The Entrepreneur: Charles Skinner, Restore Plc

The chief executive of AIM-listed office support services company Restore Plc on redundancies, bugbears and the book he re-reads every five years

Founder: Charles Skinner
Company: Restore Plc
Description in one line: Office services, mainly Records Management and Office Relocation
Previous companies run / worked in: Chief executive of Brandon Hire Plc, and then of Johnson Service Group Plc
Turnover: £60m
12 month target: 20% annual growth in Earnings Per Share

Within three bullet points, describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • Our customers are naturally “sticky” – they really don't want to change suppliers. But we provide a great service anyway
  • Once we have a customer, we sell them as many services as we can 
  • Our operations are de-centralised, but all our customers are “owned” by the group as a whole, and information is freely shared across it

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Transforming Restore from an insolvent basket case into a high-growth business with an enterprise value of £150m in under five years.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

I check the net bank balance across the group every day. This is partly out of habit but understanding the cash movement is as worthwhile as tracking the P&L. I also review turnover in one division every week, but in the other division it is only necessary monthly as the forward visibility is so strong.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We have no international business and we plan to keep it that way. We only know the UK market and we have no transferrable intellectual property.

Describe your growth funding path:

I raised rescue capital from the majority shareholder, and then we did a series of five placings on AIM. Now we have significant bank debt available to us.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

CRM systems which enable us to track all customer contact across the Group and get in front of the key people with all our services.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

I'd like it to be twice the size, with increased market share in existing services. We will also enter some more related markets.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

The first round of redundancies that I had to carry out in my first CEO role.

What was your biggest business mistake?

I failed to carry out adequate due diligence before taking on the CEO role at Johnson Service Group. It was in far worse shape than anyone knew and I approached it with the wrong mindset.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Vehicle licensing, particularly on larger vehicles. I’ve had a few issues with VOSA (Vehicle & Operator Services Agency) over the years, and I’ve always found them high-handed and uncommercial. There is a huge disincentive to run vehicles bigger than 3.5 tonnes.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

“It’s about having customers, stupid.” It's not about grandiose market visions.

How will your market look in three years?

I think it will be pretty much the same as it is today, although there will be more “green” angles. Counter-intuitively, the hard copy storage market continues to expand, and I don’t think this will change in the near future.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Make sure that you have customers in place before you start.

Personal growth

What is your biggest luxury?

My taxi journey to the office.

Do you think business people should seek formal business education, or learn it on the job?

People can and should learn pretty much everything they need to know about business on the job. You have to be numerate, but after that it’s all about common sense and personality.

What would make you a better leader?

Listen to everyone, especially people who voice concerns.

What is your favourite business book?

Peter Drucker's collected thoughts in The Essential Drucker – I re-read it every five years.

Interviewed by Calum Chace: Calum is a chairman, consultant and coach for growing businesses. A Cranfield MBA and ex-strategy consultant with KPMG, he shares articles and interviews on his site  


(will not be published)