WRIGHT VIGAR is bucking the recession's trend.
Based in Lincoln, and with offices in Newark, Retford, Gainsborough, Sleaford and London, the firm acquired an office of rival firm McGregors Corporate in May, seeing it take on 400 extra clients and boosting the Lincoln office's revenues by as much as a fifth.
It is the latest in a series of moves that has seen Wright Vigar establish a significant presence in the east Midlands, with three practices acquired in the last seven years.
That regional concentration has not held it back from mixing in the big leagues, either, with the firm regularly dealing with clients in the £50m-£100m bracket nationwide.
"Growth is not purely on the back of acquisitions," explains director Jack O'Hern. "It's a mixture of organic growth, new service lines and occasional acquisitions. It's about finding people with a similar outlook and ethos to ours so the clients won't see a significant culture change."
O'Hern explains that the firm is self-aware enough to refrain from over-reaching, concentrating instead on its strong suits: agriculture, construction, charity, and creative and design industries.
"We don't do insolvencies, and we don't do listed companies, but as clients grow from £50m to £100m, we can still provide most of what they need," says O'Hern.
The acquisition of the McGregors office saw its staff join the existing 43 at Wright Vigar's Newland headquarters in Lincoln, a move O'Hern says was all about efficiency.
"In the past, we've acquired offices or practices in other towns, but it's a lot more efficient from a business perspective to bring somebody into an existing set-up," he explains. "You're not replicating the same level of overheads as if you take over a practice in a different town."
While that logic is clear, bringing in a whole new team conceivably could cause teething problems, but O'Hern is so far pleased with the transition.
"They've [the McGregors staff] settled in very well," he adds. "When you take somebody over, you're bound to say, ‘we're nice people and it'll be all right' – and they're in a bit of shock when they first hear the news.
"But I think what they have found is that we intend to look after them and their clients. It's early days, but the initial response has been good."
That, married with a rise in the number of businesses seeking advice as they attempt to navigate the recession's choppy waters, has seen the firm on an upward curve. That appetite for advice, says O'Hern, is down to clients recognising their accountants have similar ambitions to their own.
"It's important to remain fresh in that process of growth," he says. "It brings in new challenges and it reflects what many of our clients are trying to do. We've done the acquisitions, the hiring and firing, taking on new shareholders, facing up to the difficult decisions; all those aspects that normal businesses face."
Referrals have led on from that "trust", and as a result have become the best source of new business for the firm.
"In general, if you look after your clients, your clients will ultimately help you to grow," explains O'Hern. "You will have clients and other professionals reinforcing your own message, and the longer the relationship, the better and more trusting it generally is."
Despite their concentration in Lincolnshire and the east Midlands, Wright Vigar has cast its eye further afield and has for the past five years had an office established in London, increasing its business in the capital.
The theory, says O'Hern, was that having a permanent base in London, rather than simply having a PO Box address or travelling for meetings, would demonstrate to customers further south they were very much on the agenda.
Not only that, but with a Lincoln-orientated cost base, it is still significantly more cost-effective than having a large office in the capital.
"Opening that office helped reinforce the message to clients that we are here and we are available. It's not that we're not making a special trip down to London just to see a client for a couple of hours – it's part of the service that we offer. We have clients across the UK; it's not that difficult," says O'Hern.
As a result, Wright Vigar's status a regional firm with a national reach in its chosen sectors has been cemented, and in a climate where small firms can easily become lost or stagnate, it is no mean feat.
"In all the towns we're in, our aim and goal is to be seen as trusted professional, able to provide a good, responsive and proactive service," says O'Hern.
Number of directors: Seven
Offices: Six, with five the east Midlands and one in London
Fee income: £5m
Specialist sectors: Agriculture, construction, charity, design and creative
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