Julian Richer: Richer Sounds
The Richer Sounds founder talks to Startups.co.uk about his career and entrepreneurship
Julian Richer , founder and owner of Richer Sounds, opened his first store in 1978, aged just 19. He now has over 50 of the hi-fi outlets across the UK and has been hailed as one of the brightest entrepreneurs of his generation. As well as setting up Richer Sounds, Julian also wrote the best-selling ‘The Richer Way' in 1995. Startups.co.uk spoke to the entrepreneur about his career and his thoughts on running a small business.
You place a lot of emphasis on good customer service and getting feedback. Do you feel that small businesses often get these aspects of retailing wrong?
I certainly do think small businesses often get aspects of customer service and measurement wrong. Very few small businesses bother to get feedback. Naturally, in a small business, more people are involved hands on and there's less of a gap between customers and the management, so one would hope that smaller businesses naturally give better service anyway.
What they're not good at is scientifically measuring feedback.
So how can you improve things on a limited budget?
Look at every aspect of the customer interface and put some form of measurement in place. It needn't be expensive, it's often just asking customers and giving them a chance to communicate with the business. Put together short, friendly questionnaires addressed to a real person rather than a box number at every opportunity.
Do you feel your interest in music helped you set up Richer Sounds?
No, not really. I had a superficial interest in music as much as the next person, certainly no technical knowledge.
I simply picked hi-fi because I was at school and it was a boom thing in the 1970s. I was too young to sign a contract and I didn't have any capital for property. I sometimes wish I'd gone into property, some of my friends have done extremely well.
I was too young to drive a car, so I couldn't deal in cars. So hi-fi was the natural thing to get into, and yes, it was a reasonably sexy product, I would rather trade in hi-fi than potatoes!
But I certainly don't think it's necessary to choose something one's interested in. In fact, a lot of people are successful dealing in obscure products, where there is very little competition.
I picked a sexy product category but the competition has always been very, very intense because so many people want to sell hi-fi, just as they want to sell things like cars.
You've said that you are not a workaholic, but do you feel there is another realistic way for entrepreneurs to succeed other than working all hours of the day?
Well, I think that is very subjective. My wife says I work terribly hard, whereas I regard all my working hours as great fun, obviously I have to do some unpleasant things, but generally I enjoy what I do.
That's really the acid test - it only becomes work if you don't enjoy it. I think people have to be focussed, but I am a great one for working smart rather than working long. Having said that, one must lead from the front when one has problems in one's business. One has to be very visible and be seen to be working hard, particularly if the company is trying to cut its costs and tighten its belt, it wouldn't be appropriate for managers to be shirking.
I don't see another way, but I don't think that necessarily means working 100 hours a week. I think I have worked very long hours when I've had terrible problems, but I'm very quick to ease of the gas as soon as things are OK. Working smart is the secret rather than working as many hours as possible for the sake of it.
What do you feel was the greatest difficulty you faced when starting up Richer Sounds?
I would say it was trying to get credit from suppliers who looked me up and down and asked to see my father when they came for meetings. It's difficult, it's a bit of chicken and egg situation, because until you've started and proved you're reliable and honest you can't get credit, but until you get credit you can't start.
That's always very difficult. Having said that, every successful entrepreneur I've ever met has been very determined and determined people have a way of getting things done.
How do you see the UK as a place to start up a business?
I think it's relatively easy to start up in the UK. I didn't have a problem with it at all, there's a bit more resentment here towards success than in the States, but generally it's a nice, relatively easy society. The banks always encourage you to borrow money and generally want to help, as long as you're good to them in return.
I didn't have a problem with the UK as a place to start a business.
Do you feel the government could do more to help entrepreneurs?
It's a difficult one, entrepreneurs are very quick to blame the government at every opportunity, but they are free spirits and mavericks themselves and don't like to conform at all! I don't really think the government can do more.
They've got the Loan Guarantee Scheme – I know a few people who took advantage of this. I don't feel the government could be blamed for not doing enough. Obviously a reduction in tax is appreciated!
What are your future plans – will you set up new businesses or write more books?
No, I don't have any plans to write more books. I've said everything I want to say. I wrote that book about 10 years ago and nothing's changed since then – I guess if I look back in 100 years time I can't argue with rewarding colleagues to get the most out of them.
I'm finding that running Richer Sounds is taking up all my time these days. It's an incredibly competitive environment I'm in, particularly with the internet coming along and trying to nick my lunch!
So I'm pretty occupied at the moment, there are no exciting plans other than to keep my head down, focus and stick to the knitting.
For more information on Richer Sounds, go to www.richersounds.com