The Business Owner: Stuart Conroy, Activ8

Remortgaging his own home to 'seize an opportunity', and now nearly 10 years in business, this entrepreneur certainly has secrets to share

The Business Owner: Stuart Conroy, Activ8

Founder: Stuart Conroy
Company: Activ8
Location: Watford
Proposition: Activ8 are an accessories retailer for digital devices and online facilitator for starter brands, preparing them for online and bricks and mortar retail market.
Size: 16
Website: a8uk.com

How is your business different from what’s already out there?

We are a multi-channel business that looks to bridge the gap between the manufacturing floor and the end user, with the customer at the centre of what we do.

Having grown through online distribution, we have built a business structure that caters for not only how we believe the business should be run in the future, but the reality of how it can be run today.

Within our model we have very specific areas of focus, from manufacturing and global sourcing, through B2B and B2C channels delivery with expertise in getting the best products to the end user.

We have channel strategy advisors, channel experts, retail outlets, manufacturing and logistics expertise, which have attracted exciting new brands in our sector.

How did you finance your business?

The business was self-financed. In 2007 I remortgaged my house to seize the opportunity that we saw.

We have since then invested funds in different ventures to grow the company while also building a risk management structure that has brought breadth to the company rather than just focusing on revenue today.

What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?

Cashflow is always at the forefront of what we do within Activ8. Its important to ensure that we have funds to invest in opportunities that arise, while making sure it is not to the detriment of the existing business.

In the last few years we have made sure that we have the data to track success, particularly when a product fails. We need to know if something that we are doing is not working or not having the desired result, so it does not heavily affect our clash flow.

Similarly, if something is working we need to recognise this early and build upon it.

What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?

At this stage it is how the market is working. We have seen a great deal of change in the marketplace itself and keeping abreast of the different markets we deal in and any impact we see there.

We have learnt valuable lessons around staff, management and communication, which in the past hindered our aspirations and we continue to monitor these and develop the maturity within the business.

What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?

It depends on the market we are dealing with. In the direct to consumer space we use a range of online marketing and social media to raise awareness of our products.

While on the corporate side, there is no better methods than networking and getting our team in front of decision makers to let them know what we do and how we can help their business and ultimately their customers.

Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?

It will always depend on the product or service.

Firstly, it’s about executing projects that are not detrimental to the business itself. It is easy to say you should export, but language, taxation, logistics are just a few things to consider, and whether the business has the capacity or a good enough plan to take on the export market.

It is easier now with far more information available to businesses planning to export, but having a good plan is imperative. A business needs to make sure that it can communicate itself correctly and gain traction – there are many stories of large expenses being incurred with little success.

What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?

We have only just started using 7Geese, which tracks OKR’s throughout the business, but we are already seeing the benefit of providing transparency through all levels of the business – from senior management down.

The app allows all users to see the targets of the business and the part each individual plays in achieving this.

Describe your company’s culture in three words:

Collaborative, Positive, Ownership

What would you like the government to do for small business?

At this stage with Brexit, it is an opportunity for the UK government to reassess what serves small business the best. We undertook a UK manufacturing process for a brand in 2014 and I would say that the opportunity for funding was not clear.

When it was clear there was not enough for us to compete with other countries, who had access to greater levels of funding. It is sector specific and I would say that the red tape around employment and HR in general should be much simpler and look to small businesses who can either be put off employing people or penalised for not following certain rigid guidelines at times that leave them vulnerable.

Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?

I would say somebody like Franco Fubini of Natoora, because I have known the struggle and journey of Franco. They are going to be huge globally with their innovative fruit and vegetable products, but seeing the work that has gone into getting there has been inspirational. In terms of culture, work ethic, unique products and structured growth it has been impressive to watch.

A friend of mine Lawrence Bailey of the Complete Golfer is another hero in so much as he always has fun. He’s had many opportunities to sell the business and the team there know what they are doing. They also have a great working environment, providing the customer with an unrivalled service in the area.

Where do you want the business to be in three years?

We have rebuilt the foundations of the business in the last two years and despite a tough market I see the opportunities and successes we are now having.

Our sector moves so quickly so we want to be a key player in our industry and I see us being ambassadors for the smart device accessory market.

What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?

Set your targets for what you want the business to be. Plan for growth if that is the intention, knowing that key personnel you will need to be supported as the business grows.

Too many fail where the main person is the focus of everything and the business outgrows them. Be aware of the figures – too many businesses, particularly at the early stage of their lives, are not on top of their targets and goals.

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