Geraint Whitely from the St. Albans-based IT retailer tells Laura Barnes how he went from £80, a camp bed and a pile of junk 15 years ago to two successful outlets, a warehouse and selling to royal palaces today.
How and when did the company begin?
I started it by myself in 1999. There were two computer shops on one road in St. Albans. In the middle of the two shops was a really run- down motorcycle rental place. When it closed down I was asked by the landlord to get rid of all the rubbish that was in there – that was the sort of area I was working in at the time – I proposed to the landlord that if he gave me six month’s rent free I would do up the shop and try and start a second-hand computer business.
I went over to a big supplier in Watford and asked: “Can I have any old junk that you don’t want for £80? ”They told me to take the £80, go hire a van and come back. Three weeks later I had a second-hand junk computer shop up and running. I lived in the back of the shop on a camp bed and worked seven days a week to build the business up. The other computer shops have since gone bust.
What services and products do you offer?
We provide IT support to about 15 local businesses. We also sell new and second hand gear on Amazon, eBay and other portals.
How big a part of the business is online selling?
It’s grown from being zero per cent seven years ago to generating 85 per cent of our turnover now.
How important is it to have a strong presence on the internet?
Our own website has been almost abandoned because it doesn’t generate any sales. Google were asking for so much money to put us up in their rankings, but actually we worked out it was so much more cost-efficient to just put the products on Amazon and let them take their cut.
This also means our product sales are not only limited to this country. We have delivered to people all over the world, including to a royal palace in Zurich.
Shopping habits have changed so dramatically that everyone now just buys online – it doesn’t matter where the customer is in relation to the retailer.
Wearable technology like Google Glass and smartwatches looks set to really take off in 2014. Would you consider stocking such products?
Anyone that’s interested in that kind of stuff is going to come down to our shop and waste three quarters of an hour playing around with it then go try and find it cheaper somewhere else. They’ll send it back once they realise it’s rubbish – which most of it is initially going to be.
What do you have in store for the company over the next couple of years – any plans to expand?
We already have a franchise over in Redbourn and we have recently taken on a new warehouse across in Devon where we are going to make good use of the lower labour rates and increase our buying power.
Year established: 1999
Number of outlets: 2
Number of staff: 7
Contact name and address: Unit 2, Hatfield Road, St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL1 4TA
Telephone: 01727 861010