Postaday2011 – The biggest risk I ever took

There’s no doubt the biggest single risk I ever took was leaving a very well paid secure position to start my own business.

In June 1999 I left my job to open a Bang & Olufsen franchise shop in Norwich. Call it a midlife crisis if you want but I had been in broadcast television production for 25 years and making commercials for over 9 so I think it’s fair to say I had given it my best shot, quite frankly I was bored. I worked on some really great commercials, the early Specsavers* stuff had real class – every shot was carefully constructed. Any of the longer productions 40 / 50 / 60 seconds were telling a story, a ten second edit didn’t really do anything justice. I also worked on a few howlers, so awful I refuse to name them but we did our best to add a little glitz. There in lay the problem, I had no control over who my clients were, I was just told I had to make a commercial for this or that client because the sales team had sold them the airtime and they needed something to show. I had to get out.

Interestingly it is only now nearly twelve years on that I am starting to get itchy feet about getting back into video.

Cutting to the chase opening the store meant not just leaving my job but selling my nice house and car, downsizing on a serious scale. I also sold pretty much everything that wasn’t nailed down to raise additional cash to put into the project. Even now when I tell people it cost £143,000 to open (fitting out and stock) they wince in pain at the thought.

I finally opened at the beginning of October and by November I was starting to realise just how big the challenge was going to be. I had gambled everything on making a go of this and the initial gut feeling had turned from optimism to a real fear we might not make it to Christmas. I was very early into the franchise programme and so I think B&O were still finding their feet, not that they would ever concede such a thing. I however was on a vertical learning curve. Much as I love their products and admire the brand values the UK office was a nightmare to deal with. There was only one way to do anything – the Danish way and while this might be fine in Denmark it didn’t work in Norfolk.

What didn’t help was that I was not the sole agent in Norfolk, an existing dealer was still trading so I had some serious competition from day one. I think it would be fair to say that B&O were not a company sympathetic to the problems experienced by new franchisees, I and many others got out within three or four years. What you cannot predict is local changes. In my street two long well established shops closed down within months of each other. Couple this with the closure of a multi-storey car park a couple of hundred yards away and your passing footfall has fallen down a hole.

I sold my store to a guy from London who got the benefit of my three plus years of hard work building a loyal client base. I believe he was going to show us how it should be done, his business went into administration a couple of years ago.

Would I do it again? No definitely not.
The constant worry of selling enough product to pay the rent, rates and salaries of those who depended on me was not worth it.
The margins were pathetic, in practice you needed to be turning over nearly a million pounds a year to make it work, the best we ever did was about six hundred thousand in year two. The overheads, and bear in mind this is a small shop off the main drag in a provincial city in 1999, were around £50k pa before I opened the doors. Norwich it turns out is a very expensive place to rent a shop.

Was I naive? undoubtedly.
I was encouraged by the figures I was supplied with, seduced by the glamour of the product and led to believe they would be there every step of the way. This was some distance from reality.

Would I go self employed again? Yes, there is no substitute for being your own boss.

* The Specsavers commercials – Creative Director – Julian Hanford (Specsavers)
Director – Julian Kronfli (Kronfli Duliba)


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