Daniel Thomas, 23, launched hot tub site Danz.co.uk five years ago and has since managed to grow his business into the UK’s largest online hot tub retailer. Starting as a one man band in 2006 Daniel has grown the Nottingham-based firm to four employees and expects to turn over more than £1 million this year.
Q: Was there a “blueprint” or path of starting danz.co.uk that you more or less followed? How did you know how to start?
A: None whatsoever. I saw an opportunity and I took it. If I see more opportunities, I’ll take them too.
Q: How important is it for the entrepreneur to keep a close personal eye on his company’s finances?
A: Incredibly. I have in the past made the mistake of getting carried away with sales figures and our
It’s fair to say that it is a lot more difficult to cut expenses than it is to add them!
grand plans for the future and allowed our expenses to soar. We had to cut back a number of our costs over the past year and adopt a much leaner approach. It’s fair to say that it is a lot more difficult to cut expenses than it is to add them!
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you made when planning your business?
A: The business was never ‘planned’ as such. The first business plan we ever wrote was written purely for a bank. However, one of the mistakes I made earlier on was relying upon a single sales channel to fuel the businesses growth – dealing solely through eBay. Eventually, others jumped on the same bandwagon and undercut our prices and sales dropped almost fatally overnight. Now, we draw in customers through all sorts of mediums – websites, social media, and are able to cover a much larger geographical area.
Q: What would the one piece of advice you’d offer someone if they wanted to become an entrepreneur?
A: Don’t stop looking for opportunities. The moment you do so you have stopped being an entrepreneur.
Q: When recruiting staff would you look for a degree or experience?
A: We are a small business and resources are tight so everyone has to add value. We don’t have much time to train people and from that perspective, it’s a lot easier for us to employ someone who is experienced and understands the way the world works.
For me the main thing I look for in a prospective employee is passion. I’d much prefer a graduate who is passionate about making an impact, than someone who is experienced and content with doing no more than the bare minimum.
Q: Why would a British hot-tub company extend its reach into France? How did you manage to spot a niche in the French market?
A: The opportunity was there, I took it! It wasn’t particularly difficult. France has just as many people as we do the UK and they use the Net just as much as we do. It was a way to double our potential market overnight with the simple creation of a new website.
Q: Entrepreneurship - skill, luck, or a bit of both?
A: Neither – it’s all about passion. If you’re passionate about your idea you will learn whatever skills you need to to make it work, you create your own luck.
Q: How did you handle the complexities of marketing danz.co.uk, especially in a foreign market?
A: We are primarily an internet-based business and companies like Google have made it incredibly easy for us to reach a massive audience, in both the UK and France, efficiently and quickly – so finding customers has never been the problem.
We've spent most of our time trying to fix the most common barriers to sales - long delivery times for example, and the inability to accept credit cards directly.
Q: If you were advising a company with a fantastic product but no marketing skills, what would tell them?
A: If the product was that great I’d probably seek to partner with them in some way and handle the marketing myself.
However, assuming that wasn't an option I'd ask them who they made the product for. We make products because we believe they'll serve a purpose for a particular type of person. Once you know who you want to reach, you can then begin to look at and compare the different marketing mediums available.
Q: In your opinion, does the UK’s taxation structure help or hinder SMEs?
A: I don’t think the tax system in general particularly hinders UK businesses. The coalition government has lots of plans to simplify the tax system and when they get around to implementing this, it will be beneficial for us and will hopefully cut our red tape.
The rate of VAT is a little bit of a hindrance. Our products are high value items and so the small 2.5 percent change in the rate of VAT has quite a big effect on our prices.
Q: What has your biggest challenge been when finding the correct employees to make danz.co.uk successful?
A: Time. When you employ you want to spend time to make the right decision and find the right people. The problem is every time we have employed, we have done so because we desperately need to get someone in and unfortunately there hasn’t been the time to interview as many applicants as I’d like. Nonetheless, I think our current team are doing a good job at taking the company forward.
Q: How important is social media marketing to danz.co.uk?
A: We have invested quite heavily in social media in comparison to our competitors but I can’t say it has brought in any sales directly as of yet. However, social media is certainly a great tool for communicating with existing customers and keeping them up to date.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for danz.co.uk?
A: I had an old Windows Mobile phone, it had a massive glass screen. I tried to buy a screen protector but they were selling for £12 on eBay. I contacted a suppliers in China and managed to find some for about 50p. I brought in a few hundred and sold them on eBay.
Over time we expanded our range of products. We were pretty much like an online market selling an array of completely unrelated products. I decided we needed one product to build a real business around. There were a bunch of products we considered but hot tubs fitted the best with what I wanted to achieve for my business so we took things from there.
Q: What makes a good product?
A: Reliability and usability. A product should do what you want it to. It sounds simply but there are so many companies that fail at this leaving many customers disgruntled and unlikely to return.
Q: What three pieces of advice would you give an entrepreneur currently starting up a business?
- Plan employment in advance and take time to find the right people.
- Don’t give up your day job until the time is right.
- Spend time around like minded people as they’ll help to keep the fire of passion burning.
- Build steadily, start small and grow only when you can afford to – there’s no rush.