Tonight we hosted another of our Inspiring Entrepreneurs evenings as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). This time we had successful entrepreneurs from a diverse range of business sectors, from home wares to plumbing.
Once again our moderator and all round business expert was Matthew Rock, Real Business Co-founder and Editor.
First up was Charlie Mullins who said he wanted to be a plumber from nine years old. And from very early on was out on the road working with plumbers. He doesn’t believe in a magic formula for business success. He didn’t have any set plans when he started out, just hard work and dedication to be successful. The harder you work the luckier you get.
His is a family business with children and in-laws employed. Pimlico plumbers is now the largest independent plumbing company in the country, and the most recognised in the country. And they now employs 200 people, but the hardest thing is finding the right staff.
Second was Orla Kiely who knew by the age of twelve that she wanted to work in fashion. She applied to the one good art college in Dublin and there discovered textiles. She left Ireland in the late 1980’s as there wasn’t much going on there at the time. After four years working as a textile designer she went back to college at the Royal College of Arts which she considers essential for creatives.
From there she started making a few hats and bags with fax orders from the UK to Monaco. On moving back to London to expand the business with her partner Dermott Rowan she began by freelancing for M&S and creating her designs at weekends. Their first office was their flat which became crammed with boxes. The move to prints was the way they were able to differentiate their brand, and since then they have grown organically.
Next was Sam Hargreaves who credits his sister with starting his business when she turned down an iPod he had bought for her as a present. At 16 Instead of spending £5,000 on a car as agreed with his parents, he bought 50 iPods from the USA and doubled his money overnight, but was grounded by his mum.
His Gadgets 4 Everyone now has eleven staff and a million pound turnover, and recognised as the number one gadget recycler. Sam puts his success down to a personal touch, following up with customers over the phone and making use of social media. He tests his ideas on his friends who are brutally honest and will throw any bad ideas back into his face.
Finally Stephen Fear who grew up with virtually no education, and used to read the newspapers he was delivering. At fourteen years old he began using his local phone box to contact American suppliers with help from a friendly phone operator. He settled on trainee salesman as his job title after rejecting Chairman and President, in order to get in the door at big companies who wouldn’t see a teenage child.
The evening ended with a lengthy question and answer session:
How to grow your business?
Spend your profits on your business not on holidays or expensive presents for yourself. Find the right partnerships who can help your business grow. Partner with your customers and your suppliers and ultimately with your financier.
Mistakes are how you learn, and you come out a lot stronger. You always have to watch your own business regardless of who you employ to look after it for you. You have to keep focussed on your business at all times. Plan ahead. Example of a five year plan to choose between menswear and home-wear for Orla Kiely.
Finance means everything must have a margin (40% in the case of Orla Kiely). Stephen Fear covered the funding options of Crowdfunding, personal investors who will take a percentage of the business, BBA website for grants. Charlie reckons friends and family can be the best source of funding for startups.
Don’t need to be too detailed, but must be a credible road map for your business.
Sam is expanding into European markets through connections and other people’s successes. The UK DTI help exporters expanding into new markets.
All of the speakers stayed on well after the 8pm close for some serious networking in the bar of the conference centre. It was great to be able to chat to Orla Kiely, Stephen Fear and Charlie Mullins over a glass of wine and nibbles.