#ALB63 – The man who walked away from a £5million business
In this podcast we speak with longstanding One Percent Club member Chris Harris. Chris started his business, working from home with just £300 pounds, building it up into a £5m per year empire.
Chris decided to walk away from that £5 million pound a year business, to create an ambitious lifestyle business, that truly delivers the lifestyle he wants for himself and for his family.
Ambitious Lifestyle Business Podcast #63
Chris is a former Royal Marine – unfortunately an injury shortened his time within the Marines.
As a result of this injury, Chris started his business, working from home with just £300 pounds and threw himself into the world of home fragrance with well-known American brand Yankee Candle. Chris successfully brought this brand to the high streets of Plymouth and Exeter and embarked on a retail whirlwind. But that whirlwind came with a lot of stress, and Chris soon found that less and less time was being spent with his family.
Something needed to change.
In today’s episode, you’re going to hear why he walked away from it all, and he hasn’t stopped walking since. Chris, has now with his wife Charlotte set up a highly successful dog walking, grooming and boarding business Harris Hounds.
Harris Hounds are a husband and wife team (Chris and Charlotte) and are there to take care of your dogs every need; exercise, socialising, fun and grooming. Chris is the professional dog walker and Charlotte is a professional groomer. They offer their services separately and/or combined to give your dog the full works.
As a former Royal Marine, Chris is organised, strategic – and energetic! He will ensure that your dog has the best possible time on their walks, the utmost care and attention on their home visits and as comfortable car journeys as possible.
The business is going from strength to strength, so much so that they have now had to take on a new member of staff to keep up with the demand.
John – Welcome to the show Chris. So, you’re a former Royal Marine?
Chris- That’s right, yes.
John – Cool, the second I believe Royal Marine we’ve had. We had Mark Ormrod on.
Chris- Oh okay, yeah
Jason- Few episodes ago.
Chris – Yeah I know Mark very well.
John – So there’s obviously a path here. Why did you leave the Marines?
Chris- So I was in the Marines for about 12 years and in the end, I spent an awful lot of time away, and probably at least half of that was away on operations.
I did Afghanistan twice. I was in the Maldives which actually wasn’t too bad. I was out there for a year. I did Norway a few times, did America and the far East. I went all over the place. And yeah, I had a really good time. I was a soldier, I was in the police, I was an intelligence officer as well, right at the end. I had a really, really good career.
Unfortunately, I broke my foot on operations. And it comes a bit of as a stumbling block whereby, I couldn’t run anymore. And so, I made the decision, actually, I was offered very good pension, a good payout, and it just made sense to actually. I wasn’t ever going do what I joined to do, and then from joining at 16, being one of the youngest to pass out to actually 12 years later, pulling career and actually never probably gonna be the same again.
I made the decision to knock on the head and to come out.
John – Had you started the family by then?
Chris- Yeah so that was another thing I mean, I met Charlotte probably saw my wife six years before leaving maybe a little bit more of that she’ll probably look at this and threat to But yeah and I see that half that I was away all the time.
I had two young children as well. It you took both children example when our first one was born Chloe, two week later I was out in Norway when Jack was born, in a month later I was out in the Maldives. One of them got injured to hospital I rushed back I flew back through Bahrain and Russia. I was away all the time.
And running around the desert getting shot at it’s a young man’s game, and once you’ve got a family it changes your perspective of things a little bit and, it’s nice.
It was nice to go out there and for several months come back, with a six pack, a long haircut and have loads of money in my back pocket – we got to relax a few nights, nice meals. When you get your kids, it changes actually, you’re not a rock star anymore. You’ve gotta settle down.
Part of the reason why I did join the Marines I went on a weekend with… Apologies to anyone who’s watching this, who is in the other services, you guys are great.
Yeah I went on a weekend with the army, and it was just, its like being in the scouts and you know what, I’m in the Parachute Regiment and I did really well and so come to when I moved to the Marines, I really struggled.
And I thought that’s the one I was going for that no one likes the easy ride. you gotta challenge yourself push the boundaries.
I was quite lucky. So I probably got injured two years prior to leaving. So it was at that point, we actually, started buying and selling, goods online and we built a business. So when I left it was pretty much just at this stage to supports us. So it’s a bit of a leap of faith but, it wasn’t blindly going like what do I do now.
Jason – And it proves what could take years.
Chris – Yeah, it’s still a risk, but it was actually one of these get out your comfort zone and take the risks, and it’s sink or swim.
Jason – What sort of things were you selling?
Chris – When I got injured, I broke my foot and I had an operation on it.
So I was off, I couldn’t do anything for six or eight weeks I think and it was an awful long time.
I bought a PlayStation, and I hate PlayStations as I spent three, 400 quid they cost, and I just thought this is rubbish, and I started looking around the room. I couldn’t really walk.
I said “toaster? anyone using that?”
No one’s using it, so I’m gonna bang it on eBay.
I started just selling,
My mum’s been in business for 30 years. She’s got a shop, a baby shop she’s got.
I talked to her – “your old stock? You’re not actually using it!”
She sent me a box down for free which is quite good. I sold all that, and then she sells these things called grow bags little babies they sleep in it. And I said, “you’re doing quite well, can I have a few of those?” but the problem was that after about a month, I was outselling her.
It was all right to a point but she was like, “honestly you can’t do this, I’m losing sales here!”
So I think we had about 300 pounds in a savings account.
So we went up to a trade show. The big gift fairs, they’re massive, they’re sort of 20 miles of aisle. I was up and down, up and down. And I went there a woman from Japan thought well, there’s investors, let’s see what happens. And the first person I went up to was a puzzle stand, A jigsaw puzzle. I had a chat with him and said, “we’re looking to sell online,” and he shot me down. He said, “are you nuts you can’t sell it online that would devalue it.”
Online at the time was really frowned upon.
John – What time was this?
Chris – Probably 2013 maybe something like that.
John- Well I would have said, if you’d said to me 10 years earlier, there was a perception that internet equals cheap wasn’t it? Although in 2013 —
Chris – Charlotte and I went away with our heads down, I flipped and I was that close to saying, this is done I’m not doing this, this is rubbish.
This bloke was horrible. And went to the next guy, and he was all right. I just went round, and I just had a chat with people. And, we got a few suppliers on board and started doing really well.
The biggest one was candles, we took a bit of a punt and it took ages to open the account. They made us put a business plan together. And I was like, “what is this?” So I forged it all.
They wanted us to have business premises – a warehouse, So I went down the local self storage place and took a few pictures. I phoned them up and said, “do you mind if I come up and view a unit?” And I took a few pictures, sent it and I didn’t get the unit. I borrowed my father-in-law’s unit in the end for a meeting. Cleared all his desk stuff, put a few gifty things in there. Just facade of that I had this big gift ware company.
Chris- Yeah luckily we got the account. They wrote me up and said, “Oh, you mind put up more than 1000 pound order?” I went, “Oh my God I did it,” we sold it instantly. And within a few weeks we had the whole range. We just went going home we went right lets do this. Lucky, it paid off, within, a few I think within a year we were spending about 2 million pounds with them. For one supplier, and I think we did really well.
Jason- And was that just online at that point or did you have to–
Chris – So initially it was just online. So we started from home. We had a little cupboard in my lad’s room and then we outgrew that so we moved up in the loft. And then we went to a little garage lock up. And we had to bought a unit and we had our own unit, and then we had a unit and a shop.
And then we got another shop and that was all over a space of two and a half years or something maybe. We did it quite quickly. But yeah, I mean, we got massive bonuses from the company as well. You’re spending that much money, they were sharing that back and actually the money we were getting back from them rather than going away on a holiday and living it up.
We need to go right, lets open a shop up. Its definitely there for stock and rent, let’s go for it. So that’s what we did. As a result of that, I didn’t have a holiday for about six years and I had big bags under my eyes but–
John- Well you got a year in the Maldives just before that so you can’t complain too much come on.
Chris – I mean, we worked really hard initially.
As a prime example you look at Christmas time, and I was previously working really from nine to five. I used to cycle to work five miles both ways, so 10 miles a day.
I was getting all these orders going in I used to have my iPhone used to make a kerching noise every time we sold something.
I’d be in work just typing away – It keeps making this sound, and I said, “God Jesus.”
I was getting a bit worried.
But I was going in the warehouse for probably, like four o’clock in the morning start packaging the orders and then go back there till 11 o’clock at night. Over Christmas and these orders would just keep coming in.
And we had all these advent calendars in there going back out.
We were selling for, it literarily was have these and we’re selling – it should have been £20 but were selling for £60 per pack ’cause we were the only people that had them, I couldn’t let all that go but in the end four hours sleep a night I just got really ill and my body just gave up. And that was the decision actually I was offered to come out of the marines, And I was like I can’t keep doing both of them very well.
John – I’m not surprised now, you said about, a tan, six pack, long hair with a five miles bike ride there to and from work. And there you’re lumping stuff around in the Marines and then you’re back in the warehouse packing orders it’s no wonder you had a six pack.
Chris – But now obviously being in the warehouse it’s a real cold place no heating big shutter door. Being there before Christmas at three o’clock in the morning it is a rather lonely place. But, the pressure of all the orders building up. I used to go in there some days you just see a stack of invoices like that. How on earth am I going to get through all this. and there is yeah
John – There will be few people listening to this going, Okay, I’ve got the idea. I’m maybe in my bedroom now. I’m doing a bit of eBay trade. I’m doing some FBA on Amazon.
I’d like the 2 million pound a year business whoa slow down, how do I get there?
From where I am now. You’ve touched on a little bit with the we didn’t have a holiday, we reinvested everything.
So perhaps that’s how we go from £300 pound – get your first order in the bedroom.
How do we go from there to the loft, from the loft to the lock up, from the lock up to the unit?
Where do those steps come and how do you know when you’re ready to go on to that next level?
Chris – I think the biggest thing in this is what I liked is we never jumped too far above what we can afford.
We only ever purchase something or invested in a shop or actual retail space but we could afford it. That was from my bonuses, that was from excess sales. And we did things gradually.
We did things gradually that were educated and that’s the biggest thing educated guesses.
In this day and age no one should really be in my opinion, no one should really be buying stock that they don’t know they could sell. And if you look at my mum, I don’t if she’s gonna watch this I saw it at the trade fair. She’s done it for over 30 years. She’ll ask “what do you got today?” then she bought some cups and bought some saucers.
She bought some random statues and so okay that’s great.
So can you sell them?
“I don’t know yet, we’ll find out next week.”
And for me, that’s the money.
I used to patrol these trade fairs.
I walked about 20 miles of aisles. you generally when I went to these fairs, I wanted to perform.
And I used to come back with stacks and stacks of catalogues You never know and I used to go through and just find something that I liked. I actually thought that that’s a really good product I used to go on eBay like how many have they sold?
Can I beat the price? Is there a margin in it?
The things the small factors.
And there’s software you can buy that we had, that you can put in barcodes, with anything that gets stationed on eBay,
eBay is really good. Anything that gets stationed on eBay, has to have a barcode.
And you can find it, you can find how many sellers there are. As long as you spoke to the suppliers and you find out the wholesaler’s cost.
Then you can work out if there’s a margin in there? Can you beat that price? Can you keep it–
John – There’s always a stage that you can get on to make that educated guess you can just actually I’ve got a gut feeling and I quite like that. Oh that’s so nice the mug you’ve got there I think I can sell a few white mugs, I’ll buy a box of those and we’ll see what we can do. Actually today we’re online it makes life a lot easier.
Chris – We’re doing our maximum at the end. We’re getting suppliers whole catalogues of anywhere from 520,000 products and just put it on an Excel all through our system and it will just give you every. There’s five sellers, there’s 20% margin there. As long as you can sell it, at what they sold under the last few days. It should be able to pick up these price products that should sell. That’s the theory.
John – It doesn’t always work. But its better than going well, I like this product. If I like this product, then there must be other people who like this product. Is that how–
Chris – There’s so many different factors in it.
As a prime example, we had this one little gift set that over Christmas that had five candles in you get so much time, brilliant little purchase, impulse purchase.
One year we sold 32,000 of them.
We had three people over Christmas just to package them up.
And that’s all they did, just brilliant.
Next year, I think we bought 20,000. “Easy sell”, I thought.
I think we sold like 16,000. We had loads of them left. We don’t know why – If Christmas is delayed in terms of weather or actually it was a bit warmer. There was Brexit, and people have got no money and they’re worried about purchasing.
And so many different factors.
Jason – I guess competition came in too as well.
Chris – Competition’s a big one.
John – These suppliers that you had they were the first, they were the biggest, they were the ones which everybody kind of wanted, that probably everybody would know in that field. But then I guess after a short period of time, there were lots of copies and people alternatives and actually people opened in private I can pick up the same kind of thing that that particular company was doing.
Chris – This is one of the things that Yeah, we did jump at the right time we took that needle in the haystack and I think probably looking back now we did find it initially. the next year was watching the tournaments if we are popular right away, get few more of them.
So as the as the years go on, it goes down and down and down. And by the end, I think it took about a minute, but we were scraping, trying to sell these up and kind of decide, yeah, well, this is nothing you got you got struggled on top there, if you see something that you’re working, in my opinion, you go for it
John – You’ve gotta take that opportunity and seize that opportunity. And sometimes you’ve gotta know when the time is right to go all in and go happy with it. So, I was writing an email to one of our One Percenters today about Google Ads. And I talked about kind of my experience of Google Ads when they first started in the UK back in 2002. And I was buying traffic for like, what it was one cent a click, so about half a pence per click, and I was earning 15 pence per click. So brilliant, I was earning 30 times my money but I was playing small time and I was chucking a few hundred quid at it.
A friend of mine very similar sized business to us at that time, started doing exactly the same thing. He was buying traffic he was doing more financial keywords, credit cards, personal loans, mortgages.
So he was paying maybe 30 pence a click 40 pence a click, but then he was earning five, six, seven, eight pounds a click on the back end. He obviously same as me ran out of money because there’s only so much money you can spend.
So he maxed out his credit card, which not a great idea on a whim but ultimately he’d proven the business model so he maxed out his credit card. Then when he maxed out his credit card, he went to the bank manager and said I want to borrow I think it was 20 grand. He said I wanna borrow 20,000 pounds.
He was age 22, 23. And he said I wanna borrow 20 grand. Bank manager went “oooh I don’t know about this.” So well, I’ve got this business. Here’s, this process, I’m spending X amount. Here’s my earning statement, you can see what the income statement is. They’re all coming in from these big blue chip affiliate companies. Oh, yeah, oh okay, then, as long as you personally guarantee the loan, blah, blah, blah, yeah, all right personally guaranteed the loan. He gave him the bank manager gave him the 20 grand.
Six months later, he went back to the bank manager and said, there’s your 20 grand back, plus your interest.
And the bank manager asked “How have you got that money back so quickly?”
So I put that 20 grand to work. And I’ve now turned it into 250,000 pounds.
So I don’t need your money anymore.
At which point the bank manager who obviously will only ever offer you an umbrella when it’s raining suddenly went, “would you like some more money? Because I can arrange another loan for you.”
And he went, “oh well, how much can you give me?” And he went, “well, I could probably sign off on 150,000. And this guy went, “well, okay, then I’ve got this money making machine where I put my money in the top and 30 times the money drops out at the bottom a couple of months later.
“Happy Days!”, so I thought at the time well that’s a nice story.
I thought no more of it, until a couple of years later I’m sat at this very kitchen table flicking through my Sunday newspaper, Sunday Times Rich List and all of a sudden I see this guy on there. £18 million net worth, age 24.
And he had the same opportunities I had – exactly the same, and I knew the wonderful money making potential of this brand new system, but this guy went all in.
And he went you know what this is a potentially to make a huge sum of money.
And he made a huge sum in a very short period of time because obviously the margins soon got squeezed.
I was soon not paying half a cent per click or half a pence per click cause I was soon paying 10 pence a click to make 15 pence which is still bloody good. But the ROI did slow a little bit but for that moment, I could have put all my chips on the table and gone all in Yeah.
Jason – I think it was really important just spotting that opportunity and that’s a good thing. With you and your candles. I had my first foray into business was mobile phones and then this area the port, the coverage was very poor and back in ’97 when we got into that. But the one network that was kind of taking off, and actually was covering this area was Orange. So we found purpose and Orange warehouse.
And lots of mobile phone shops throughout so if it is only Orange could actually cover this area and there weren’t all the vast number of mobile phone shops as there are now and very little competition. So they’re making hey but for two or three years, it was really good and obviously everybody else is going across and on. It is about finding that right product at the right time and doing something with it.
John- And I think also knowing when to pull the plug. So going towards the end of your time in retail there now. You took it up to 5 million pounds in one calendar year.
Chris – Yeah, one calendar year.
John – That’s a huge business. What was that like?
Chris – I certainly wasn’t sitting on the beach with my feet up drinking a pina colada, it wasn’t quite like that.
It was stressful, really.
I mean we had a business coach to help us out. He did wonders, He saved us an awful lot of money.
There’s no flow leakage. The problem is, we go from £300 to that £5 million figure, we didn’t have tonne of systems in place.
We had no handbooks we had no manuals.
And we had a few staff members who were, running ragged. It was hard work we had,
I remember one time over Christmas, we had all these big, orders that was, always coming in, We are running around picking things in boxes, just off the shelf and taking it back in. A year later, we had trolleys, which is quite good to save the time, but it’s putting the systems in place to cope with it. And we didn’t do that quick enough. I was sales, sales, sales, and just we did a great job at that.
But we just you know the warehouse. I remember, one time, one day Black Friday, we had eight and a half thousand orders coming. I think it’s some stupid like 70 grand of sales or something not including the shops as well. And we had this big raw metal cages, probably about as wide as this table but maybe that high. We had about 60 them stacked up with boxes, these boxes were barely any, boxes and stacked with them.
All these orders were sat there from Black Friday. There were all mainly to bring these big lorries into us. He used to push them all in and they were completed in two minutes. I was like guys, I spent 600,000 Get more lorries there yeah, it was crazy. But that is enjoyable though as well. I think that’s one area I was good at was being on the ground and motivating and organising. I think that’s what I–
John – Organising the troops.
Chris – Pretty much, and it was always a hard thing. At Christmas time we used to basically just pull people off the street and in one case, our first employee, I think we literarily pulled him off the street. He went to the warehouse and just went, “Aaah!” He was a job and there was literally someone there that we got in he is actually the son of a lady who owns the warehouse we rented at we got him pulled in.
And they’d come in and pack these boxes but we were literally pulling people off the street. We had all these you know ex drug offenders and alcohol and you know they were coming in. So I used to go get them come back in. They were very efficient.
John – I swear the confessions are all coming out today aren’t they?
Chris – It was a way of saving some money because saving is not that easy when you get caught up in the doing and all the things that’s saving money all that sort of stuff and–
Chris – I spoke earlier about the 32,000 gift sets we sold. But it was literally just put it in a bit of a wrapper on a box put the label on and then send it out. It was so easy to train them to do that in five minutes and that’s them for the next three months.
Pretty much a day in day out and they know that every hour they’re going to do this. Even when we set the competition I said right guys, whoever can the most in an hour, I’ll give you 50 quid. Funny enough it was actually me that did the most I was quite quick at packaging. Actually the next person now I gave them the 50 quid.
Chris – We had about 20 people doing this challenge and all these people whose productivity went up 50%. All these extra things happen. We used to have these trial nights for new staff. I mean, they used to be the best thing ever, ’cause we sold so many we used to pre package them. So I used to get 20 people, I used a message on Facebook and say look, who wants a job?
Get 20 people in I said right, the five top Packers who package the most in half an hour, you can have a job. And all these people were beavering away because I didn’t pay them, these were packing packing. I used to have a few hundred, made up just from that trial was like quickly jump to the next day. We did this every year we sold thousands. I said if we went around the country just holding all, these packaging trials we could really package out the whole lot. But it wouldn’t come down to that just jockily.
Chris – Also just see how you’ve used, you’ve got a lot of resourcefulness there, which I think comes from probably the bootstrapping and starting with 300 pound and this has got to work because I’m going all in with my 300 pounds here. I’m taking it on one thing. I can’t afford, huge fancy offices and a team of staff from the very start. So actually if people have gone out and perhaps got an investment and they’ve got a big sum of money or mum and dad funding them or they, done a big refinance or whatever or redundancy money. Then often because you’ve got the money. You don’t have the resourcefulness that you do when you’re bootstrapping. Yeah, definitely that’s some of it.
John – It’s a skill that I think you can only learn on the ground I think, you can’t read a book on theory about bootstrapping.
Chris – I mean, we easily get hours and hours of research before we spend that money because that’s that’s all we had. It just ridiculous amounts of I remember waking up one morning, just having an idea and just going downstairs and just researching it, and just until I did it, I couldn’t get up in the attic thinking about sleep. It’s just, it’s almost bordering on obsessive.
I think to a degree. I’m still like it now – I’ve got an idea in my head. It’s related like, one day, I was in the summer about eight o’clock at night, and I just thought, I’d like to build a pond. So I just started digging and I was digging for about hours and hours. This massive, massive liner filled out next day. I had that for six months, and I actually built a bigger one. It’s absolutely obsessiveness when I got an idea, I do really try and run with it and didn’t matter really what time is it when you think you didn’t just get it done.
John – That’s almost the entrepreneurs curse isn’t it? Have an idea do it.
Jason – So I’m guessing you woke up one o’clock in the morning one cold sweats and went this is just too damn much. I don’t wanna be packing candles and I don’t wanna be doing this I don’t want all of this now, I don’t want the hassle that’s currently going with that. What then do you do?
Chris – Yeah, to a point, at the start of it was really exciting. I’ve always been really honest and said once I see that what’s in that financial graph line going up, the practise out it might get a little bit fed up with it. But it’s hard work, we had two retail stores.
At times we had 20, 30 staff knocking about the matter of issues we had with staff. We had a HR lady on retainer just to manage them because we had a few problems. And we had people’s not turn up forgetting shop keys. And it was really hard work and ultimately the buck clouds on you. The one weekend I think we went away, all sorts of issues happened. I’d been on the phone the whole time being stressed out.
Yeah, I sort of wanted just to get away from that, I suppose really, we had supplies, messing us around as well. The whole thing of issues, implanted into the company, playing silly monkeys all damn day. It will just go up and we found actually, that sales started drying up and everyone sort of saw us doing quite well sort of jumping the bandwagon.
Amazon started stocking the product that we had ourselves. Went from with the candles firm, we we’re spending 2 million a year with them. I think the next year we spent 250,000.
John – Well that is literally decimated.
Chris – But the year after I refuse to spend anything and I just phoned them up and was just complaining over time, and set stock back. And it become very fractious. I just found myself rather than having been in the mindset of expand how are we gonna do that? But actually just retract and it become a bit of a downward spiral.
I think once you start and stop investing and you having these new ideas and you start going, where can I stop leakages? Where can I save money? You almost gave the adverse way. And you just become really unproductive.
John – I used to have a mentor who said that, “there’s no such thing as the status quo. You are either growing or you’re shrinking.” And you’re doing one or the other. And I think if you’re shrinking, for a prolonged period of time, you’re gonna be in trouble. Because you can always make cutbacks in this. I actually love going into businesses and making them leaner more efficient cutting out the waste. But you can only cut so far, you can’t keep cutting.
Chris – There’s cutting the right things is hard but it’s not cutting the top lines, your top selling lines, your top 20% you’ve gotta keep buying them. When the point goes actually no one wants to save that money. It’s a really, really bad idea.
John – So on that coaching session that we have for the One Percent Club, you came into the coaching session, and I think it was something along the lines of “I just want to give up”.
And so we spend about half an hour I guess in the coaching session talking through that.
I just wanna walk–
Chris- It was a bit of a jokey thing wasn’t it?
John – I think for us to begin with it was a real left field. Whoa where has this come from? We can be missing the sale. You know, in the stores. This is going great all sudden you decide. I’m hating this and I just I wanna walk dogs on the beach. And I think, we started off very much. Whoa what’s going on? Are you okay mate? I think by the end of the meeting, we’re like, Well why don’t you then? Is that your recollection of it?
Chris – Pretty much I remember, just sort of jokingly about it, but it wasn’t a realised in my head, I suppose. By the end of it we had these shops. And we had those premises, we had another warehouse as well. It’s going back to those Africans. We had 10,000 on the set on the first of December and now, we might sold 20,000, but actually we were left with those. You’ve got to cope with those until the next Christmas. All these money stacking up we’re spending half a million pounds on Christmas stock thing hoping to sell it now you don’t sell it you gotta wait till next Christmas There was a lot of big big bits of pressure and by the end of it I just thought I don’t need this. We entered into another product with another company. It was a great idea you know we won prizes really. We won 10,000 pounds awards for it.
Chris – I just put my energy into it invested invested invested a tremendous amount of money. By the end of it, I had all this stuff on the shelves. The other company weren’t helping as much as I probably wanted them to. They’ll probably say the same thing about me. But what’s going to become a very fractious relationship. I know the stock persons couldn’t get me on it. It is a bit of a wake up to actually do I really want this already need this? Is this for more than that? Is this the industry for me? Online is Pretty cutthroat. You might be doing good one day but actually, Amazon see you doing really well. And gonna watch you I’ll buy these and they’ll put themselves in the buy box and they swing things their way.
John- So many people do well and they’re selling well on Amazon that lasts for six months and all the sudden we find Amazon have figured out what sells well yeah, that almost cuts them off.
Chris – yeah, definitely. Yeah.
John – So the internet and that’s a bit cutthroat but what’s the high street like? ‘Cause I know you had two very high street stores.
Chris – We did I mean, we were very lucky initially. So the first store we opened was actually on some of our warehouse. I don’t know how much square foot it was. We had about an 8000 square foot unit and people always saying no matter how big your warehouse is, you always fit it in that much it was the cage.
When we walked in there the first time we went, “ooh God this is gonna take a lot of stock and actually we did that in about a year. We had the space literarily to the right of the shop. I just walked in it had this lovely. I wouldn’t say lovely it was an industrial side actually it was it was all right. We had these big windows lovely space in there a good few hundred square foot and it was just trying to be a posh trade town so I call it really.
And the first day we opened that I could not believe it we set up a Facebook event. I was taking things a little bit of a pinch of salt we had like a few hundred people go in and this is the time before I think–
Jason – When you say going this is tagged as going on Facebook?
Chris – When we opened the doors, I think we opened at 10, 11 o’clock or something I went in there. I went there a few hours earlier, and there was a massive queue.
I said guys you’re here for the candle shop opening? Yeah, yeah, yeah. We thought about getting here early to get in there first.
Hammering down with rain with these people waiting there. So I felt really bad so I went to the cafe and got them coffee. So I come back down. Anyway, I went in and start packing the orders, just la la la la in my own little world. There’s no CCTV and this queue is getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
In the end, by the time we opened it stretched from the door all the way out probably about 50 yards, through the car park, turn left, it went all the way up to this round about it was about another hundred yards out. And this queue but then people come in the store and it is sort of rectangle and they went all the way around the store to the till. As they were going around they were putting stuff in their basket. The first few It was during like Black Friday sales people were hustling and bustling and we brought these, we import these candles from America, you really can’t get them anywhere else.
We were selling for a lot of money, and people come in and just put more in the basket, getting 400 pounds in the basket. It was mental. But this queue was four hours long from start to finish. People were queuing up. So that was the success that was really good, that we open Exeter up.
We had a fantastic year so far but a really big bonus so we thought right rather than squandering it we’ll open this store. It was an awful lot of money, enough to potentially buy a house. It was a tremendous amount of money. So we went right in the centre of Exeter not on the high street. There was one independent on the high street there but we were literally just off it. In a lovely little square there was some great stores, behind Marks and Spencers next to Animal.
It was a really good prime location. Open the store up there. I thought what we had an awful lot of stuff and had loads and loads upstairs in the stock room. We had about 20 pallets covered. So this all the stock upstairs before we took me in the warehouse and get it out of there. But the hustle and bustle to go upstairs was hard work. Open the store up and I looked out and it wasn’t huge it’s was probably a few hundred people there, but it wasn’t quite what I envisioned. I just thought Exeter, a lot of money up in Exeter. There’s some real hardcore candle fans every year it was a good day.
But I just my heart sank a little bit it wasn’t quite the same. I think Exeter is a quite hard market to crack. We did exactly the same advertising, marketing and the store was pristine inside, and branded really really well. All the shop that goes in there you just immaculate. It was almost like a high end boutiquey sort of thing. And it really was all about the appearance and this looks really good media coverage. The papers turn up. The papers actually turned up I didn’t pay them they turned up about four days in a row. And I did films and there was really bad press going on. How much are they paying them? And I go no I’m not paying anything. The high street it’s–
Jason – What’s the biggest challenge do you think? I know you’ve done some work that’s
Chris – I mean raising rents up there. I think we we’re paying 60 grand a year, just to be Up there it’s a lot of stock that you’ve gotta sell.
John – That stops you from pushing anything out the door.
Chris – It is, you’ve got staff on top of that. For me we’re kind of there my office is upstairs I’m there all the time you can sort of monitor things with this I wasn’t there. I went about once a week for a meeting. Our first store manager we found her pinching stock. I had to go there and fire her and find a replacement pretty sharpish. The replacement I think she was off for a period of time sick and just went a bit off the rails. The next one we got in was really really motivated but the sales weren’t quite there so she was almost too qualified. I think she come over from Belgium she worked in a real high end fashion shop.
So a lot of stuff in there. So if not to come to where we were it got her bored. So it’s hard though. High Street it’s hard to get people in off the street. Christmas we made mega bucks the rest of the year, it’s hard working. candles here in the summer no matter how many fruity, or how many exotic fragrances they come up with. But how many candles you really want to light in there maybe another citric one to keep flies away, but that’s not the market we were going for
John – So Harris Hounds came out of ashes should we say from the burning candles. So Harris Hounds was born how did that start off? How was your, so you had concerns, Charlotte was obviously on board at the time?
Chris – We had to do that quick. I mean we basically we come to the end of the leases for the shops. It’s time to shut the extra one down pull those stock back. Just did a big big clearance sale. We went from having the shutting down to send the stuff off, having not really an income. To actually go right let’s do this. Let’s do pretty sharpish lovely, obviously to send the candles and this was the last five years I’ve been in internet marketing and that was our bread and butter really.
So you’re moving that energy into getting clients on board and I always say to people from my 12 years in Royal Marines being active and actually then finally some business combining both of those offer an active service that is well structured well priced good service that’s what people want. I think when I went there and pitched it so either a bit of a spill to sort of sell all the key points. As I spoke to you call them, it was a no brainer and was he finding out what the customers issue was it is actually what nine to five they wanted to come in. If they got themselves out in the rain, it just come along and say well, Ill take the dog out in the rain,
I’ll get at 12 o’clock I’ll put the three mile in. That’s what goes on here and just it’s the same way. We found it very easy. I think we found it very easy to get clients on board and we did that pretty quick. But yeah, we just go off. But it Initially we couldn’t make a lot of money, from it I used to get across town just to pick up one dog and now walk and think its not really worth it but I looked at the investment.
John – So having learned from the previous business, you know, whilst at a small manageable level, but in systems and processes in place so that you’re not driving across town, to pick up one dog, but actually optimising things.
Chris – That’s sort of what we’ve done. I assumed that my wife Charlotte the weekend and he was very keen to actually run a good position at the minute because now we’ve got a base that can support us quite nicely. So we’re pretty comfortable. But we’re not manic at the minute we’ve got tonnes of stops in place systems and delays and actually just a bit more structure which is good. So rather than going from the 300 pound to the five million run around package, they’re putting things in boxes and taking down and just being really disconnected.
We’ve got the time now and we always felt a runaway business and sales are coming in more and more than we can manage you were playing catch up. With this it’s a little bit different, we can go at our own speed we can turn the advertising button on or off. It’s a lot more controlled, which is good.
John – I like that people talk about, runaway success well actually would you rather have a runaway success or controlled success, planned success?
Chris – At the time are you looking for the long term or short term? In the short with your business, we got to the stage and actually, if I knew when to stop and pull out and we would have done really well.
John – But it is like say knowing where that end lies.
Chris – Hindsight’s a great thing never
John – Oh isn’t it just. If I could bottle hindsight I’d be worth So thinking about it, this is called the Ambitious Lifestyle Business Podcast. So thinking about the lifestyle and the business side of things. What’s the difference between say now versus a year or 18 months ago, when you’re in the thick of, lets say, advent calendar season?
Chris – I mean, the hours to start off I think is the biggest difference. I was getting at the warehouse at five in the morning. Some days of packaging things up and leave at eight o’clock at night. As in now people don’t want me to turn up at their house to walk their dog at five in the morning because it’s just unsociable.
So but if you look at today for example I’ve been on the beach, and I’ve been to Plymbridge, I go to these nice places and it’s just completely different. But I think I remember years ago I was talking to a guy that had a warehouse next to us, and he was saying if he could do £5,000 a month.
He was presenting it really well, and he was a metal sprayer. So he had to paint by the spray. I said to him I could do 80,000 pounds a month my margins are nothing, whereas his 70% model I don’t know what they were, but it’s completely different.
I think that’s where we’re at now basically selling my time. I don’t really have the overheads ’cause also we work from home. I’ve got a van, and fuel, poo bags. Its just completely different whereas before I say one year £60,000 on post. £60,000 a year on the shop we had two of those and the costs they come out everywhere.
John – So less time less stress.
Chris – The stress is still there but it’s nowhere near as what I like is we have online that is never over,
It’s always one day we sold i said earlier we sold eight and a half thousand orders even if not point 1% of that gets lost by roll now which they did. Actually they cost me a lot of money more now and we have a few members of staff just employed to answer the phone and answer emails. You’re looking at wages for that, it’s just constant.
And generally with online people never really leave reviews saying you guys are great. but flipping out I leave review to say you guys have messed up. And it sucked we had a point where we get these these part time on people in. We launch a garden centre website. We had all these trellises and stuff and all these big ornaments we send them out.
John – All these breakable–
Chris – Those always get broken. Looking back now, one of those in a pot of clay. As a potter you shouldn’t be doing that.
Chris – So basically going through it we’ve heard about business and we’ve heard of ambition and that’s gonna grow into a complicated lifestyle. And now we’re kind of turning around a little bit more to get that ambition back instead of growing a little bit more from a particular– I mean, I’ve been doing this now for probably eight, nine months something like that. And this year I did really enjoy, taking the kids to school pick them up.
I can go to the beach, and it’s nice, It’s low stress, I could just sit there and watch the waves and walking. But it was it was the contrast to doing that from looking at the spreadsheet and sales forecasts and budgets every day and I don’t how I’m gonna do this.
It was just worlds apart, it really was. But then I just found myself switching off I got all these clients on board. I got to walking 20 dogs a day. I speak to all these dog walkers like are you busy? No I’m not busy I just need more work. But we did it once the phone would ring.
Chris – I always thought like these real high intensity Facebook Campaigns, we did really well I think. I just walked out there and say the right things I’ve got a shirt on and going to the what dog walker doesn’t have a shirt on.
Actually you got a pretty good point. Its just creating that thing, you put a logo on it just doing things right. The bigger thing for me is accountability. When I take a job I want everyone to see that. So I make sure in accountable. But then we grew really quickly.
We’ve got 20 dogs and then I just found myself plateau out. I just sat down for flip now this is gonna be me for the next 30 years. I can’t really walk anymore, I’ve got my van I’ve got the dog since that’s it. And I just found myself, getting up, going out for a walk, coming back and just found myself–
I didn’t speak to anyone ’cause I was out with the dogs all day. I just though right now I’m just a bit wasted. Cause I had created something before this business, and it was just sort of thought in a little way, I should be doing something again. So, yeah, we’re on the up again now.
Jason – So you got some plans in the fire haven’t you?
Chris – Yeah but it’s controlled though. Its controlled we’re not rushing into it and the key to it is I think you know we talked about the ambitious lifestyle I still want that. But I still like that word graft and hustle. I know you don’t like that. Its always very satisfying going over to a client and obviously about finding what their problem is solving it and actually sales come in to it.
I upsell, and I do very well just from that despite so many customers, what they like and sometimes years ago was actually. I used to tell a lot of stuff that you shouldn’t be scared of saying,
By saying, you bought this candle, Do you wanna buy a lid to put on it. Let’s worry about because these lids you’re doing the customer a favour, these lids are fantastic. Well, you, rather than buying the crappy product from over there, well buy this one. This is actually gonna suit you. You’re doing them a favour, so why wouldn’t you upsell
John – And it’s true to being that customers trusted advisors. and actually, I’ve got your best interests at heart. Now that may mean I’m gonna have to tell you to spend more money with me. Or it may mean I’m gonna tell you to spend less money or it may mean I’m gonna send you to my competitor.
But I’m gonna do what’s best for you, my customer.
And when you do that the customer fully respect that actually, this guy really has got my best interests at heart and, and yeah, I probably would be better off on the 90 quid service rather than the 50 quid service and powerful things happen I think when you do that.
Chris – I’m really honest with all our customers when I can’t do this I tell them if I always come up with different optimal solution, but that’s the thing just be honest with people. You will probably get their trust. We’ve just bought these chip treats it’s a brilliant product and I sell it because actually I’m doing the dogs a favour. I’m in the industry of dogs into the day. Well, let’s look after them in the evening and give them something to do there as well. It’s the same across all industries. You shouldn’t be worried about selling or upselling because your product, should be great. If not, we’ll get one that is.
Jason – Chris, it’s been fantastic to have you on the podcast just before we kind of go. Obviously, the doors are open to the 1% club. Now it’s March, what have you got from the 1% club? How has it helped you do you think?
Chris – So I’ve been in the One Percent Club for I don’t know, a year and a half, two years maybe?
I mean, it certainly helped me make the decision to think about what I want exactly.
You go to all these networking meetings – everyone’s on about grow and build and create a big company and make all this money.
It seems really good but actually is that ultimately what you want?
I think this idea of an ambitious lifestyle – actually you can be ambitious enough to grow your company but actually get a bit of you time in there as well.
It took me maybe a year in the 1% actually to get a grip to it. It’s great, you chat to other people in similar ideas. If these guys can come up with a solution there’s generally I think how many people 50 people in there. There’s 50 other people who do show, every now and then I’ll come up with something the head and I’ll just go what would you guys think? They’re all like yeah, Chris, that’s good that’s bad. This is a different option. Have you thought about this?
It’s good just to bounce ideas off. I think that’s what I’ve got quite a bit from it and I think use it, you know, all the time, ‘Cause it’s there when I do need it. A lot of people are really, really active in there. They get an awful lot from me, which is good. I think that’s the best way to use it is to be active and to engage when you’ve been a problem just to share it and they could actually help you to get solution for it.
John – I mean, we always say it’s like a virtual board of directors . We at the end of the day, we don’t have a vested interest in your company. But we do have a definite genuine interest in your success and whatever that means for your. I know a few that may be developing the lifestyle that you need. And we’ll focus on that or for someone else it could be, you need to scale up or you need to sack half your staff and shut down this operation. But you’re gonna decide what you want. You’re gonna do the work. We’re just here to help you. And we are that sounding board. And as you’ve said, If myself and Jason are not able to help you because we haven’t had the particular experience that you need help with or don’t know a particular platform. There’s normally someone else in the group–
Chris – There as all different walks of life there isn’t there? Some of the guys with big internet companies who’ve got connections in the Philippines that deal the outsourced and the marketing you’ve got other people in warehousing your accountants got all these different–
John – There’s different thoughts and different procedure–
Chris – There’s always someone that comes in there he’s happy to give you a bit of free advice.
Jason – The time is coming to the end of this podcast, but if there’s a Ambitious Lifestyle Business that’s in Plymouth they’re busy doing what they do and haven’t got time to walk the dogs and want to get hold of Harris Hounds and yourself what’s the best way of doing that?
Chris – So obviously the company is called Harris Hounds look us up on Facebook. We’re really really active on Facebook and we’re posting stuff daily and it gives a shout we can pop on over and have a chat about it and see how we can assist you. Look it up on Facebook have a look at our website as well www.harrishounds.com, email, phone, this whole different array of things fading that give us a shout out, come over to my house and that will have a cup of tea and have a chat about it.
Jason – Chris, Thank you for joining us.
Chris – Cheers guys.
John – Thank you bye bye.
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