Name: David England
Business: Highland Fayre Ltd
Type of Business: Gifts (for the B2B and B2C sector)
Years in Business: 28
What does your company do?
Our core lines are luxury gift hampers, personalised gifts and promotional products. Bespoke food and drink hampers for companies is our main area of specialty.
Whether you are gifting staff with a Christmas hamper, saying thank you to a loyal customer or celebrating a special anniversary, we guide customers through the whole process.
Popular reasons to gift include Christmas gifts, promotions/incentives, anniversaries, competition prizes, events, thank you, apology, birthdays, new mortgage gifts and new home gifts.
We are experienced in all areas of branding, offering a wide selection of branding methods (laser engraving, screen printing, foil blocking, debossing, multi-colour digital printing) onto a various types of box lids and side panels.
Printed ribbon, gift tags and gift cards are also an important way of promoting a company brand with a personal touch.
Deliveries are made direct to private homes and business addresses throughout the UK and Europe by parcel and/or pallet.
Christmas is an especially busy time although we are open all year round helping customers with a wide variety of gift requirements.
What made you want to be an entrepreneur?
I knew from a young age that I would not enjoy working within a corporate structure.
Being an entrepreneur seemed the best way for me to control my own destiny and make use of my ‘trader instincts’ sourcing products, marking up and selling.
Why did you choose your business?
My father started the business in 1985 as a small side line to his main company and he invited me to take it over in 1991 (during a recession!) straight after studying business management at university.
It required a degree of creativity, sourcing products, making gift sets, photography, promotional print design and most importantly you needed to be a ‘people person’ to sell and manage a team.
These aspects all appealed to me and played to my strengths.
What prepared you for entrepreneurship?
My parents both ran their own companies which set a certain culture which I became used to growing up (hard work and persistence being key factors).
I suppose a couple of years at university helped a little, although I was thrown in the deep end and mainly learned from experience.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Growing and sustaining a business through 3 recessions for nearly 30 years.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Various factors come to mind. Winning new contracts from blue chip companies, working as a team to deliver market leading customer service and gaining awards for our achievements.
For example, I was awarded a ‘Merit’ in my category at the ‘Great British Entrepreneur Awards’ a few years ago.
What challenges have you faced as an entrepreneur?
The business gift industry can be a fickle place to trade as buyers often want to order something different from one year to the next. It is a challenge to always deliver new products every time although we do relish this challenge!
Seasonality of our trading is a challenge, as approximately 85%-90% of turnover takes place prior to Christmas Day. We normally only receive a single order from companies annually making it hard to build strong relationships, especially as the Christmas gift buying is often passed around the office to different people (or even different departments) each year. This seasonality also makes the order fulfilment more challenging. Most customers require ‘bespoke’ gifts and hence we order to order on a just in time basis. Short turn-around times mean we require a very efficient supply chain and then long hours in November/December to pick, pack and despatch so that deadlines are met.
On a personal level I am self-motivated and fairly resilient to the different pressures of being an entrepreneur, however, being the only active owner (my father retired 20 years ago) can be challenging.
Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
I should have taken the company online a full year before we did. We were admittedly a front runner creating our first websites in 1997 (highlandfayre.co.uk, christmashamper.com and hampers-online.com), but we could have been the first hamper company in the UK. I ignored my instincts having been badly advised by our IT company that “it was for geeks in America and not a commercial platform”. I considered buying dozens of key phrase URL domains to control the hamper space but left it 12 months too long before committing.
How can others get started in this business?
I actually think it is easier now than ever before. There are lots of great networking organisations all over the UK (many of which are free), plus government support (i.e. Scottish Enterprise) and grants within certain areas. Information via the internet is never ending allowing for quicker and more comprehensive competitor research and market statistics.
Gone are the days when your only low cost option was to flick through the ‘Yellow Pages’ and call potential competitors pretending to be a customer. The internet also allows for flexible working where a business can easily start from home overnight with the only requirements being a laptop, mobile phone and good broadband.
Software like ‘Shopify’ and ‘WooCommerce’ enable new businesses to launch eCommerce solutions in a fast, responsive and reliable manner. Entrepreneurs can reduce their start-up costs by using this type of low cost platform and operate via the cloud anywhere they choose. Storage and fulfilment companies on variable costing models (i.e. you pay for the space you use and per order despatched) are now very common place, reacting to the surge in demand from remote selling.
Again these companies significantly reduce the risk of starting up as you don’t need to take a fixed warehouse overhead and all the associated costs. Once you have proven your business model then a warehouse can be added later if you wish, although many companies decide to keep unchanged as it is scalable during periods of growth and cost efficient during quieter trading periods.
Do you have any advice for future entrepreneurs?
Choose something which suits your personality and natural skill set – it is essential that you believe in your product or service, otherwise you are sunk before you start!
Work hard, be tenacious, take qualified risks (sometimes you have to try something to know if it works), trust your instincts as more often than not they will be right.
If you are selling tangible products online do not become too dependant upon reseller channels like Amazon as you are never really in control, and nor do you ever ‘own’ the customers.
Try not to have more than 10% of your turnover with a single customer (if this happens then work hard to dilute the % as quickly as possible by growing other areas).
Cash is always king!