No rush to riches23 Apr 2014
Stuart Hill, CEO of New Business of the Year 2013 winner wnDirect, tells the NBA how it is managing explosive growth
Having overseen international operations within ASOS.com at a time when business growth went from c£30m turnover to over £350m, Stuart Hill knows the importance of tailored international delivery and return solutions in ecommerce. With over 15 years experience in retail, which also included a senior operational role at John Lewis, Stuart has applied his insight to build a £50m turnover business in less than two years.
This explosive growth helped his firm, wnDirect, win New Business of the Year in 2013 but it was the story behind the numbers that most impressed judges who praised it for “spotting an opportunity, launching with breakneck speed and perfect execution”.
Alex Evans, Programme Director of the National Business Awards spoke to CEO Stuart Hill about wnDirect’s winning model and how it will sustain growth.
Why has wnDirect been so successful in its approach to international logistics – and why is it exemplary?
We just looked at things differently. A market is often developed because one business launches an idea, is successful and then a number of other me-too companies follow suit. We weren't happy with the services that were available so our objective, from the outset, was to do things differently. I think this really resonated as a number of the people in wnDirect came from retail and, therefore, were feeling the frustration of there not being relevant services and solutions. We understand firsthand the issues retailers have. So when wnDirect was launched the retail industry went 'yes that's what we need!'
How is wnDirect enabling UK businesses to trade overseas?
We have always tried to be more than a logistics service. We provide consultancy which shares our knowledge of a region with the retailer. We are able to explain, in detail, the issues and challenges they are likely to face. The 'enabling' bit comes from our ability to follow that conversation up with the ways in which you can overcome those challenges. Our unique approach whereby we thoroughly understand a region and keep an eye on the relevant changes occurring there have paid dividends recently as, following legislative changes in Russia, we are the only carrier who is able to process and clear Russia customs and, therefore, the only carrier who can support retailers there.
Why is ecommerce important to UK plc in the context of international trade?
I guess we have had a bit of a rough ride economically and looking to external markets makes perfect sense. I also think a great deal of innovation and business strength exists within the UK and this is recognised globally. I think we definitely have a reputation for quality and integrity - both very important values when you are going to trust someone with vital aspects of your business.
Your Board has an impressive mix of experience and expertise; how was this Board put together and what part has it played in wnDirect’s accelerated growth?
It was very much part of the plan. From the outset we knew that a different perspective was vital to ensuring our services were different. Whilst we couldn't have achieved this without logistics experience and understanding I believe our detailed understanding of the retail industry and the pains retailers feel has been our key differentiator. It is our unique approach which has motivated our expedited growth.
Broadly, how do you plan to manage and sustain long term growth?
Whilst our growth has been rapid it has also been managed in a sensible manner. We could have dashed off and opened lanes and outbound services at a considerably faster pace but we recognise that 'getting it right' is integral to our success and, therefore, every new lane and outbound location we add has been thoroughly researched and understood in advance. We don't plan to change this as it has served us well to date. Obviously, as we grow our team we can increase the rate at which we can research and understand regions - the ethos will always stay the same though.
What one piece of advice would you give to any UK startup?
Slowly does it! There is always a temptation to go too fast and do everything at once; but I cannot underestimate the value of research and managed growth. wnDirect appears to have grown incredibly fast; but I can assure you we have followed our own advice. We know a region intimately before we even consider launching there.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself before launching your first business?
Trust in yourself. It is human nature to experience confidence wobbles and worry if you are doing the right thing. Often, starting up a business means leaving a secure job, but if you truly believe in it use the slow and steady approach, stay focused and always believe in yourself.
What growth milestones are most important to you and why?
To be honest these are very personal things and should be considered from the outset. Every business owner needs to understand what success looks like to them - otherwise what is the dream you are chasing?
What impact has your NBA win had on your business - and how do you plan to make the most of this recognition going forward?
We all felt enormous pride. Recognition from something as well established and respected as the National Business Awards is incredible. It really spurred us on and gave us further motivation to believe in what we are doing - and how we are doing it. To be honest it has become a badge of honour that we use at every opportunity!
The National Business Awards are now open and the deadline for entries is 23rd May. To find out more about the New Business of the Year Award, and how to enter, visit www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk.