Wind blows good fortune for firm

bus  Steve Milner (left) and Mark Woodward of earthmill.  (120322M5a)
bus Steve Milner (left) and Mark Woodward of earthmill. (120322M5a)

A COMPANY founded just three years ago has grown by more than 600 per cent each year after tapping into the burgeoning green energy market.

Earthmill Ltd, which specialises in the installation of agricultural wind turbines, had sales of almost £10 million this year - something managing director Steve Milner said he would have been happy with a decade into the business.

Steve, 42, launched the company from his garage in Spofforth in 2009. With a background as a technical engineer, he had always wanted to start his own business and considered many options which would take advantage of his background, settling on the green energy sector.

“Renewable energy appealed because it was a new market,” he said.

“When I first started, I looked at everything, including PV (solar photovoltaic energy). But wind turbines was where my heart lay, and what I understood was electrical generation. And one thing we have in Yorkshire is an abundance of wind!”

Although the recession was starting to bite, Steve felt that if he could make a success of launching a company in such difficult times, it would prove the business was a good one.

Initially, he wasn’t planning to focus on the agricultural sector but he found that the smallhold turbines he was installing were particularly popular with farmers.

“Smallhold turbines are sufficient to power a property. The feed in tariff and the government initiative to support renewable energy meant it was commercially viable for people to do it. And the beauty of farming is that farmers aren’t afraid to make an investment and they are prepared to wait for a return. You also need space in which to put the turbines.

“Energy costs in farming are one of the single biggest burdens on the business, and by producing the energy on site, it’s efficient. Any excess goes back into the National Grid for others to use.”

Earthmill now supplies primarily electrical turbines to farmers, but has one or two corporate customers with high energy requirements. The company is the world’s largest distributor of the Endurance 50kW wind turbines.

Steve’s business partner and the company’s commercial director, Mark Woodward, joined the business after 12 months. Mark, 46, has previously owned a successful software business and was operating as business angel when Steve met him.

The company moved to offices in Wetherby in May 2011, and in September of that year relocated again to larger offices on Audby Lane in the town.

Earthmill now employs 16 people, and is hoping to increase this number to 20 with its current recruitment drive for both office-based and field-based staff to meet the growing demand from customers.

Steve is surprised at the astounding growth rate of the company, but said it was not just due to the growing market for green energy.

“We are doing very well off the back of the industry growing but we are performing beyond the industry,” he said.

“We have managed to be well ahead of the growth in the market. I chose the sector wisely and got the timing right. It was a slice of luck and a very big slice of hard work.”

He added: “A 600 per cent growth a year is pretty much unheard of. I would have loved to have been in this position after ten years.”

Despite the success of Earthmill, Steve has no plans to expand his business beyond Yorkshire.

“We intend to remain geographically focused because we are very customer orientated,” he said.

“The reason we’ve been so successful is because we are very customer centric, and we will continue to focus on that. We manage every part of the process from the site assessment to the planning applications, the grid connections and the installation of the turbine which is done by our own in-house engineers, and we pride ourselves on being there to look after the turbine for its 25 year life.

“Rather than trying to be national, we have a strict rule that if we can’t get to a turbine in two hours, we won’t install it. All our clients are in North, South, East and West Yorkshire. It’s enough to keep us going and potentially we could open regional offices - it’s a business model that there’s no reason we can’t replicate.”

Steve added: “It’s been an amazing experience - just a few years ago we were working from the back of my garage in Spofforth, now we are looking to employ over 20 full time people. I feel really privileged to be part of such a dynamic business.”