The Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business Awards 2009

A THREE-year-old testing and compliance company specialising in the property sector has been judged the best company in Huntingdonshire this year. Bierce Technical Services Limited, which operates nationally and recently moved to

A THREE-year-old testing and compliance company specialising in the property sector has been judged the best company in Huntingdonshire this year.

Bierce Technical Services Limited, which operates nationally and recently moved to larger premises at Hinchingbrooke Business Park, in Huntingdon, was tonight revealed as The Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business of the Year 2009.

Bierce, which was also voted Small Business of the Year 2009, was judged to be the best of the nine corporate winners in the awards, in a category sponsored by Cambridgeshire County Council's trading standards department.

The judges said: "The company demonstrates a thorough and professional approach to everything it undertakes both for clients and in its own management. It has set and achieved ambitious yet realistic business targets under tough economic conditions, and continues to do so.

"It is a model example of how to establish, manage and grow a small business and a deserving winner of this award."

Other category winners were:

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Business Development Award, sponsored by Archant Herts & Cambs, parent company of The Hunts Post: The Nail Retreat, St Ives, which beat off competition from Cambridge Golf and Conference Centre, Hemingford Abbots, ISC Software Solutions, Huntingdon, and Inside2Outside, Fenstanton.

The judges' verdict: "Not only have the owners of the business achieved their growth targets, but they have exceeded them significantly. And in the first 12 months they doubled the number of staff: in the next eight months they added 50 per cent more. They have plans to expand further because they are booked up for several months ahead.

"Staff are trained to competition standards. The Nail Retreat is widely recognised as being expert in the industry, employing prize-winning technicians, who provide state-of-the-art techniques. This is appreciated by the leading European supplier of professional nail care products who has offered to create specific training programmes for them."

Employer of the Year, sponsored by the Luminus Group, was won by Maxine Lester Residential Lettings which was pitted against Bierce Technical Services, the Nail Retreat and the Huntingdon Marriott Hotel.

Business Person of the Year, sponsored by Leeds Day, solicitors with offices across Huntingdonshire, previous winner Peter Durham, managing director of Cambridge Golf and Conference Centre, triumphed again. He had been up against Tony Larkins, managing director of Beacon Financial Limited, Kimbolton, and Mark Davies, managing director of Blue Prawn Design and Marketing Limited, St Neots, in the final judging.

The judges said Peter's dynamic and enthusiastic style of management had enabled the business to grow, despite the impact of the current economic climate.

"The number of employees has expanded to more than 44 staff in less than five years. Margins have been held by tight controls in all areas of the business," they added.

Retailer of the Year, sponsored by D H Barford and Company, St Neots-based property consultants, was won by Admiral Homespace, of Alconbury, a former award-winner and a business founded in the previous recession, against competition from Round Robin, of Warboys, S&L Retail Limited, St Ives, and Genesis World of Beauty, St Ives.

The judges' verdict: "The business is based on being different from the rest, and selling on quality of the product not the price - 17 per cent of their work comes from recommendation. The showrooms give them an air of respectability, in an industry full of sharks. Sales staff often visit customers when the job is complete to do a customer care call.

"The diversification strategy showed a good deal of determination and knowledge of the market and was implemented with a good degree of flexibility."

In the Small Business of the Year category, sponsored by the Federation of Small Businesses Huntingdonshire branch, overall winners Bierce Technical Services Limited prevailed against Beacon Financial Limited, Plumb-It, Huntingdon, and The George Hotel & Brasserie, Buckden.

The judges commented: "The company has shown solid and strong profit growth in a struggling economy. General business growth had been carefully planned and the plans carried to fruition. Further areas for business expansion are being actively pursued, both locally and nationally.

"Considerable emphasis is placed on recruiting and training the right people to manage and deliver the expansion. Altogether, Bierce Technical Services is a very well run business and a worthy winner of this award."

Business Website of the Year, sponsored by Huntingdonshire District Council, was a triumph for St Neots-based Blue Prawn, which coincidentally has offices in the sponsors' new state-of-the-art Creative Exchange on the Longsands campus. (It should be stressed that sponsors have no involvement in the judging process.). Others shortlisted were the Property Care Association, Huntingdon, and previous award-winner BrightVisions, of St Neots.

the judges said of Blue Prawn: "The website is innovative and very different from run-of-the-mill websites, perfectly reflecting the ethos and philosophy of the business. Innovative use of graphics and menus makes this site immediately stand out, as well as showcasing the design services that the business provides. The business has used the website as a major selling tool to enable it to win large blue chip clients."

The keenly-contested Innovation Award, sponsored by the Greater Cambridge Partnership, was lifted by iTp Limited, of St Ives, against fierce competition from newly-created HeatingSave Limited, of Hail Weston, and 2007 overall winner Pursuit Dynamics plc, of Huntingdon.

The verdict on the tiny father-and-daughter iTp was that it was a "two-person company, with a low research budget, but highly-successful innovative products used by navies throughout the world for sonar training, recently adapted for the different demands for underwater studies in university laboratories.

"iTp demonstrated to the judges a distinct expertise in its ability to identify problems encountered by potential customers and then to create solutions to overcome those problems. Through this approach, iTp has developed a number of highly innovative sonar and radar-based teaching products, which has enabled it to achieve significant global success and recognition within the highly complex and specialised military and research sectors."

The Training and Development Award, sponsored by Huntingdonshire Regional College, went to previous winner and benchmark-setter the Huntingdon Marriott Hotel, just ahead of Maxine Lester Residential Lettings, of St Ives, and Care Solutions Group, St Neots.

The judges said of the Marriott: "The management impressed the judges with their internal personal training and development programmes, driven mainly by the employees, or 'associates', as they are referred to.

"Putting aside the corporate training manual, associates are encouraged to take ownership of their responsibilities, which is received enthusiastically. Career paths are mapped out soon after recruitment to meet the aspirations of individuals."

Employee of the Year, sponsored by Anglian Water, is Dr Marcus Fenton of Pursuit Dynamics plc, who beat competition from Alex Foster, of BrightVisions, St Neots, and Emily Smart, of Genesis Hair and Beauty, in St Ives.

The judges said Dr Fenton was "an enthusiast who generates passion and inspires confidence in others, an ambassador who is always prepared to "go the extra mile" for the Business and is highly regarded by both customers and colleagues.

"Although his technical expertise is the cutting edge of the company's success, he is also at home dealing with commercial and people issues."

New Business of the Year, sponsored by Haines Watts, Huntingdon-based chartered accountants is HeatingSave Limited, of Hail Weston, which has developed a spectacularly successful PC-based energy-saving system for homes and offices. Other shortlisted companies were Outside Structure Solutions Limited, of Houghton, and Molby's Beauty Retreat, based in St Neots.

The judges said managing director Nigel Smith, the founder of Heating Save, was 'definitely a man with a plan'.

"The plan was to bring to the market a timely and innovative product and is being implemented successfully. Prospects of achieving profitability by the end of year two, having paid back substantial research and development costs, are excellent."

The Environment and Community Award, sponsored by the Environment Agency, went to Coffee Unlimited, of Papworth, against contention from The George Hotel and Brasserie, in Buckden, and the Huntingdon Marriott Hotel.

The judges were impressed by the dedication that the staff of Coffee Unlimited had shown to the local community.

"The business gives vital employment opportunities to people with disabilities who live in Papworth, while providing a service not only to the village but to local businesses and to visitors to the famous hospital," they said.

"Their support of the community extends to the use of local suppliers, and to the championing of community projects. The range of products is wide and innovative, and there are plans to extend opening hours, which will increase profitable income and expand the customer base."

For the past three years the judges - there were a total of 14 of them this year, led again by John Bridge, chief executive of the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce - have made a special Judges' Award to one of the non-winners they felt merited special recognition.

Previously, the award has gone to companies that, while not quite the best in their categories, were still regarded as outstanding.

This year, for the first time, the award went to an individual. Cynthia Schaeffer, manager of last year's overall business, the George Hotel and Brasserie, was singled out for special praise.

"Hospitality has been one of the industries most severely affected by the economic slowdown," they said. "But you would not think so on a visit to the George Hotel.

"Cynthia has worked with and managed her people to maintain business at levels that competitors can only envy. In an industry where staff turnover is notoriously high, Cynthia has a steady stream of people applying to join the George team, a fitting tribute to both her people skills and her business-management skills."

The Hunts Post takes this opportunity to thank all the sponsors, and to congratulate all the winners and runners-up.

Awards chairman Paul Richardson added: "The standard of entries was so high this year that many fine companies did not even make the shortlists. I hope they will try again next year when, with a further 12 months' experience, they may have even more to tempt the judging panel.

"It is a source of great satisfaction to us that many past and current winners of the awards now comprise core elements of the Huntingdonshire economy.