Certainly, the results of rapid growth are apparent when visiting Robin Hood Energy’s offices in the city centre, where it occupies three floors of what might be a 1970s-type block, well past its best. Desks are packed in tightly and Scholes herself occupies a no-frills office squeezed in the corner.
“You know I’m not sat here as a very wealthy chief executive, getting a very nice bonus. It’s completely different,” she says. Indeed, the down to earth Scholes gets the bus to work from a village a few miles away. Originally from Northumberland, the family moved down with the mines in 1970s, “My dad was a miner, so we’ve always been in energy,” she quips.
Despite keeping overheads down, Scholes is the first to admit that Robin Hood Energy is not the cheapest. “We’re not at the top, we’re not the cheapest. We’ve always been in around about the top 10-15 per cent price-wise for a 12-month fixed credit tariff. Our sell is very much on trust and social values.”
Scholes says that as part of these social values it has a strong focus on vulnerable customers, linking with charities and other organisations to reach out to them. Introducing payment programmes to suit different needs and helping those who might be in difficulty are key strands.
“It can be hard to reach vulnerable customers, but I’ve always strongly believed that if anybody can get through to that market, other than the big six, it is probably going to be a local authority, where you’ve still got that trust, and you’ve still got that relationship with somebody who lives in that community.”
Scholes says her team actively encourages customers off higher prices and only 20 per cent of its customer base is on standard variable tariffs. In another move to lend a helping hand, it has launched more affordable boiler cover.
Some might say that without profit as an incentive, inefficiencies creep in and costs aren’t kept as tight as they might be. Scholes is having none of it. “Not at all. It’s almost like having your own personal purse. You are constantly keeping an eye on money, because actually at the end of the day you know that’s affecting the customer’s price and what they can afford to pay for energy. So every single thing that we do to save money means the customer ultimately is getting a better deal, and that’s what drives us every single day. If there’s a cheaper way of doing something, we will absolutely do it.
“Everything is stripped down to the bare minimum in terms of cost. We’ve not ploughed money into masses of technology. If you go onto our website it’s still fairly basic.” But in an acknowledgment that it needs to move with the times, the company is soon to launch a smart phone app to allow customers to pay their bills on the phone.
Warm and friendly, Scholes makes light of the challenges of the past three years. “I’ve certainly got a lot greyer, but I think it helps having both levels of experience,” she says, referring to the decade she spent from 1987 to 1997 at East Midlands Electricity where her roles spanned the highly technical to more customer facing as the electricity and gas markets became deregulated. Prior to that she worked both in the private and public sectors in energy management and strategy posts, after graduating with a masters in renewable energy and sustainable development from Leicester’s De Montfort University.