A leading supplier and distributor of specialist, luxury and performance textiles to leaders in global hospitality, healthcare, and retail markets, Vision Support Services prides itself on its diverse workforce.
Spanning five continents, we employ over 100 people who speak over 20 different languages and are proud to have a 50:50 female/male ratio of staff.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, which aims to highlight the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the world, Vision wants to highlight the inspiring work that women in our business do with a series of company employee profiles.
In our first edition, we’re interviewing Jacqui Hurst, the Sales Director for Vision’s Hospitality Division.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Jacqui and I’m the Sales Director for Vision’s Hospitality Division. I have been married for 32 years, with two adult daughters, two stepsons and three grandchildren. In my spare time, I enjoy running and regularly take part in 5k and 10k runs, I swim three times a week, have personal training sessions twice a week and recently learned to how to ski – so I’ve been enjoying skiing holidays for the last couple of years!
What is your background before Vision?
Before working at Vision, I worked for the global laundry supplier Berendsen for ten years, as a sales director selling laundry hire to the hotel industry. It was in this role that I managed 20 staff and headed up a strong team of sales agents.
Prior to that, I spent 20 years in the recruitment industry as a commercial director for a two-branch privately-owned multi-recruitment agency supplying temporary industrial, clerical, operative roles and drivers as well as permanent staff, mainly into clerical and management roles.
Describe your role within Vision.
For the last ten years, I have been employed as the Sales Director for the hotel industry. I am responsible for the group hotel sales into the UK market which includes sales of filled goods such as pillows, bed linen, towels and ancillaries i.e. bathrobes, slippers etc from our core product range and I work with groups to offer them intuitive ways of providing product to their own specifications and requirements.
The main customers we serve are Accor hotels and all of their associated brands. We are the sole supplier to Accor throughout the UK. Hilton Hotels are another huge customers and we serve all their associated brands throughout the world excluding the USA; sharing this offering with two other competitors.
Working alongside IHG Group, we service their related brands throughout UK, Europe and other countries around the world which we share with one other competitor whilst we serve Bourne Leisure and their brands throughout the UK on a sole supplier deal. Finally, we also work with Marriott UK and Frankfurt with the aim of becoming a nominated supplier for their hotels in future. All in all, the sales combined provide annual revenue of around £6million into Vision.
Building up such a prestigious and renowned customer base has been a challenging yet hugely rewarding working with a range of the most recognised names in the industry and I’m pleased to count London’s top five-star hotels also coming in under my management from this year.
What inspired you to move into your current role?
Having become disillusioned with recruitment, I was given the opportunity to move into laundry sales. From day one I fell in love with the industry. From being a commercial director in the recruitment sector, I took a step back when moving into laundry sales however I quickly rose through the ranks from a sales representative to a manager to regional sales director in a number of years which proved more fruitful than I could ever have imagined.
Selling to the hospitality market is a pleasure and I feel I have found and honed in on my strengths within this role; a complete career change for me has lead to the most rewarding job I have ever had and continue to envisage for the rest of my life.
What challenges have you faced within your current role?
The role I have is not without its challenges! Initially moving from a career in recruitment, and one that I had held for 12 years, many people were critical of my decision to change direction later in life. I found that some people were not supportive; seeing the move as a backward step.
Then, the business went into receivership around ten years ago which was another setback. Sometimes it was difficult to stay motivated, knowing that my future was uncertain however I was chosen to be involved with the receivers in selling the business to prospective buyers. In a relatively new industry, I had to adopt a sink or swim mentality and, luckily for us, Vision bought the business with strong ambitions to project the business onto a global stage.
Still, it was a whole new world out there and even since the company being taken on by Vision, we’ve gone through a number of name changes and amalgamated three brands into one business model which has proved highly successful with us now championing the Vision name whilst retaining our heritage-rich brands; steeped in history.
Being from a background where I was selling small orders, we’ve now taken the business to selling product to full hotel groups and business – on a much bigger scale than I was ever used to previously all whilst driving the smaller sales down the web sales route. This has encouraged me to get involved with other areas of the business, including working closely with the marketing team to drive traffic and plan promotions and incentives which help to boost our brand awareness and create a loyalty amongst our customers.
At the beginning, some senior members of staff were sceptical about beginning the Vision journey. Of course, everyone had reservations because we were uncertain about what would happen however, the key was to embrace the change, stay motivated and positive about the future and, above all, I had to motivate my own team and place their trust in the direction we were going.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Or a woman going into business for the first time?
To myself? I’d probably say work harder at school; learn a second language because it could have helped me tremendously – particularly when working with hotel groups and customers from around the world. I’d invest in building better IT skills as these areas slow my work down, day-to-day.
For someone starting out, I’d say that the biggest advice I can give is to accept teamwork. You, alone, will not know everything so use the tools available to you in your business, for example, working closely with other teams and departments whether that’s marketing, purchasing etc.
Research your customers. Knowing your existing and prospective customers inside out is highly valuable in sales. People love to talk about themselves – after all, ourselves is what we know the most about! Keep up-to-date with their business, their company but also their personal life… their personal lives, their partner’s name, their children’s names as well as their outside interests. It’s nice to be nice! People buy from people they warm towards – it’s important to remember that selling is not solely about the product or the price.
Always dress for business; in an industry where you meet clients face-to-face, image is important and first impressions do count. Not only that but, taking pride in how you appear to a prospective buyer instantly gives you the confidence to deliver your proposals to them and, finally, you are never too old to learn!