Born to sell

From market trader to serial entrepreneur, Parcel2Go's Fil Adams-Mercer has experienced plenty of highs and lows since leaving school at 15.

From market trader to serial entrepreneur, Parcel2Go’s Fil Adams-Mercer has experienced plenty of highs and lows since leaving school at 15.

From market trader to serial entrepreneur, Parcel2Go’s Fil Adams-Mercer has experienced plenty of highs and lows since leaving school at 15.

I come from a poor family with seven children, and we couldn’t afford the best fruit and vegetables so we bought them bruised. One day, aged nine, I went down to the retail market and started working in return for the best produce. The guy at the store told me if I shifted some boxes I could take the fruit home.

Before I knew it I was working down there on Saturday from 6am till 6pm, and when the holidays came I would work there too. It wouldn’t be legal today – but when you’re ten years of age standing at a market stall selling things, all of a sudden you’re not shy. You come out of yourself and become a natural salesperson.

University of life

I always say I left school at 15 without an A level, B level or spirit level. I used to believe the system lets you down but the truth is that I allowed the system to let me down. Anyone can make an excuse that they didn’t have a good enough education, but you make your own destiny.

If I do regret anything it’s that I wasn’t interested at school. What could I have done? Who knows? Having said that, academic success could have stifled me. A lot of people get a good education, get into a career and then before they know it they’re married, get a mortgage and can’t take any chances, whereas I’ve never had anything that stopped me from doing something else.

Wake-up call

The biggest learning curve in my life came when I sold my video business and a friend sold his company at the same time. He did a much cleverer deal and sold four shops to Woolworths for £3.3 million, getting his cheque on 29 March. He died on 3 April, aged 43. It makes you realise that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do – get happy. If you’re not happy, stop doing it because you don’t know when your time will be up.

When you talk to your staff, look them in the eyes and see if you can identify the problems lurking in their lives – their mortgages, their children, anything – because these are real people who are important to your life and your business so they need to be treated with respect.

You need to learn the politics of your business as you won’t survive if you don’t. Someone will have an opinion about how you should run your business or why they should service your business or not. Learn the politics quicker than your rivals.

I’m a northerner, and one thing I regretted was not listening to or involving myself with southern business people. I think there is a misunderstanding in the North about how much money can be made by mixing with the guys in London. They don’t necessarily work harder down there, but they do often work smarter.

Delivering the goods

In October 2004 at Parcel2Go we spent £84,000 advertising on eBay. We got 3,000 phone calls a day and we just couldn’t cope with it. On all the blogs and forums people were saying we were useless and we never answered the phones, but we physically couldn’t cope with the demand.

I decided that I had to spend a lot more money on technology. A tech-savvy guy came to me and said he could build me a CRM system for £7,000. I said, ‘That’s fantastic. What’s a CRM system?’ Now, we’ve spent £2.5 million on that system but we couldn’t have had the growth we’ve experienced without it.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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