Drive and ambition28 May 2014
Better Bathrooms founder Colin Stevens tells the NBA why he decided to be an award-winning entrepreneur instead of a professional golfer
Ten years after he started the business in his bedroom aged 22, trading products online via eBay, Colin Stevens’ Better Bathrooms is now one of the UK’s leading bathroom retailers. A highly successful multichannel business, which includes showrooms, www.betterbathrooms.com and telephone mail order catalogue, Better Bathrooms also has direct partnerships with more than 30 manufacturers in the Far East.
The NBA caught up with Colin to talk about his business model and the philosophy that has helped him grow a £40m company:
Why has your multi-channel business model been so successful – and what can other businesses learn from it?
When I started selling products on eBay, there was not much emphasis on eCommerce within the bathrooms sector, so what I was doing in 2001 was going against the current trend. From that point on, it became very apparent to me that eCommerce was an underrated market and one I could capitalise on. This is what set Better Bathrooms apart; we embraced eCommerce and used it as a platform to grow organically. This ensured we are financially secure and ultimately gave me the tools to become a multi-channel business.
The motto I live by is “don’t follow the pack – look past what everyone else is doing”. I am not afraid to try new ideas or process. Don’t be afraid to be different.
Broadly, how do you plan to manage and sustain long-term growth?
I intend to follow the same successful plan we have been implementing the last 10 years; ensuring that all our platforms are optimised, embracing sectors like mCommerce and growing at an appropriate speed. We have planned to open 5 new stores a year, which is financially viable. We are also picking the locations and sites very carefully – there is a lot of planning behind the scenes before we sign the papers.
You recently secured a £10 million retail investment from the Business Growth Fund (BGF). Why did you opt for this source of funding, and what will you do with the money?
For me, the BGF were the ideal partner as we share the same values, with company growth and the creation of jobs being of paramount importance. I believe that with BGF’s investment and expertise, we will be able to take the company to the next level, expanding our factories and product lines, and ultimately hit our future growth target of £200m. At the moment our focus is growing the number of showrooms we have and increasing our brand awareness on a national scale.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship, and what qualities have most helped you to succeed?
There are many definitions of entrepreneurship. To me it means someone has built a successful company; but success does not have to be defined by how much money they have made - it can be achieving the goals they set.
The skills needed for success as an entrepreneur must include:
- A clear vision and plan
- The determination not to take no for an answer
- Impeccable communication skills
- An understanding of business margins and cash flow
- Being able to identify and improve weak areas and evolve as an entrepreneur
I started Better Bathrooms when I was 21 with no business experience, so what I’ve learnt along the way has often been from my own mistakes. If I knew back then what I do now then I wouldn’t have made half of the wrong decisions, yet this wouldn’t have helped both me and the business improve. I strongly believe it’s what you don’t know that can harm a business. I’ve been lucky to have great business mentors which have helped deliver unique advice and business tips.
What one piece of advice would you give to any UK startup?
Be prepared to make the business your main priority in your life as it can involve working long hours, 7 days a week. Also, make sure you’ve researched the sector you are entering – look at competitors and how much mark up could make. If there isn’t enough profit to be made then you’ll never get beyond the start up stage.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself before launching Better Bathrooms?
I would probably say nothing to myself, without my dream of becoming a professional golfer, I would never have started selling taps on eBay and then Better Bathrooms would never have existed.
What growth milestones are most important to you and why?
There are a few key milestones that mean a lot to me; opening our first showroom in Wigan was an exciting day as it is my hometown and it was the first day Better Bathrooms became a multichannel business. Other key moments include:
- Hiring our 200th staff member – creating jobs is very important to me
- Winning all the awards especially the National Business Award in 2012 – I have worked very hard ensuring Better Bathrooms is a successful company and to be recognised for that is fantastic
- Our first Better Bathrooms delivery lorry – the whole customer experience is also very important to me and with our own fleet of lorries and drivers we can take control of this aspect
- Hitting our 2013 turnover target of £40m – it means we are on the way to hitting our larger target of £200m
What impact has your NBA win had on your business - and how do you plan to make the most of this recognition going forward?
It has an immediate impact as I was on Sky News talking about the awards and Better Bathrooms the next day! In term of brand awareness and industry respect it had a massive effect. Since we won this award we always mention it as it carries a lot of influence – it was an honour to win it.
What unexpected benefit came out of the judging process or participation in the NBAs?
I am very proud of Better Bathrooms and to have the NBA’s recognise our work was amazing. The recognition we secured after winning was an unexpected benefit and it made everything worthwhile.
Entries for the National Business Awards will be accepted until 30th May – so there is still time to register for a chance to be shortlisted for the Smith & Williamson Entrepreneur of the Year Award. To find out more, visit www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk.