Bruce Gunn turned his life around after nearly dying from illness. Now he runs a social delivery firm whose biggest investment is in its employees
Bruce Gunn has 21 staff on his books, nearly all of whom have a disability. Yet since starting his social enterprise courier business in 2012, none has ever phoned in sick.
It’s a startling fact that blows stereotypes about disabled people out the water and one which Bruce at every turn is eager to drive home.
“If you see beyond the disability, chances are you’ve got a loyal, dependable and trustworthy employee,” he says. “Remember many disabled people have gone through years of isolation and rejection. So when someone says ‘I value you,’ you usually get a hugely positive response and a very hard working individual in return.”
The other startling fact is that even with a small workforce, his business, Delivered Next Day Personally (DNDP), is probably East Kilbride’s biggest employer of disabled people, proportionately at least.
What's more DNDP expects to double its income year-on-year until 2107, giving lie to the notion that employing disabled people is an impediment to growth.
On the contrary, it has become the firm's unique selling point, says Bruce. Prospective businesses are often smitten by a sales pitch that centres round the socially driven tagline – people not prices.
“You’ve always got to be competitive on cost but it’s really is not the be all and end all,” he says. “The problem is because businesses are so focused on profit, they lose sight of what they are all about.
“I remind them of that – we hit a chord sometimes with potential customers and they wake up to the fact that social responsibility and profitability are both achievable.”
Gunn first thought of starting a business in May 2012 when he realised his own disability left him unable to walk more than a short distance. Believing he was unemployable, it led to an episode where he contemplated taking his own life.
After months in recovery, Bruce decided if no-one else would employ him he’d employ himself and came up with the idea for a courier service.
“It took a lot of research and planning before I came up with the business plan that identified a growing market,” he says. “Everybody shops online and gets things delivered, why not get them delivered by a company that has a social responsibility at its heart?”
He registered Delivered Next Day Personally C.I.C with Companies House a few months later and believes the venture has been the most rewarding thing he’s ever done in his life.
Now, in a few short years, business is booming. While turnover remains still at the tentative growth stage, Bruce reckons DNDP will turn over at least £250,000 next year, a figure which he believes will double in successive years.
“You’ve got to be optimistic in business but also realistic,” he says. “But we’re carving a niche by identifying the third sector as an area of growth. For example, we’ve started a postal service for housing associations, delivering letters and small packets locally, which appeals because we employ their own tenants – many of whom have barriers to employment.
“It ticks all their boxes and creates a bit of community too – a postal service delivered by someone familiar and dependable. The feedback has been hugely positive.”
And equally as important, employees of DNDP get a job that is flexible enough to cater to their own individual health needs.
We’re carving a niche by identifying the third sector as an area of growth.
“There’s no panicking when they feel ill, no dread when they need to go for an emergency appointment to the doctor or hospital,” says Bruce. “That’s why we don’t do sick days. People are treated like adults and we work to their needs. It’s a simple formula that more employers should follow – because if they did we would have full employment.”
DNDP has won contracts to provide employment opportunities for Enable Scotland and Learn Direct. It also took on six ex-Remploy staff who had been unemployed since the Fife factory shut down two years ago.
From people like Robert who hadn’t been out of the house for over four years, to Kris who finds it hard integrating because he is profoundly deaf, the firm makes a point of giving work to people who other employers have written off.
“These are the people, that when I started the company, I wanted to help,” says Bruce. “People like me who want to work, but because of a health condition find it incredibly hard. Sometimes it is soul destroying to go on interview after interview only to be told, no, we can’t take the risk.”
DNDP now has 21 staff and 18 self-employed couriers and plans to double this number next year. The company also employs 16-24 year-olds as co-pilots, “to do the leg work”, who in turn are mentored by their disabled colleagues.
Replicating his business model nationwide through social franchising is the ultimate goal. “I have so many hopes and ambitions for DNDP,” says Bruce. “It has the potential to be extended to other groups who find it difficult to find work, such as veterans and over 55s. I want to see a DNDP franchise in every local authority, run by disabled people and with disabled drivers in all 470 postcodes in Scotland, potentially creating up to 700 jobs.”
In place to see all this through is a dynamic board structure that changes with the business. Initially a start-up board was in place but as the firm has grown, the board structure has changed.
“We’ve got people who are in place to best inform us in the future – in IT for example –and we’re just taking on a trustee from a financial background.
“It’s essential the board changes with the business. You need good people all around you. We’ve got that with our employees and with our board. These are the two best investments a social enterprise will ever make.”
Back from the brink - now living life to the full
A chance allergic reaction to a mosquito bite during a family holiday changed Bruce Gunn’s life for ever.
It led to a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung) and nearly killed him. It left him unable to walk andultimately suicidal.
His situation was exacerbated by fivework capability assessments which deemed him fit to work despite the fact hecould hardly stand for a minute without searing pain.
“It was during this dark timethat I first contemplated suicide,” he explains. “I thought my life was over. Icouldn’t do the things I enjoyed and I was tired of explaining why I couldn’t dothings any more.
"Even flying a kite with my 7 year old daughter was too painful. I felt I was worth more dead than alive.”
Luckily his doctor recognised the seriousness of Bruce’s depression, before finally discovering what was causing his lack of mobility.
An artery preventing blood flowing to the lower half of his body was diagnosed and, with the right balance of medications and painkillers, a course of cognitive behavioural therapy and a different outlook in life, things started to get better.
“I started to think about the future, the things that I could do. I started to think about employment and went on a few interviews. Because I was technically disabled it was easy to get interviews, as disabled people are guaranteed an interview."
However, when he couldn’t commit to 20, 30 or 40 hours each week, or say that he wouldn’t become sick in the future, the interviews wouldn’t go much further.
It was then that he started to research the problem of unemployment among disabled people.
“I spoke to other disabled and long-term ill people and the story was the same. Some people had been on 20,sometimes 25 interviews. It was soul destroying,” he said.
From being employed all his life –with 25 years working in the IT industry–Bruce had to reappraise his entire outlook in a bid to see how he could get employment and feel valued again.
He adds: “I now focus on what I can do. When you think that way life is a whole lot better, not just for me but for all connected to me.”
This article is part of TFN's Social Enterprise Summer campaign, which you can follow on social media using the hashtag #SocEntSummer