Profile: Laban Roomes from rags to bling

Laban Roomes has been in the centre of a whirlwind of success over the last five years.

After founding luxury gold plating company Goldgenie, he has gold plated phones and bespoke items for the likes of David and Victoria Beckham, Elton John and Denzel Washington.

Although business is now booming for Laban, he’s the first to admit that it hasn’t always been this way…

Growing up in east London, Laban was brought up by his mother who was working three jobs and struggled to pay the bills. Inspired by her drive and tenacity Laban was determined to help support her wherever possible.

Laban, 43, said: “We always struggled to make ends meet when I was growing up, but even from a young age I was determined to change that. One day a gypsy knocked on our door asking if we needed our hedge cut. I thought to myself that I could offer that same service, so I went out and bought some shears and started knocking on doors.”

Before long, Laban was making more money than his mother which he used to pay the heating and other bills that his mother couldn’t manage. As he grew older, he started up a number of other ventures including buying and selling cars. With much of his family in Jamaica, Laban soon cottoned on that he could buy a Lada in the UK for just £600 and then ship it to his brother in Jamaica and sell it for £6,000.

By the time Laban was 19 he had paid off the mortgage on his family home and for the first time in his life, things were looking up.

A few years later, after a stint working as a social worker, Laban decided to pack up and move to Jamaica to continue importing and selling cars. Laban’s world came crashing down when he arrived and found out that his business partner had sold his business behind his back. In the same week, his mother was taken ill and he had no option but to return to the UK with only £80 in his pocket.

“I was left homeless with only a few pounds in my pocket. Fortunately a friend put me up on their lounge floor while I got myself back together. It was during this time that I remembered the idea of gold plating which I had seen in America a few years previously.”

Laban borrowed some money from a friend and put together some designs for a portable 24 ct. gold plating machine. After finding someone to make the machine for him, he was able to carry the machine on his back and approach businesses and offer a bespoke gold plating service.

After six months of gold plating nominal items, Laban secured his big break with luxury car manufacturer Lexus. Despite his letters being ignored, he showed up at a Lexus car convention and gave a demonstration on gold plating Lexus car emblems. Overnight he had deals with 11 Lexus car dealerships and spent the next five years gold plating thousands of emblems.

In 2000 Laban was asked to gold plate a Nokia 8800 mobile phone, unknown to him that gold plating phones would be his bread and butter for years to come. Orders began flooding in and he set up a tent in his garden and had his friends, wife and two sons helping him gold plate the phones to meet the overwhelming demand.

And then, out of the blue, Laban received an email from organisers of the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles asking him to gold plate 55 mobile phones to be given to the award winners. From his tent, Laban gold plated the phones and delivered them in person to the awards ceremony in L.A. Denzel Washington and Helen Mirren were among those to receive the luxurious phone.

Business was continuing to go well for Goldgenie and in 2007 Laban applied to appear on BBCs’ Dragons’ Den to secure further investment. It wasn’t until the third time he was asked to go onto the show that he finally took the step.

He explained: “People around me had persuaded me not to do it and it wasn’t until a good friend of mine passed away that I realised that I had to take life by the horns and go for it. I was incredibly nervous about going on the show but ecstatic when James Caan agreed to invest into the business. It was like winning the lottery.

“James was a great mentor to me and I’m very grateful for his support. He helped me grow the business and introduce franchising and business opportunities which have been very successful for those investing in them.”

Goldgenie began to offer international master franchises as well as low entry business opportunities in the UK. His product line was also expanding with the introduction of iPhones and iPads which Laban and his team embellish with Swarovski crystals and gold.

Goldgenie’s exclusive products soon made it on to the shelves at Harrods and Selfridges and a number of celebrities including Simon Cowell, Usain Bolt and Elton John had their very own Goldgenie gold plated Blackberries and iPhones. Goldgenie were also asked to produce limited edition ranges for charities including Elton John’s AIDS foundation.

The requests for his services continued to flood in, and Laban was asked to gold plate items from the Sultan of Brunei’s toilet to the taps and fittings in the Celebrity Big Brother house.

It was in 2011 that Laban bought back James Caan’s share of the business. Like James once helped him, Laban now invests his time and money in aspiring entrepreneurs to “give something back” to the business community.

He said: “I have had some tremendous success over the years, but I’ve also hit rock bottom and know what it’s like to have lost everything. Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, but I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened for the world.

“I don’t think Goldgenie’s success has peaked yet and I’m confident that it’ll continue to grow as long as we remain innovative and introduce new products and ranges. I’ve got some very exciting projects up my sleeve, so who knows what the future holds…”