The owner of a solar company that received backing on BBC’s Dragons’ Den has told CN the company “grew too fast” and admits he is “embarrassed” to be owing money to creditors.
Chris Hopkins, managing director of Ploughcroft Building Services Ltd, which has entered administration, said he would work to ensure creditors were among those employed first by the new company he has established, Ploughcroft Ltd.
A total of 15 staff were made redundant after DL Partnerships were appointed as administrators to the prominent solar firm, established in 1997 and based in Brighouse, West Yorkshire.
Mr Hopkins has now bought assets from the old company, including vehicles and IT equipment, to start his new firm.
Neither Mr Hopkins nor DL Partnerships would confirm the amount owed to creditors by Ploughcroft Building Services Ltd.
DL Partnerships confirmed its appointment as administrator but said it was too early to comment on creditors and unfair to do so before they had each been contacted.
Mr Hopkins said going on the BBC programme in July last year “probably hurt me more than it did me good” as turnover grew by almost 400 per cent the month after going on the show, and the business expanded too rapidly in the months afterwards.
This, coupled with the impact of cuts to the Feed-in Tariffs and the uncertainty of the subsidy levels during the legal challenge by the government, combined to send the business under, according to Mr Hopkins.
“Before I went on TV we had a turnover of roughly £3 million to £4m; we were doing about £300,000 a month in turnover. In the first month afterwards we did £1.1m.
“I had to grow the company so fast so I employed engineers and administration staff, got bigger offices and more computers, and grew to accommodate the Dragons’ Den monster.”
Dragons’ Den judges Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis paid £120,000 to buy 25 per cent shares in the company in November 2011. Just six months later, Mr Hopkins paid £200,000 to buy back their stake in the company.
In the period from August 2011 until the FiTs cuts in March, the business grew to a turnover of around £7m to £8m.
Mr Hopkins said: “I should have mothballed [the company] to a reasonable size but I continued to push it and diversified the business.
“I should have made engineers redundant – I put them into new divisions and spent money on marketing.
“I spent March until August  trying to keep everyone employed and driving into renewables.
“But with the confusion on FiTs, the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Green Deal, there is total confusion within the marketplace.”
Mr Hopkins said the result of the pressure on the company was a “massive failure two weeks ago” when the firm became “technically insolvent” and he called in DL Partnerships as the administrator.
However, he pleaded with creditors “not to crucify” him, pointing to good work he had done through promoting the industry’s cause and his establishment of an NVQ roof training academy and in 2008 a solar roofing NVQ.
Mr Hopkins was described to CN by a source as a “valued member” of the Green Construction Board where he still sits as a member (see box).
But asked about his responsibility to creditors, Mr Hopkins said: “I put my hands up. I made an error and I shouldn’t have done it.
“There will be cases where I owe money and I’m embarrassed about that and will do everything I can to repay those losses,” he said.
Mr Hopkins started Ploughcroft Ltd with five staff. He said he had trained up 120 solar installers through the academy and would use those contractors and would also encourage natural growth in the company.
He will attempt to employ creditors through his new business to try and mitigate their losses, he added.
Mr Hopkins admitted he was worried that the administration would affect new business but that he was already in talks with clients about new work.
Green Construction Board
Mr Hopkins spoke to representatives of the Green Construction Board just before the company was placed into administration and insists he has heard nothing from them about standing down from his role as a board member.
CN understands that Mr Hopkins is still a member of the GCB, who next meet in November when they are expected to discuss Mr Hopkins’ circumstances with him.