IN this week's SME Focus we hear from an entrepreneur who is capitalising on the boom in demand for retro products after making a well-timed move out of financial services.
Name: Brian Mulreany.
Loading article content
Position: Sales director and co-owner.
What is your business called?
The Executive Shaving Company.
Where is it based?
We're based in the south side of Glasgow and have been since 2009. The Executive Shaving Company had up to then been located in Portsmouth under a previous owner.
As we lived in Glasgow when we acquired the business, we had to choose between moving to be closer to it, or moving it to be closer to us. We chose to move the business which, while involving some significant logistical issues and a lot of grunt work, was the best decision for us.
What does it produce, what services does it offer?
The Executive Shaving Company is one of the largest independent online retailers of shaving and grooming products. We supply everything from the everyday, to the hard to find.
Our most popular products include cut-throat and safety razors, badger hair shaving brushes and heritage shaving creams. We also have a small but profitable retail presence in the Silverburn shopping centre.
Who does it sell to?
As well as older gentlemen who've always used a cut-throat or safety razor, but find it increasingly hard to buy these on the high-street, we've also seen a growing demand for traditional shaving products among younger guys influenced by popular culture. TV programmes like Mad Men have created huge demand for retro products, while the shaving scene in the latest James Bond film saw sales of cut-throat razors go through the roof.
A lot of men are also looking for alternatives to mainstream razor brands.
Europe is also a key market for us with more than 10% of our sales coming from Italy, Greece and Spain. Interestingly, one of our strongest success stories has been in the demand we've had from the city of Espoo in Finland. With a population of 257,000, it's home to Nokia's HQ and by all accounts, some very well groomed men.
What is its turnover?
Having turned over £1.1 million in 2012, strong sales have put us on track to achieve more than £1.5m this year.
How many employees?
Seven full-time and three part-time members of staff.
When was it formed?
The Executive Shaving Company was formed in 2000 by a previous owner. My wife and I acquired the business in 2009.
Why did you take the plunge?
I first became aware of the opportunity in my former business as we used the same Search Engine Optimisation specialist as The Executive Shaving Company.
Over time I got to know the previous owner who, having done exceptionally well in building a profitable lifestyle business, made it evident they wanted out. I knew with the right sales and marketing strategy the business had potential to grow so I made him an offer and we completed the purchase in three months.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
Before we took over I ran my own independent health insurance brokerage called Essential Healthcare, which I'd built-up since the late 1990s.
By 2007 I was ready to move on to a new challenge so when AXA PPP approached me to buy the business I jumped at the chance. The opportunity to buy The Executive Shaving Company came at exactly the right time as by then I had completed the sale of the business and was coming to the end of my time in a transitional role. Both deals were for six-figure sums.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
Through the sale of Essential Healthcare with the help of additional funding from Royal Bank of Scotland.
What was your biggest break?
Selling Essential Healthcare at the height of the market.
What was your worst moment?
A few years into Essential Healthcare the business had accumulated substantial debt which made day-to-day operations very difficult and caused me to have many a sleepless night.
We knew the business was moving in the right direction, we just needed more time. It was tremendously stressful but I stuck with it and, with support from family and my employees, managed to get through and begin making good profits.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
I think I get the greatest satisfaction knowing that we employ people who earn good money, who can run cars, take holidays and enjoy life. I also find being my own boss, steering the course of the business and making decisions on its future really rewarding.
What do you least enjoy?
Running an SME, there's nothing I enjoy less than disappointing sales figures. You can't mope though, you've just got to pick yourself up and get on with it.
Having control of your own business is great but you have to rely on outside parties such as suppliers and manufacturers. It can be so frustrating when they let you down and you have no control over the situation.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
First and foremost we want to continue to grow. Since taking over a business with an annual turnover of just £400,000 in 2009, in less than four years we're on course to quadruple this in 2013 and want this to continue.
To deliver this growth we're concentrating on building brand awareness for our existing lines and are considering launching our own range of shaving creams and post-shave balms.
What are your top priorities?
To build The Executive Shaving Company's brand, increase profits, develop our European sales, launch a new line in shaving creams and post-shave balms, and perhaps most importantly, to give our staff the opportunity to grow with the business.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Governments do that would help?
SMEs need all the help they can get, especially in the early stages, so a reduction in corporation tax for smaller businesses should be a priority. A reduction in VAT to stimulate the economy and help start-up businesses take off. A workable plan to resolve the Eurozone crisis would also help us and other SMEs reliant on EU exports.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
To give youth a chance. One day a number of years ago, while I was working at Lloyds TSB, I asked a new member of staff to tell me how she would increase the uptake of new savings accounts.
This girl spoke her mind and as a result of her 'out of the box thinking', we were the highest performing area of the bank that year for opening new accounts.
You've got to look for innovation and try new things all the time which is why I invest a lot in my staff at a young age.
How do you relax?
I love music and eating out and I've had a season ticket at Celtic Park for 21 years.
When I can I also like to get away to the holiday apartment I share with my sister and brother-in-law in Spain. I'm probably at my happiest spending time there with my wife Shona and two daughters Lucy and Holly, or eating out on a Sunday evening.