Spotlight on Sophie Grafton
At Spotlight, we had the opportunity to speak to Sophie Grafton, Managing Director of Mystery Shoppers Ltd and Sophie Grafton Coaching, who spoke to us about the challenges of taking over a family business and making waves in the industry.
I never thought I would be interested in running my own company or managing people. I remember saying to everyone that I wanted to work to live, and not live to work. It only took a few months into my first proper job for me to realise that actually, I loved working! 12 years later and I now do live to work, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
At 18, unsure of what career path I wanted, I moved from my small hometown in Devon to Bath without any idea of where I was going to work, and without knowing anyone who lived there. I was spurred on by a love for a city I had only visited once and an overwhelming feeling it was where I was supposed to be. My parents let me borrow their rickety old run-down caravan, drove me to a caravan park on the outskirts of Bath, and that is where I lived for 3 months until I found a job and could commit to a rental contract.
I first became a manager at 18, in the role of Team Leader at a bar. At 19, I changed industries to financial services and started at the bottom of the career ladder again. Within 12 months I was a store manager, and within another 18 months, I was an area manager of 9 stores in and around South West London. I was 22, which made me the youngest area manager in the company, and the second youngest person of all the people in my team!
I was so driven to succeed, but my god it was a challenge!
When the company decided to close down most of its stores, I was made redundant along with 1300 others. I helped my team to get jobs in other companies and then went on the hunt for another role.
This was when my Dad, Paul, asked me to join his company as a profit and loss manager for Mystery Shoppers Ltd. Now I had obviously grown up with the knowledge of what my Dad did, but to be honest, I had never really quite understood the scale of his business.
The company specialises in mystery shopping (the name says it all!), but we also understand the importance of listening to what customers are saying, to what employees are saying and also to finding out what is happening in the wider market too. So we have had to develop a range of market insight, employee engagement and customer feedback tools for our clients to utilise too.
When I joined the company, it was going through some extreme growing pains. Paul had grown this company organically over 23 years and suddenly there was a team of 50 people and it had outgrown its current structure where it relied on Paul to be heavily involved in the day-to-day running.
I found the first few months there the hardest thing I have ever had to go through - it’s one thing being a young manager, it’s another being the boss’s daughter! I had to try and prove myself in 100 different ways, but soon enough I fell in love with the potential of the company and 6 months later I was left in charge when Paul went on holiday for 6 weeks. By the time he came back, I had made such an impression on the business and people, that he decided he could retire and hand the reins over to me.
The business has gone from strength to strength since then, we are now more profitable, our customers are happier and just as importantly, so is our team.
Covid-19 has made the last year hugely challenging. Especially because the majority of our work is face to face in the retail, travel and leisure sectors. So, unfortunately, we saw a huge number of clients have no choice but to pause their work. We moved as much of the business as we could onto online channels and used the time to invest back into the company, designing new products and services, updating all company procedures and designing eLearning training for all of our team members.
It’s too easy in tough times to bury your head and wait for it to pass, but that is not the answer. Use the time to look for new opportunities and do as much as you can to drive your business forward within whatever means you have, even if it’s just some extra time on your hands.
In 2021, I decided to start sophiegraftoncoaching.com as a result of the way I was feeling. I often wished I had someone who was outside of my job, who I could talk to about the problems I was facing, who would be able to offer me some advice as to what to try next.
Managing people is often the hardest element for many managers, and so I’ve developed a range of affordable courses that are designed to help managers of varying levels to develop their leadership skills and specifically, to help them know what to do when they have a particularly difficult person or group of people to manage. Giving constructive feedback doesn’t need to be as difficult as people think, I’ve had to manage all types of personalities, from those who didn’t want to take instructions from a young female manager to those who really didn’t just want to work at all. I’ve managed to turn many “difficult people” into assets to my team with the formula I’ve developed, which I can’t wait to share with many others.
I have also put together a support group for like-minded leaders, all with the objective of bettering ourselves, in order to share tips, sources and advice so that we can all benefit and progress together.
During all these years of managing people, I’ve experienced many people's problems. I’ve made many mistakes, which I am going to share with others through my coaching programmes, to hopefully prevent them from making their own. I’ve also developed some great teams, including the one I have now.
If I could offer these people one piece of advice it would be to always put your hand up for new opportunities, or for extra responsibilities if you’re keen to progress. You often need to work above your pay grade if you want to push forward. It won’t be forever and doesn’t need to be excessive, but to stand out from the others, you need to be doing what others don’t. I loved working, so spending time in the evenings working was enjoyable for me but also demonstrated how much I wanted my projects to succeed. I strongly believe that if I had stuck to my hours and responsibilities given to me throughout my career, I would not be where I am today.
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to learn more about Mystery Shoppers Ltd and Sophie Grafton Coaching, why not check out their websites. Alternatively, to learn more about Sophie herself, check out her Twitter and Instagram accounts. For more Spotlight blogs visit our blog section.