Things you may not know
Poppies founder, Sue Rorstad, started the business that became Poppies on April Fool’s Day in 1980. She began in her back bedroom in a semi-detached house in Chester-le-Street – a small mining village in County Durham.
A new mum, 26 year-old Sue was searching for what we now call “Work Life Balance”. She wanted to spend more time with her baby and needed a steady income to replace her well – paid career in Local Government.
Her friends looked for help at home by placing in adverts in post office windows. Sue knew from their experience that things didn’t always work. She saw there was need for professional staff recruitment and training and for someone to be on hand to resolve problems or issues that might arise. Seeing this as an opportunity Sue launched ” Mopps and Co” aiming to create well paid and permanent jobs as well as provide a high quality service to local clients.
This was 1980, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, the UK was in recession, there was mass unemployment and class war.
As the business grew Sue opened a major new branch in Newcastle. She attended evening classes at Durham University Business School where one of the lecturers told her about Franchising. This inspired Sue to develop her business into a Franchise operation so that others could buy into and benefit from her successful business format.
As a Female Northern Entrepreneur Sue became quite a local celebrity and was one of a handful of business people invited to meet Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street. The very next day one national newspapers printed the story of “Mrs T meeting Mrs Mopps”.
Change of Business Name & Franchising
The publicity caused someone to see the opportunity to make a legal claim for using a similar business name.
Sue decided to change the name of her company to Poppies. By calling staff Poppies (because they pop in and out) Sue hoped that people would soon prefer to ask for a Poppie rather than just a “cleaner”.
After 4 years of successful trading Sue sold her first Franchise in 1984. The owner of that business is still our Franchisee.
Sue believed that a Franchise was the best method for Poppies. To be successful each outlet needs someone to take responsibility for the staff and the service. Standards have to be set and maintained, problems solved, mistakes and misunderstandings professionally dealt with. A local person, committed to their own business but with support and back up from a growing network of experienced colleagues seemed then and now to give clients and staff the best of all worlds. Poppies creates businesses as well as jobs and provides a valuable and in increasingly necessary service.
In 198? Sue was recommended for an MBE by then prime minister John Major for “Services to Domiciliary Care”. Always a Northerner at heart Sue arranged for the award ceremony to take place in County Durham. The honour was presented to Sue by the Lord Lieutenant acting on behalf of her Majesty the Queen.
The Present and The Future
Sadly Sue Rorstad is no longer with us. After a long fight against Cancer, Sue passed away on New Year’s Day 2015.
A woman of many achievements, Sue was most pleased that through Franchising Poppies has been able to create so many jobs.
In particular, it has created hundreds of permanent, part-time and flexible jobs. These jobs give mums with school-age children the chance to earn money and still meet their family commitments. This is a practical form of Work – Life balance.
Above all Sue wanted her business to recognise, respect and value its employees. She thought of Poppies as much more than “just cleaners” and believed in the need to reward people properly for their commitment as well as the jobs they do. All our staff are expected to care about the client as well as their property giving practical support to each individual wherever and whenever they need it the most.
Demand for help at home is growing as busy working people and families juggle with competing pressures on their time and others strive to stay independent in their own homes for as long as possible despite illness, accident or old age.
If it is to provide a consistent and reliable service, no professional organisation can expect employees to subsidise the service they provide. For example, Poppies staff have to travel between properties – often in their own vehicles. Staff have to be reimbursed for the cost of such travel and need to be paid, not just for the hours they spend at work in someone’s house, but also for the time it takes for them to travel there and back.
Poppies’ clients share our belief in a fair deal for employees seeing this as important and valid as fair trade is for farmers at home as well as abroad.
If we truly aim to provide our clients with a high quality, professional and consistent service then we have to start by treating our employees in the same way.
This was the philosophy of our founder and remains so today.
SUE RORSTAD MBE