HR director profile - Avril Jones, Safestore

Written by
Changeboard Team

23 May 2011

23 May 2011 • by Changeboard Team

What's your HR career background?

I’ve been in HR more years than I care to mention. Let’s just say it’s over 20. Prior to Safestore, I worked as an HR consultant across a wide range of businesses and sectors, including global companies like Coca Cola.

In 2004, Safestore, which was then a venture capital backed business, tempted me with an exciting position and equity in the business, which was a fairly unusual offer for a HR director and an indicator of just how important a strategic function the management team believe HR to be. 

What challenges have you faced at Safestore?

Safestore is the UK’s leading self storage company, with 120 stores throughout the UK and France.

When I started at Safestore, self storage was a very embryonic sector and it is still relatively new when compared to the US market. Safestore was also a fairly new company within the storage industry. The management team recognised the massive opportunity for market consolidation and focused on an acquisition strategy, which provided a considerable challenge for HR.

One of the largest acquisitions was Mentmore Spaces in 2004, a company that was more than double the size of Safestore at the time. The HR strategy was to successfully integrate these businesses, whilst ensuring business continuity and a one team culture. The change management challenge, particularly when integrating Mentmore, was a significant one as employees were quite concerned and negative about being taken over by a smaller competitor and we had to win over their hearts and minds.

The fact that the storage industry was a new sector also proved difficult when attracting talent. The retail and customer service industries are natural feeders for our industry, but at the start, we struggled to attract employees to a new sector and an unknown brand.

What's your biggest career success to date?

At Safestore, my biggest successes have been the integration of the business following the acquisitions, developing a cohesive sales orientated workforce and building the company so it was fit for purpose for flotation in 2006.

Also consolidating Safestore’s employer brand as one which would help us attract and retain the right employees was significant. We are now at a stage where people come to work for us for a wide variety of reasons, attracted by the collegiate nature of the company; the sales orientated culture and the opportunities for progression in a rapidly growing company.

We have achieved recognition for our change management initiatives and training programmes through industry awards in the UK and Europe which we are very proud of. Investing in training our employees has always been a strategic aim of the business as a whole and underpins our talent and retention strategy.

Your next HR challenge

A new CEO has recently joined Safestore, from a FTSE 100 leisure and hotel business and we are preparing to step up to the next level. My next big project will be developing the HR strategy to fit the business objectives over the next five years and creating team alignment around the new strategy.

Who's your biggest influence?

I have to say that the biggest influences I remember are HR managers that helped me when I started out early in my career, the mentors who encouraged me and gave me advice and instruction. I would say to any HR manager, never underestimate the huge impact you can have on someone’s life through mentoring, particularly when they are at the very start of their career.