Welcome to Saturday Business chat. Today we’re in North Wales with Mick Brady from Denbigh Army Surplus. I contacted DAS when I found out about their super Resilience Challenge. Basically, once a week they issue a map reference to their followers. The first person to locate Mick and his son Rich sitting in their tent on a mountain wins a significant prize of outdoor gear. What a great way to promote your business and showcase your products! There’s a press release about their special Christmas challenge and more information on the website.
This is a bigger business than some of the ones I’ve featured, being family-run by Mick, his wife and their two sons. They’ve been going for nearly 25 years, too – so whatever lessons they learned in the early years must have been useful ones! For Mick, the time was right to fulfil his ambition to run his own business, even though he chose the particular area by chance and had to work hard at more than one job to get it going. And he’s honest about the expense involved, too, although these obviously differ depending on your business model.
Let’s meet Mick and hear about the outdoor life in North Wales!
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
The business is called Denbigh Army Surplus and was set up in August 1988.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
I have had the desire to run my own business since I was in my teens. I trained as an engineer and entered teaching as a late graduate. In 1988 I took a year out of teaching to try my hand at various projects for a year. I never returned to teaching.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
A chance conversation about buying stock from MoD (Ministry of Defence) auctions. I bought some stock, had a go at selling it and here we are.
Had you run your own business before?
I had no previous experience of running a business. However, my wife and partner in the business had a flower shop in the 1970s which she gave up when the children arrived.
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
When I originally took a year out of teaching, come September we had no money coming in. We had a mortgage and two boys under six years old. Jan worked part time as a Florist. I did plumbing jobs, joinery jobs, sun bed delivery, basically anything to make some money. Whilst all this was going on I was driving around North Wales and the North West selling army surplus from the back of our Ford Escort estate car.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
Nothing really. It was a time in my life that I felt I wanted to have a go at self-employment. Succeed or not, I wanted to give myself a year’s run at it and at least get it out of my system. My wife Jan was fully supportive; teaching colleagues, family friends and the bank manager thought I was totally mad.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
You will need to take between 8 and 10 times your current salary in takings to provide enough profits to supply that salary you are giving up prior to self employment. It will be quite a shock to anyone leaving an existing job to become self-employed when the implications of VAT, insurance, rates , staff costs, postage , vehicle and apparently endless other expenses accrue.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
On the whole, not much. Sometimes I think if I was bolder or took more risks the business would have grown more. However, in business as in all aspects of life. It’s a tight rope walk of compromise.
What are you glad you did?
I am certainly glad I became self-employed. Buying our own premises I would rate as our wisest business decision.
What’s your top business tip?
Avoid debt and grow the business organically.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
The business has grown to provide all 4 members of the family with decent paid jobs. We have gone from originally selling from a van with our garage as a store to selling goods all over the UK and the world. Now we trade from our 2000 ft warehouse on a ¾ acre site in North Wales.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
Our youngest son Richard came into the business a year ago. He is my IT, Internet and Website guru. Through him the online business is growing quite well. So, I would hope for some growth in the business next year. In the current economic climate we may have to settle for static growth and be grateful for that.
A triumph of hard work, care, and the family pulling together. I certainly agree with Mick’s top business tip. I hope our businesses are all around in 25 years’ time!
Mick didn’t provide any further updates after this first interview. As far as I know the website is still live as of September 2013.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my new book, Going It Alone At 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment.