Arena is determined to keep happy family ethos

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FOR most people, a 21st birthday is a chance to celebrate.

It’s no different for documents expert the Arena Group, based at Robin Hood, near Wakefield, which marks its 21st anniversary this year.

But rather than celebrate the milestone itself, the company is rewarding its staff for a record-breaking year of growth and achievements.

Managing director Adrian Fitzpatrick said: “It’s all under wraps but on November 16, the whole company is invited to an event which Helen our PA is frantically organising and it looks like it will be a great do.

“I can’t say too much, but it will involve food from the chef James Martin.

“We did something similar in 2006 when we had another great year – we went to Bibis for dinner, then we went to see Grease the musical, then we went on to a nightclub.

“It’s difficult catering for everyone’s tastes, but that seemed to work well. The vast majority of people gave up their Friday night to come with us.”

That enthusiasm and friendliness has been embedded in the company from the outset. It was founded in 1991 by six friends, two of whom – Mr Fitzpatrick and Harry Wells – remain. Three have since retired, and another has moved on, but the original ethos of the company remains.

“We set up in a little industrial unit with no windows in Hunslet,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.

“There was just 10 of us at the time – we could all see each other. It was largely a group of pals; we socialised a lot and the camaraderie and engagement were easy.

“Now, we have 150 people across six sites – it’s very, very hard to keep that family atmosphere but it’s something we think is important.

“It really is our values. Our Christmas parties involve our other halves and we try to have an event every year with our children.”

Having started out supplying and repairing photocopiers, the company has since moved on to offer everything relating to documents, both physical and electronic.

Adapting to the market has seen huge successes for Arena since it embarked on a five-year plan in 2010 and it is already well ahead of its aims.

Turnover this year reached £17m, up from around £12m last year and looking promising for the 2015 target of £20m. Recruitment is increasing, with 17 new people brought into the business in 2011 and a further 22 expected to be added this year.

Some of those new recruits will come from the long-running apprenticeship programme, which was launched soon after the company was established. There are currently 12 trainees on apprenticeship schemes with Arena, across all aspects of the business, and for those who prove their worth during that time there is always a permanent job available at the end.

“We have got some great graduates from the programme, some now in management positions and doing great jobs across the business,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.

“The thing that gives me confidence is that these people are imbued with our culture. When we’re talking about people, we regularly ask ‘Are they an Arena person?’

“Don’t ask me to define it, but you can just sense when someone is.”

Recruiting during difficult times may seem risky, but Mr Fitzpatrick believes it’s important to create a solid business plan and then have the guts to stick to it.