Vuba Group: Sean Scott and James Dawson
The founders of industrial flooring company on the benefits of in-house promotion and why redundancy was a blessing in disguise
Company name: Vuba Group Limited
Founders: Sean Scott and James Dawson
Age: 22 and 23
Based: Hull, East Yorkshire
Staff Numbers: 8
Date started: September 2009
Tell us what your business does Vuba Group Limited is divided into two separate trading divisions; Vuba Supplies and Vuba Flooring. Both operate in the industrial flooring market, supplying and installing industrial flooring maintenance products respectively.
Where did the idea for your business come from? I (Sean) worked as a salesman for an industrial flooring contractor and was made redundant in August 2009. I decided to set up Vuba Flooring to carry on in the same market, and later set up Vuba Supplies after seeing a huge demand for a DIY alternative to our installation service.
How did you know there was a market for it? What's your USP? I knew there was a market for it from my experience in meeting with engineers and managers of large production facilities. I did some further research utilising industry magazines and publicly available accounts, which confirmed my view that there was an available market. We have a series of marginal USPs, which we think offer an overall improved level of customer experience. We offer some industry unique products; we ensure everything is easy to use; our prices are always very competitive and our sales literature is intended to be easily accessible.
What were you doing before starting up? I left college and set up an online ‘Sock Subscription' company called Socks On. I was offered to be bought out of the company and took the opportunity to work in a family-related business, specialising in industrial flooring. During my time at this company I became a member of the industry council, technical committee and won two national awards in the specialist industrial flooring industry.
Have you always wanted to run your own business? What appealed most about being your own boss? Ever since spending a summer helping promote my Dad's domestic painting and decorating services, I wanted to be in business. I used to drive around on my moped aged 16 delivering flyers, putting adverts in newsagents and developing the website. What appealed most about being my own boss was the thrill of being able to do whatever I wanted, to be good at it and still feel a lot of freedom.
What planning did you do before you started up? What advice did you seek? I sought the advice of a successful businessman called David Kilburn, chief executive of MKM Building Supplies. He gave me a lot of help and guidance. I also used inspiration from reading autobiographies of successful business people.
How did you raise the money? How easy was it? I raised money initially by asking customers for a deposit and negotiating credit terms with my suppliers, who luckily already knew who I was from my previous job. I then used the profits from Vuba Flooring to fund the establishment of Vuba Supplies. Half way through the set up stage of the second business I realised I needed help and money, so I brought an old school friend in, James Dawson. When we needed to take Vuba Supplies to the next level we brought in two more investors and created the Vuba Group. The banks wouldn't initially give me any credit, but after nine months they rescinded and provided a small overdraft.
How did you find suppliers? We source all of our products in the UK, and the majority in our home county of Yorkshire. When we started with Vuba Supplies we went on a tour of the country testing products and viewing production facilities.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them? We have faced a lot of problems as young people in business, mainly associated with obtaining payments, receiving credit and not being treated as a priority by some initial suppliers. We certainly struggled with cashflow at the start – launching the business without much investment was extremely difficult and not something I would recommend at all.
How have you promoted your business? What has proved successful and what won't you do again? It is only recently that we have had much success with promotion. Vuba Flooring is promoted through word or mouth and recommendations, whereas Vuba Supplies is promoted through a nationally distributed catalogue, cold calling, an e-commerce website and PR. We have also found the best approach to PR, marketing, promotion and SEO is to do the majority of it ourselves. No one knows our business as well as us and we've learnt we need to be in control at all times.
How much do you charge? How did you decide this? We try to price less than our competitors but enough for us to keep coming up with new products and provide an excellent service.
What has your growth been like? Growth has been steady; it hasn't set any world records but feels like it will continue into the future. Our turnover was over £400k in our first year, and profitability is as would be expected in the industry. The Flooring side became profitable within three months and the Supplies business is yet to become profitable, but it only started trading in September 2010 and has taken massive investment.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up? Managing numerous different tasks, deadlines and pressures, yet still being able to plan and strategise for the future.
What was your first big breakthrough? There have been quite a few mini breakthroughs. For example: when we were offered an overdraft by the bank; selling to companies such as Jaguar and Land Rover, and having our products specified on building projects by leading architects.
What would you do differently? ie what have you learnt? We have learnt to be a lot more frugal with our money; to do almost everything in house unless we absolutely have to involve another company. We've also learnt to always double our expectations of how much something will cost and halve our expectations of how much something will make.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs? Don't dismiss early advice or experiences from respected people because it is usually worth listening to. Also, don't be overly defensive about your business – you don't have to be perfect.
Where do you want to be in five years' time? Do you have an exit plan? I'd like to have a few more divisions to the Vuba Group, each performing successfully and keeping our shareholders happy.