“We had heard about the County Durham Growth Fund through our contacts at Business Durham and, having identified suitable premises at Polar House in Bowburn, we made an application to get grant support towards the move. “We were successful and last year we started to prepare for the move, gutting the building and making the necessary changes to get it ready for us to move into.
Of course, these things always take longer than you think and whilst we had initially aimed for the end of 2022 for relocation, we are now expecting to complete the move at some point towards the end of February.”

The site at Bowburn North Industrial Estate occupies 0.8 acres and will see the creation of 10 new jobs. It will also mark a significant milestone for the company as Alison begins her tenure as Managing Director, having stepped up into the role which was previously occupied by her father. She added: “I am very excited to be heading up the company as we embark on the next phase of our growth journey. “Moving to bigger premises is significant for the business and for myself and dad, him seeing it over the finish line to sign off in style and for me the start of a new chapter which I have the chance to shape. “It’s very much about looking forward now and establishing my profile as the MD of AAA Caring Caretaker.” Richard said: “Over the past seven years our business has grown significantly and I am incredibly proud of everything we have achieved as a team. “But now I feel the time is right for me to take a back seat and put the business in the very talented and capable hands of Alison, who is ambitious and full of ideas to help AAA continue on this upwards trajectory. While I will still be involved with the business on a part-time basis, Alison is fully at the helm, and I know she’s relishing the challenge of putting her own stamp on things.”

AAA Caring Caretaker employs 41 people including 17 ex-armed forces personnel, nine of which have unseen disabilities, and was recently crowned Employer of the Year at the Ex-Forces in Business Awards and has been named ‘Most Trusted Cleaning Company in the North East’ at the SME Awards. Last year, AAA Caring Caretaker Ltd won the Soldiering On Awards for Business Growth, sponsored by the London Stock Exchange, and was acknowledged in the top 50 worldwide veteran-owned companies at the 2018 Invictus Games. Caring Caretaker provides cleaning and caretaker services to companies and organisations across the North East and Yorkshire, including the NHS, PD Ports, Hartlepool Marina, Esh Housing, and the MOD.

Tell us more about you…

Alison Stephenson, MD of AAA Caring Caretaker, chats to us about her career to date and who’s been her inspiration as she progressed to the head of her family’s business…

EDB: What was your first job (and how much did it pay)? AS: My first job was in a care home on a weekend when I was 16 years old, I was paid £3.60 per hour. When I turned 18, I began my training to become a tutor, teaching deaf awareness and British Sign Language, which I did for 14 years. As this was night school only, I joined my father’s business as a HR manager before setting up a new business together in 2015, AAA Caring Caretaker.

EDB: What is the best advice or support you’ve been given in business? AS: My biggest support must be my dad as I have learnt from and followed him. The best advice I have ever been given is “always keep some ammunition in your back pocket”, my dad’s theory of don’t play all your cards in one go.

EDB: What are the main changes you’ve seen in your business/sector, and what are the challenges you’re facing? AS: There has been a big issue with the cost of paper and cotton which has had a knock-on effect to us, as suppliers have had to put up the cost of paper towels, toilets rolls and mop heads. This means we are having to increase our prices to clients in an ever-competing world of best price. The main challenge I am facing right now is the shift to my new role as Managing Director, learning to let go of what I can now delegate and focusing on working on the things I do have to deal with.

EDB: How has the pandemic changed the way you work? AS: Operating mainly in a cleaning environment our work actually increased because our clients wanted more touchpoint cleaning. For our admin staff we did allow them to share working from home to reduce the number of people in the office, but we had strict boundaries to protect all. The other major change was our meetings changed to online which was so strange and the motivation to get dressed ceased due to working from home so much.

EDB: Who is your role model in business? AS: I know it’s cliché but it has to be my dad. He has been my guide, my support, my teacher and my security blanket through thick and thin. Having an opportunity like this has enabled me to grow in a safe environment because who can you trust more than your own dad.

EDB: What advice would you give to someone starting out a career in your sector? AS: Do your research and make sure you fully understand the business and trade so that you can direct staff, they have more respect for you if you know what you’re talking about.