Secrets of Success: Nick Daffern

What is your start-up story?

Co-founder Andy Moss and I knew each other from crossing paths in motorsport management over 25 years ago – specifically World Rally and Formula One. We saw that the logistics of merchandising goods was really poorly-handled. I mean, would you buy a £60 branded shirt from a tent in the high street? That was what was on offer at motorsport events at that time: the whole packaging of merchandising was wrong. We saw a niche in the market to protect the brands and develop bespoke, branded mobile shop units.

At first there were just the two of us sharing a desk, so our different styles and skills had to complement our business. They do, totally, and that is why Rapid Retail is successful.

What are your employee numbers etc. compared to previous years?
At first it was just Andy and me. We now have a management team of seven but expect the headcount to grow as we break into export markets. In fact, we have just hired a French speaker to help us to develop our customer base in France. Our first client in 2008 was Manchester City FC; since then we have won contracts with all but three of the English Premiership clubs, as well as other leading brand names such as Thatchers, Nike, Adidas, and McArthur Glen. Our way of doing business is by creating close relationships with contractors – we want to be their best customer. If you take our contractors into account, we work with around 150 people.

What products or services do you provide?
We design, build and supply flexible merchandising units to sport and retail customers. These are bespoke and branded. Our shops are made from steel and our smaller kiosks from polycarbonate.

What problem does your company solve?
We solve two problems – firstly, helping clients to create smooth customer flow, and secondly, assisting them to take a branded product to the consumer at an affordable rental cost, while enhancing brand values.

What is your USP?
Flexibility, as well as a skill in integrating branding and sales with excellent merchandising. We can also work on very short lead times. Rapid Retail units can be rented, so there is not a huge amount of cash investment, although some clients do choose to purchase. The mobile shops can be moved around, offering the customers more placement choice depending on their own merchandising needs.

Any thoughts on the future of your company?
Rapid Retail has just signed up to the government’s Growth Accelerator Programme with a 300% growth target over the next three years. We want to consolidate our hold in the sports market – there is plenty more to aim for – but also to win more retail brands. Growth into Europe is key. To help us develop, we have just brought in an investor so we can achieve our goals and invest further in R&D and marketing, and this will enable us to be more dynamic in getting our name to our target markets.

What have you done to make sure you get the right people with the right skills in place?
We believe that encouraging commitment is one of the greatest factors – in that sense we are almost like a family firm. Our suppliers and contractors are also tried and trusted and have a similar ethos to us; they are really more like partners. You are never too old to learn, so we are constantly training and looking to adapt and improve our products, but you can only do that if everyone in the business is fully engaged. Transparency within our team is critical if we are to continue to grow at a pace, so we encourage team feedback as well as reviews from our customers, of course.

Do you have any tips for managing suppliers and customers effectively?
Always be up front with people and never promise what you cannot deliver – this applies equally to contractors, suppliers and customers. Right from the start we set out and discuss expectations and work to understand the visions of the customers’ businesses. We prefer to be regarded as an extension of a team and we view our suppliers as almost being ‘in-house’ too. Open communication is critical.

Any finance or cash-flow tips?
As we started to grow our business from 2008 onwards – in the depths of a recession – we must be doing something right! A good personal relationship with your bank is very important; ensure that the business plan is precise and constantly reviewed to maintain integrity and clarity. Always report back to your bank in terms of a proper report with a narrative and update, highlighting the positives, don’t just prepare lists of figures – enthuse about your business but remember that you are only as good as your research and planning. NatWest has been outstanding in terms of advice and helping us to find asset finance people.

Any advice for the Government?
We need fewer career politicians and more representation from those who have actually worked in business, who know what it is like to run a small or medium business: to sweat, to pay VAT and wages. There seem to be a load of initiatives, but politicians just do not understand how business works: I would like to see business rates looked at, although rents generally are acceptable now the rates are sky high, yet the government keeps quiet about it. Vendors are the gods in the UK – nothing happens here until someone sells something. It is the SMEs who are getting hit by high rates and personal taxes, yet it is they who contribute the most because they do not take from the State. Governments and banks should be run by people, not departments –the ‘people’ are getting their houses in order, but the government is not. I am looking for more support for the wealth creators.

What is your attitude towards your competitors?
Competition is good: it keeps you on your toes and it also means that you work to offer a better product or service. We don’t have many competitors, but we cannot become complacent, hence the need to constantly look at what others are doing, to learn and improve. Arrogance has led to the death of many otherwise good businesses, so that is not a path we would follow, but we are not looking over our shoulders all of the time – our focus is on delivering the best to our customers.