Name: Mike Smith.
What is the business called? I run two businesses – ORB Group and Sports Merchandise Global.
What services does it offer? ORB supplies promotional merchandise, such as pens, mugs and umbrellas with our customers logos on them.
Our customers include Aston Martin, The Famous Grouse and Irn-Bru.
Sports Merchandise Global supplies merchandise to sporting organisations or companies that sponsor sport. SMG works with Manchester United, French Football Federation, International Cricket Council as the rights holder, and sponsor companies include Epsom, DHL, Castrol and Betfair.
What is the turnover? £5.7 million.
When was it formed? 1994.
What were you doing before you took the plunge? Having studied economics and marketing at Paisley University, I worked as a marketing assistant at Tennent’s before moving to Quaker Oats in London as a financial analyst.
I came back to Glasgow in 1991 to take up the post of account manager with Biggart Donald, working with clients like Absolut Vodka, Clydesdale Electrical and ScotKart.
Why did you take the plunge? I learned a huge amount from my Dad (Brian Smith) about business when I was growing up and I always had a tendency to see where businesses did or did not make money.
I was always looking for the right opportunity/timing, and this came along in 1994.
My then bosses, very politely and subtly, told me that my future was not in the role I had at the time, but that they would support me by buying their promotional items from me if I started out on my own. They became my business partners for the first three years.
Knowing I was going to have to do something else became the catalyst to make me understand that this was “the opportunity” I was looking for to start my own business.
What was your biggest break? The recession … someone told me a few years ago about the recession but I chose to ignore them.
In 2007, we tried to buy a competing company, CMC, which had a division called Sport Merchandise Global (SMG), which was the arm we were most interested in because it was a perfect fit for us, and offered the opportunity to break into the extremely lucrative world of sports merchandising.
However, negotiations broke down because they were looking for what I thought was far too much money so we walked away.
I kept in touch with the team at SMG, and on July 6, 2009 (at the tail-end of the recession), I got a call from the parent company, asking if I could meet them in Manchester the next day.
The train journey gave me time to structure the deal, and within a month, we owned the company.
What was your worst moment? 2006 brought two dreadful moments, simultaneously. Firstly, we found out that we were losing our biggest client to a competitor who subsequently went out of business two years later.
Around that time, we lost internet and email access for a month because of IT system problems so the staff were forced to process huge amounts of work manually until we were able to get another new system installed.
What do you enjoy about running the business? Satisfaction in seeing something you have created growing. I’m a naturally outgoing person so ORB Group and SMG give me the excuse for meeting new people every day and I’m also very competitive so for me, there is no greater feeling than winning new business.
What do you least enjoy? The huge amounts of paperwork and red tape involved both nationally and internationally.
What are your ambitions for the firm? To continue to increase growth internationally via SMG and to win more blue-chip companies in the UK, with a view to doubling turnover and profit within the next three years.
What are your top priorities? Ensure that our ongoing investment in the company reaps increased profits; further investment in training to ensure our staff are ahead of the competition; win new accounts and do more work with existing clients; and master Social media before my six year old son does!
What could the Scottish and/or Westminster governments do that would most help?
Reduce corporation tax to enable ambitious businesses to re-invest more money.
A significant simplification in employment law would be greatly welcomed.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to my dad (who was a chartered accountant, and partner in the Glasgow-based practice of Stevenson & Kyles) telling me about his various (anonymous) clients and their businesses and what was going well and what wasn’t.
It has become the backbone of a lot of my own thoughts in business:
(1) Only buy what you can afford
(2) Treat everybody well and they will treat you well back
(3) Keep a very close eye on your overheads
(4) Make sure you know your figures inside out
How do you relax? Weekends are spent with my wife, Clare and mostly chauffeuring my son, Tiarnan, around to skiing, football, parties, etc.
I love to ski and play a bit of golf, and generally just catch up with friends.