Getting to Know You: Tom Riley

What do you currently do?
I am the MD of WhiteWash Laboratories, an award-winning tooth-whitening manufacturer and distributor that has developed a range of premium tooth-whitening and oral care products, created by top UK dentists.
I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, along with the other partners of WhiteWash Laboratories who have been my lifelong friends. Quite ironically, as I now work in the dental sector, I used to sell sweets in the playground to my school friends to make some extra pocket money.

After completing a degree in economics at The University of Nottingham and going through a Graduate Management Training Programme with Nationwide Building Society, I noticed a gap in the market with my business partner and dentist, Matthew Lloyd, and our childhood friend, Chris McPhillips, and we founded WhiteWash Laboratories in 2010. The company is going from strength-to-strength and has grown to turnover £1 million, exporting to markets, including Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Russia and Australia.

What is your inspiration in the business?
Starting out, my inspiration was to build a successful brand and product from scratch. It’s really inspiring to know that we started out with an idea and now people are using our products and it’s especially pleasing when we get feedback from customers who tell us how much they love our products. I am motivated to make the brand even bigger, with the aim of creating products that are recognised around the globe.

Who do you admire?
I really admire Richard Branson for his entrepreneurial spirit and his can do attitude; he thinks big and has the guts to put his ideas into action. That’s what being an entrepreneur requires – you need a good concept or idea but you also need to work hard to see it through.

Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
In general I don’t think there’s a great deal that I would have done differently, but I suppose I should have given more consideration to taking on extra team members when the work-load started to increase. I have recently recruited an Administration Assistant and, looking back, it is something that I should have done much sooner as it has helped to free up a lot of my own time to concentrate on building the business rather than doing time-consuming admin.

Also, we are very export orientated and in the early days you could say that we were less ‘picky’ in terms of some of the international distribution partners that we took on. We were so keen to launch WhiteWash Laboratories in other countries, that sometimes we didn’t do a huge amount of due diligence on new partner companies that wanted to distribute our products. Now we take a lot more time to both study the market in the destination country and also review the interested company. We have developed and put in place a long-term export strategy to make WhiteWash Laboratories a known global brand.

What defines your way of doing business?
I concentrate on 3P’s – Product, Packaging and Price – this is the ethos that we follow when developing and launching new products. First you need a really good product, then you need to develop excellent packaging which reflects the brand and you need to sell it for a fair price; this has always worked well for me.

I also think it’s extremely important to always be forward thinking and have an eye to the future, coming up with products and ideas that fill gaps in the market and that compliment your existing product offering. This is what we do at WhiteWash Laboratories, with our development of innovative products that are a bit different to whitening products already on the market. We also try to think of innovative ways to market our products or do things a bit differently. For example, we’ve just teamed up with The Pink Ribbon Foundation and Prostate Cancer UK and are doing pink and black versions of our manual and electric toothbrushes and for every charity brush sold, we are donating the equivalent to local charities.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
I would say concentrate on the sales side of your business. You can have the best product or service in the world, but if no-one knows about it, you won’t be in business for very long. Of course you’ve got to get the fundamentals right, but you also need to have a robust sales and marketing strategy. We have put a lot of effort into the sales side of WhiteWash Laboratories and I would definitely say you need to pick up the phone, speak to people and actually go out to visit potential customers to showcase your product / service.