Geezer Telecom: Alan Gray

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Name: Alan Gray
Age: 38
Company: Geezer Telecom Limited
Staff numbers: 40
Company description: Telephone, broadband and mobile phone services for small and medium-sized businesses
Tell us what your business does: Geezer Telecom provides telephone, broadband and mobile phone services to the small and medium-sized business sector. We look to help businesses prosper by giving them the best value for money, future proofing their business by providing a regular upgrade path, as well as providing ongoing support. We are more than a telecoms company; we endeavour to help our customers grow.

Where did the idea for your business come from and how did you know there was a market?
The idea is almost a ‘Richard Branson’ approach to business. Many of his businesses are not new … he just identifies a non-performing industry and gets his team to go in and do it better with improved efficiency and more customer-centric initiatives. This is exactly what we are doing here.

I studied other telecoms companies over three years and realised that their lack of customer retention has come from poor service and extremely poor after-service. We came into the market to deliver an improvement in the industry. Your customers are the key, and you must do all you can to keep them happy.

What is your unique selling point?
We are providing what we believe to be the most competitive price on the market through a unique sales approach that is warm and friendly. We manage every business account with a one call resolution, so customers are no longer dragged from post to post. Our customer service team can deal with any type of call and resolve any query with one agent.

We are also researching new products for this market and working actively with our customer base to improve their businesses. We want to make them feel they are in a partnership and not just someone who has signed a contract for something.

What were you doing before starting your business?
I was formerly a meat wholesaler and retailer in Ireland and then spent three years working in the telecoms industry in Manchester. The meat business stopped making money in the recession, which prompted my change in industry. What appealed most about being your own boss?

I have been running my own businesses since I was 17 years old – I don’t know any different.

What planning did you do before you started up?
We planned and researched the market very carefully and put a business plan together. The plan was looked over by a number of people and we then knew that it was right for the business.

How did you raise the money?
I was able to put in £400,000 from my success over the years. We haven’t needed to raise money from any other sources.

Where is your business based?
The business is based at Dale House, in the heart of the city centre in Manchester.

How have you promoted your business?
We have promoted our business through a large network of sales agents around the UK. We have a number of offices set up and we’re expanding these as we speak, through to Ireland.

We like to use face-to-face promotion so the agents go directly to local small businesses. This has proved very successful so far but we are now looking into alternative methods to promote Geezer Telecom to a wider audience.

How much do you charge?
All prices were decided to strengthen our unique selling point. We only charge £9.89 for line rental and calls are as cheap as 1.4p a minute to local, national and even international destinations.

We offer a bolt-on service and ‘Geezer Business Solutions’ – packages put together to include the customer’s line rental, free calls and fast broadband. They start at £24.99 a month.

What about staff – how many do you have?
We have already assembled a team of 25 staff at the Dale Street headquarters. We are currently recruiting field sales agents at a rate of eight a week, with all training done in-house.

What has your growth been like?
We are ahead of target according to our business plan and will start making a profit around Christmas time. We are forecasting revenues of £4.7m in the first year, leaping to £20.9m in year two – with margins of 25%.

We are currently bringing on board between 800 and 1,200 business accounts a month and turned over £25,000 in the first month. We are on track for £60,000 in month two.

What’s the impact on your home life been like?
My personal life is non-existent – I work 16 hours a day!

What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
The greatest difficulty has been pulling everything together at the right time. When starting up we relied on other firms providing us with the right infrastructure to be able to start. Fortunately, it all came together on time.

What was your first big breakthrough?
Our first breakthrough was cementing partnerships with BT Openreach for the lines, and Plusnet, to supply our broadband. We have continued to increase our partnerships. We are just signing off agreements with O2 and Orange – for business mobiles and to use their networks, tariffs and products.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Get a watertight business plan in place and research your idea thoroughly. Ensure finances are in place, because if you’re under financial pressure it affects not only your mental state, but it puts too much pressure on the business.

If I was going to pin down the key to success to one element, it would be starting a business with people you trust.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
In five years we should have total profits of between £40m and £60m. We will look to float on the stock market or to a venture capitalist.

Currently in our market, the value of 10,000 customers to a venture capitalist is £9m. We want to have 100,000 customers in five years, which will leave our customers’ value at about £100m.

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