Tom Brown talks shop and reveals his recipe for success. An interview by Shawn Melusi.
Shawn: Tom, thank you so much for joining us today.. I’m just amazed at how far you’ve come since starting out with a small butcher’s business in Oswestry – and you are living proof that anybody can succeed in business if they really put their mind to it.
Tom: Thank you, Shawn, for that flattering opening. I think people should understand that it doesn’t take any special knowledge or even a load of money to build a business – anybody can do it if they are willing to. It’s hard work that matters more than anything. The rest you can learn along the way. That said, if you seek advice from others who have been there and done it, you can really improve your chances of success.
S: So what makes your business unique?
T: Well that’ll be me, won’t it? (laughs). But in all seriousness, what makes my company stand out is the personal touch. Customers can put a face to the name and they love the fact that I’m there in person. This makes the whole experience very personal and customers feel really important. This, in turn, builds trust and loyalty. My cameo on an episode of The Apprentice is a great example – I’ve even had people asking for photo ops since then which is hilarious – but the point is, we are not a faceless, corporate entity – at the heart, we are still a local, family butcher. I’d also say that the way we used brand ambassadors to reach new customers was also a great way to keep this value at the core, rather than an aggressive, traditional approach to marketing.
S: You say hard work is important – how many hours a day would you say you put into the business?
T: Well, the business has grown from just me and my father to having a staff of over 20 fantastic people, but that doesn’t mean I can just put my feet up and rest. I’d say that I average 16 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m always ready to be there on the frontline with my staff so they can see me putting in the grind, and then there is the out of hours admin and communication that also matters. I try to be available to my clients whenever they need me.
S: There is so much I admire about what you’ve said there. Can I ask you firstly about staff – what, in your view, is the key to looking after a large team?
T: Quite simply, always be ready to go the extra mile. Make sure your staff know that you don’t take them for granted. I believe in getting my hands dirty and leading by example. They know I’d never ask them to do something that I haven’t already done. And rewarding them – when people work hard for you, they deserve to get rewarded. Even if it’s a small gesture, it shows you value, respect and appreciate them.
S: With so many staff, have you thought about stepping back from the business and letting it take care of itself?
T: Never! Much as I have absolute trust and respect for my team, the business is very much my baby. I’ve never really seen it as something that I’d want to step back from in that sense. I know some people build businesses with a view to selling them and cashing out, but that’s not me. I really enjoy working with my people, and even though I trust them completely, I don’t really imagine having someone else at the driving wheel.
S: Do you think it’s possible to scale a business without bringing in more people?
T: I think you must have people if you want to scale your business – but you do have to do this strategically. You need to get the right people on board at the right time, and you have to be increasing your income at the same time to cover the cost. You need to get to grips with the financials and keep them at the forefront of your mind.
S: If you did hand the reigns to someone else, they’d need an insane amount of energy! Where do you find the energy and motivation?
T: I guess you could say I run on the adrenaline! Honestly, I don’t really know where the drive comes from. I work a minimum of 16 hours a day, but the reality is that I’m in the business 24/7, it’s constant. I think it’s the passion for what I do that keeps me going. I genuinely enjoy it
S: Have you ever had a moment where you just want to give up?
T: Absolutely! You definitely do get burnout when you are all in all the time. I’ve had moments when I’ve been tired, depressed – utterly exhausted. But I’ve always reminded myself that I put myself here and I’ve created this business. The other thing that keeps me going is knowing the role I am playing as an employer in supporting the local community. You do have to be careful not to let tiredness cloud your decision making though.
S: Decision making is such an important aspect of business – and life. What are your tips on decision making?
T: Firstly, trust your instincts. This is just as true of recruiting your team as it is when you are doing business deals. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. When it comes to people, I’m looking for enthusiasm and initiative, but more importantly, I have to feel that I can trust them from the outset. I also need to know they’ll be the right fit – these are things you can’t tell from a CV – you just know it in your gut when you speak to people. If we talk about business deals, then, of course, you have to weigh up the pros and cons, consider the short term vs long term benefits and whether there will be an impact on existing customers, for example. But again, you are also really led by your instincts – you just know if it is right or not and it’s really important to listen to this.
S: Let’s talk for a moment about vision. Did you ever see yourself being where you are today and did you take steps to get here?
T: Never. I didn’t plan for this and I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. That said, I did have a plan in mind to grow the business and that is really important. You need to know your numbers, your bottom line and that sort of stuff. Without at least a basic business plan in place, you will struggle to build a successful business. But don’t forget to execute – unless you start actually doing it, your business plan is nothing but a piece of paper. Once you get your business off the ground, you’ll need to keep your business plan up to date. As long as you get your numbers right, you’ll be able to keep heading in the right direction.
S: Apart from the hours, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
T: Well this goes back to what we discussed earlier about people. For sure, the biggest challenge for me personally has been learning to let go and delegate – to trust people to take care of things without me being there.
S: You’ve also ventured into other businesses along the way. Tell us more about this experience.
T: I’ve got involved in a couple of other businesses, the most significant ones being a gym and a health bar. I was really keen on both of these and I really felt I had the experience needed to take them and grow them successfully – and I believe I could have. The problem was, I very quickly found that they were taking me away from my main business and it was suffering as a result. I discovered that it is far better to concentrate on making one business successful at a time.
S: I have to ask, where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
T: Honestly, I haven’t really thought that far ahead. But if you put me on the spot, I could quite enjoy the idea of being happily retired in Barbados, living the good life with my family!
S: A final question to finish off our interview – who do you look up to most as your role model in business?
T: That’s an interesting question. I don’t really have a ‘hero’ in the sense of a famous entrepreneur. I’ve never really looked up to people in that way. In all honestly, my single biggest inspiration is my dad.
Tom’s top 5 tips for growing a business
1. Know your numbers
2. Build a strong team
3. Put in the hard work
4. Trust your instinct
5. Make your customers feel special