IoD talks to Essy Eslamian, Founder and Managing Director of Total Car Parks, based in Colchester, Essex who is sponsoring the 2018 IoD East of England Director of the Year Awards….
Essy, can you tell us a little about your background and how the company has grown?
I founded Total Car Parks in 2008, during the banking crisis. Some may say that was a risky time to start a business but I started with one car park in East Anglia.
It was a tough time as irrespective of an owner’s previous experience and achievements in the industry, potential clients were reluctant to do business with a company without an established reputation or track record, especially as they had no idea if that company could survive the financial crisis. After hundreds of meetings, being persistent and knocking on doors, a couple of months after our inaugural car park, we opened a second and I never looked back.
We have since become one of the most innovative operators in the UK, managing over 100 sites throughout the UK while still maintaining most of our original car parks. This year is our 10th anniversary, and so it is very fitting for us to celebrate this achievement by sponsoring the 2018 IoD East of England ‘Start Up’ Director of the Year Award.
Prior to starting my own business, I worked in the parking industry for seven years and before that in the Hotel andRestaurant trade. This experience gave me a better understanding of customers and to make my own business successful I put them at the heart of what Total Car Parks does.
What advice would you give to your 21 year old self?
I would say to be committed, work hard and do not take “no” for an answer. Like a lot of 21-year olds, at that age I was studying full time and having fun, but I used every opportunity to learn even if it wasn’t relevant to what I was studying.
Do you think it is easier or harder to start a business compared to when you were starting out?
Starting up a business is always hard the first time, no matter how much previous work experience or funding you have behind you. I don’t think it’s any easier or harder now than it was 10 years ago. In the UK, compared to other countries around the world, the actual process of setting up a business is very easy and affordable. But that’s just the admin part. The difficulty is in launching the business and making it a viable and profitable proposition - there is always a steep learning curve to experience. Stepping nto unknown territory can be a lonely place so it is important to have a strong support network around you. This may mean a supportive family to help cheer you up when things aren’t going so well or a professional network group or mentor to call on when you need advice or just someone else to bounce ideas off.
You were awarded Highly Commended Director of the Year in 2017 – how has that experience benefited you?
As a Director, it is rare that someone acknowledges your hard work or achievements. It was a wonderful pat on the back that I needed – we don’t always take the time to recognise and celebrate the small wins in our day to day business lives but this certainly made me stop, reflect and celebrate. I feel passionate about the work I do, and I’m proud that my team has got involved with the local community and charities, including the Prince’s Trust and the Enterprise Fellowship. The award has been a real boost for my team too and recognises that we are moving in the right direction and that makes me feel very positive about our future.
Why would you encourage Directors to enter the IoD Director of the Year Awards?
Taking part in these awards is a great way of sharing your accomplishments and being recognised for your efforts by peers and Directors in your region. Whether you win or not, I would also encourage you to attend the awards lunch as it is a great opportunity to meet other inspirational and talented Directors in your area. We all spend too much time working in our businesses and not enough time getting to meet others who may be able to help you with some advice, open new doors for you or even be potential clients.