In our ‘Inspiring small businesses’ series we share and celebrate great stories from fellow small business owners who took their idea to the next level and built their own business. Starting your own business is a huge step, no matter how small your business is, so by bringing you closer to the great minds behind these inspiring businesses, we hope that you will find motivation and survival tips for building yours.
Today, we bring you the story behind Sir Gordon Bennett, an online store promoting British craftsmanship, told by its founder Neil.
What is it that you do?
I am the co-founder and chief dog’s body for an online store on a mission is to promote British craftsmanship in all its guises. We currently have around 35 brands we sell and promote online. Whether a brand is 200 year’s old with a Royal Warrant or 2 year’s old with a right royal future, the one belief that hold them all together is they all believe in British craftsmanship and making things right. We have four cascading pillars that each brand must pass before we stock them:
1. Look beautiful – without a product looking good no one would want them in their life.
2. Made well – every product should be made with love, the best it can be that should last longer thus saving people money in the long run, ‘Buy cheap, buy twice’ is something we want people to never do.
3. Work as intended – without a product working well it doesn’t matter how good it looks.
4. Made in Britain – we don’t believe that you should buy everything British, as that wouldn’t be good for our imports and exports, but we do believe that people should buy craftsmanship products from Britain as a country we are very good at that.
What’s the story behind your business?
I have been working abroad for the last 10 years and that is how I came to the conclusion that SirGordonBennett.com was the idea I wanted to pursue. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. And I was missing certain things whilst away. Jaffa Cakes and Tunnock Teacakes (so cakes really).
Two other things happened. Firstly, my team which was a multi-national team, would often talk about what each of our country was best, and worst at. Boastful banter and one thing that people always said, from whatever country they came from, was, that they thought British made products are some of the best in the world. The Made in Britain mark stood for something. The heritage Britain has when it comes to design, manufacturing, culture is still respected the world over, even if our politics isn’t anymore. The third thing that cemented the idea was a shop in Germany where I was living. ManuFactum. I found myself in there more than was healthy. They curate and sell brands and products from all over the world. I call it modern heritage. Products that are still made the way they always have been, not because they don’t do R&D but because they work, so why change them. Knives from Japan, pens from Germany, kitchenware from France and a myriad more.
These three thoughts sort of merged and I knew that Britain had these ‘modern heritage’ brands too and there wasn’t an online store that best served this. So, I began my journey of discovery to bring British modern heritage brands together all in one place.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I suppose creating is in my DNA. I launched my first business at the age of 14 drawing ‘portraits’ of people’s American classic cars and selling them framed. I then began making music and started my own record label in the early 90’s called Bish Bosh Records with the help from The Prince’s Trust. Which while it was fun, a lot of fun I might add, money was not exactly rolling in. So, at 27 I went to University and studied Design and Media Management. It was there that I realised that I wanted to be an advertising creative/copywriter. Which was a great choice that has taken me all over the world, working amongst others, Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy and Grey. Moving up that corporate ladder until I felt a kind of vertigo to go alone.
I am not quite an ‘oldtreprenuer’ and this isn’t my first business, but it is my first business for over 25 years. During that time, I was on the corporate ladder, if you can call advertising corporate. I led a comfortable life. Creatively running major international accounts for a network advertising agency. But I have never been comfortable with being comfortable and knew I had to do something to shake my world up. I could have moved jobs but knew that the initial change would be exciting but the routine of solving client problems, the arguments that go with that and the disillusion of the final ad campaign being a watered-down version of the original idea depressed me. So, for over three years I had been thinking of ways out. How could I best put my talents to use? I searched my inner passions and tried to match them to a business. I had so many ideas. Looked into how viable they were. Dismissed some as folly. Others too difficult to achieve right away. And some that almost made the grade.
What is the most difficult aspect of running your own business?
So many. Traction is the hardest part of any business. A great idea is worth nothing unless the world sees it and without a huge marketing budget (we are at present self-funded) that is really tough. Luckily, I have started SirGordonBennett.com with my brother-in-law and our skills compliment each other well. So, I get to do most of the comms, from brand, PR, marketing, social and product selection. whilst Dan is a trained bookkeeper and has worked in e-commerce for over 10 years, so knows a lot about the technical side of online sales. I knew nothing about e-commerce when I started, so it has been a steep learning curve to say the least, every day a challenge appears that I wasn’t expecting.
What is the best thing about running your own business?
Seeing the brand and the business grow. And being a little scared every day. Ernest Hemmingway said nothing is a scary or a as exhilarating as facing the White Bull, by that he meant a blank sheet of paper and SirGordonBennett is my White Bull, I have no idea what it will become eventually, I obviously have aspirations and goals, but businesses often end up being something different and that is OK as long as it still makes sense to me. Some people are terrified of it, but I see it as a new idea ready to be born.
I have been brought up in the fast-paced environment of advertising. We like to say there is nothing wrong with failing, but fail fast and learn. I move quick to do things, doing nothing is worse than doing something and failing. I believe that my ‘education’ as a creative and creative director has opened myself up to pivot the business at a moment’s notice. They call it agile now. I have principles that the company will always abide by, but as long as they are not being tested then I can turn pretty quick if need be. I am not welded to a certain way of doing things. I really am learning on the job, which could be our downfall or our success. I also believe and love working with the amazing and talented craftsman and women in Britain. Who give their all for their products. I also believe that society is close to pivoting and demanding products that look beautiful, are made better, do the job intended and last longer.