In the last five years he’s built Wildacre Cosmetics in Bingley up from scratch, to a turnover of £1 million a year – helping other businesses develop their ideas and fulfil their dreams along the way.
After a career with Yorkshire Chemicals which spanned 27 years, Stephen moved into retail with JTF cash and carry suppliers. But he was commuting a long way and with his wife pregnant with their third child, he was looking at something nearer to home.
Following a chat with current business partner Steve Meredith on that greatest of meeting places – the golf course – the idea for Wildacre Cosmetics was born.
They spotted a gap in the market and set up the company six years ago, looking to provide a service for smaller or start-up cosmetic companies.
Stephen said: “We felt there was a need and a space in the market for a contractor who could serve small and new customers.
“There were people who had great ideas and wanted to have a go at getting a product off the ground, but they could not afford the investment in large volumes that many suppliers expect.
“Steve already knew of a couple of niche brands who were unsatisfied with their contractors – mainly because the kinds of volumes they wanted to produce didn’t get them to the top of the supply list.
“So we found some premises in Yeadon, and we were looking to do about two to three days a week. Unfortunately that plan fell apart on the second day when somebody else heard about us, then somebody else rang us, and soon we had more clients than we’d planned for.
“Now we’re set for a full year of trading turnover of over £1 million this year.”
One of the things that’s remained important for Stephen is helping other people get started with their businesses.
“We’ll meet with anybody,” he said. “Some have bizarre and crazy ideas, some people have unrealistic ideas. And a good idea doesn’t mean people will buy it as customers tend to be very loyal to a brand, even if it’s just a supermarket’s own brand.
“Getting people to change is a time consuming and costly exercise.
“One company could only afford 200 containers of shaving cream, but they came back six months later and wanted another 200. A larger supplier wouldn’t be as interested, but now they’ve significantly grown their product range and is worth £100,000 a year to us.”
Becoming a SREG mentor was a natural step, as Stephen says he enjoys “seeing people succeed”.
“It’s fantastic to see business starting and growing in Yorkshire. And I think there’s a renewed sense of regional pride,” he said. “Certainly “Made in Great Britain” really means something – even if it’s just about receiving a great customer service.”
Stephen understands the passion to succeed in business, having left school at 16 with his O Levels, keen to enter the world of work. Starting as a lab assistant for Yorkshire Chemicals, he studied chemistry part-time and began to move up through the ranks, and became Operations Director for Europe.
He says the important thing about being a mentor is to remember to leave your own ego out of it.
“Yes, you have to have the credentials, but the last thing somebody wants is for you to tell them how successful you are,” he says.
“Most reach out for a mentor when they have a problem. It’s about listening and trying to work out the degree of support they need from you.
“I work with four clients through SREG and have had six in total. Some drift in and out, and they’ll come back when they’ve got an issue or want advice. Sometimes all they want is someone to look at what they’re doing and bounce ideas off. And it’s great to be able to give that support, but again, it’s about them, not the mentor.”
Stephen’s top tips for new businesses:
- The first thing is know who your customers are. Spend a lot of time describing that person and really understating who they are.
- Think about how you can put your product in front of that person. That leads you down the right route such as, is it a direct sell? Would it need to go straight to a retail outlet?People can save a lot of money with their marketing strategy if they properly consider those two basic steps.
- From day one, cash is vital. Understanding what you have got, where it’s coming in, where it’s going out.
- Don’t scrimp on a business plan and hope you’ll manage. Plan it all, then find someone you trust and get them to pull it to pieces.
- Remember, at the end of the day, you’re the guy who has to push the button to pay the payroll.