Getting to know you: John Sollars

What to you currently do?
I am the managing director of Solar Electronics Ltd based in Shropshire. It’s a company I set up in 2002 and we trade as In a nutshell we sell ink on the internet — for all makes and models of printers! Our customers are consumers as well as businesses, schools and local government. 
What is your inspiration in Business?
Back in early 2002, I was in my late forties and could see that the internet was the way forward.  I wanted to become a dotcom millionaire so I gave up a well paid job as sales director at an independent electronic components company, sold the family caravan, and put all my savings and energy into my own online business.
I picked printer consumables after having huge difficulty tracking down the right cartridge for my son’s old printer. And the name? Well that came from lots of brainstorming and I chose it because it’s quirky and memorable.
As for my motivation, it is to be the best I possibly can,  at whatever I do.  
Who do you admire?
I get ribbed for it but I’m a big fan of Margaret Thatcher. This is because she had a vision of where she wanted to go and was totally focussed on getting her way. I think I’m a little bit – well a lot — like that!
My friend Huw Bird-Jones and my grandfather Bill Smith are also top of the list. Huw gave me very valuable advice when I was starting out: if it’s worth doing, do it by yourself and you will never be beholden to any partner. And if you start a business with a friend you will end that friendship very quickly. 
As for my granddad, he was a remarkable man. Only in retrospect do I realise how much ahead of his time he was. He was an ordinary working man, but he bought his own house in the 1950s when it was unheard of, ran a car before it was normal and gave me guidance from an early age.
Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
Not really, I have been very focused on building the business organically. The business is self-funded so I have to manage available cash with any extra investment needed to grow the business.
However, only weeks after launching the site I could have done without being the target for a gang of fraudsters who got away with £32,000-worth of cartridges. As the orders had come from a ring of criminals all over the UK, it was too big a task to file reports at every local police authority and nothing would have happened anyway as the transactions were of low value.
I despaired but fought back and in two years was into profit. I wish I’d been less trusting and that there had been anti-fraud services around in those early years.
What defines your way of doing business?
At we aim to be the best and the whole team works hard to achieve that goal. We’ve recently implemented a new backoffice IT system to integrate and automate as much as possible from order purchasing to dispatch. It has improved our efficiency in stock control and processing orders , raised profits and most importantly, even more customers are coming back repeatedly.
Customers regularly compliment us on the free next day delivery, our freepost recycling service and the advice and help we give on using printers. And we’re always looking for ways to do a better job.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Manage your finances. Make sure you get your invoices out promptly; that you chase for late payment; and ensure you turn a profit every month. From day one I had my accountant visit every quarter to monitor and discuss my performance. By working with current information rather than just seeing end-of-year information which could be up to 18 months out-of-date, his advice is very relevant.
Always value your stock every month and ensure your insurance policy has sufficient cover. You never know when calamities like a major burglary, fire or flood will strike.
If it seems too good to be true, then it is and don’t believe all the rubbish about being able to make millions without doing any hard work.