Green Square: Richard Hiblen
The eco-products entrepreneur tells Startups how he made the seamless transition from employment to starting his own business
Tell us what your business does:
We are a supplier and installer of micro-renewable energy products for the home and small businesses. With our first pilot showroom opened in Raynes Park, SW London, we display products we sell along with information to help customers make an informed decision.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I originally had the idea three years ago whilst I was working for a larger organisation. We were selling associated products to the industry and I recognised two things. Firstly, a gap in the domestic arena, and secondly, the need for a national strategy to upscale the installation of renewable products quickly and effectively. The organisation had the resource to support a franchise operation looking for quick and strong growth and Green Square was born.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Working within the sector we recognised demand from consumers and small businesses, as well as the lack of knowledge and understanding within our retailer national network. When looking to partner with skilled outlets, we noticed there was only a handful nationally. We recognised demand and had the products and tools to help deliver, but no installers and retailers to sell through.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was working as the national sales manager for Specflue Ltd, the supporting company that supplies, supports and trains independent businesses within the micro renewable sector. I was driving the commercial offering from the company, looking after the sales and marketing for the organisation.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Put simply, yes. From my earliest memories whenever people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I always said I wanted to run my own firm. When asked doing what, I always replied “It doesn’t matter” – I was just really keen to set-up on my own.
How did you raise the money?
Throughout my time at Specflue, and with my ideas and input, the company has grown from a £4m-£18m turnover. When I approached the owners with my Green Square business plan, and how Specflue could mutually benefit, they were happy to fully support my new venture financially whilst giving me an equal share of the new business.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Time! Having been seconded from Specflue I have been running the new business on my own and the learning curve has been huge. From negotiating premises leases to writing complicated terms and conditions, I have had to learn fast in areas that are totally new to me. I have used the fantastic support from the long term owners of Specflue and their legal team.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
With the commercial advantage of unique products and unique prices, we are able to sell at competitive rates. Using sub-contractors that we train, the overheads are kept to showroom only. With typical order values being around £10,000 and average margins of 35%, we are not pressured for volume.
What was your first big breakthrough?
There were several major breakthroughs. Firstly, getting the Trade Mark, this was very important for us to move forward as a franchise. Secondly, gaining a bespoke training programme for new Green Square franchise owners and employees. And finally, securing an exclusive commercial agreement with the largest manufacturers in Europe and distributors in the UK for renewable appliances.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Never give up, focus on your goal, be prepared to make sacrifices and network like your life depends on it. Overall, you must have drive and determination and plenty of self-confidence and belief in your abilities.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I want to be managing the business with 100 Green Square outlets nationally and therefore helping other entrepreneurs realise their dreams and goals.