Simon Tate: What I wish I’d known when I started

Simon Tate took control of family pharmaceutical business Wallace Manufacturing Chemists at the age of 22. Seven years later, as managing director of spin-off Kew Health and Beauty, he’s providing bespoke luxury health, beauty, cosmetic and personal care solutions and the company reports year-on-year growth in excess of 85 per cent...

Keep it simple

Following University, I took a supporting role in my family’s pharmaceutical business after my father died of cancer. We were undertaking a review of the business at the time, looking for new opportunities and new avenues to explore.

I’d always been interested in the health and beauty sector. Though I knew there were lots of high-profile brands out there, many of them had no product range to speak of or they were in one part of the industry and not another, offering manufacturing but not the design process. Nobody offered the full package of services, taking the product from birth and nurturing it to adulthood, so to speak. Seeing this gap, I took the opportunity to fill it.

From the start, there was obviously a drive to keep overheads and expenditure down. So, we implemented a number of software solutions and stock processing systems that, looking back, principally served as a distraction from the more important aspect of the business – maintaining customer focus. Eventually, we outsourced the admin stuff and that freed up time to concentrate on clients and offer the very personal service that we set out to achieve. It would be nice to be able to do everything yourself, but sometimes you just have to let go.

Don’t overstretch your business…

Kew Health and Beauty was born in 2004. Coming from a pharmaceutical background, we set our sights on applying all of the controls and standards of that industry to making cosmetic products. Initially, I think we were a bit optimistic in our projections and a bit overreached. That made it hard to maintain the principles we’d started out with. Originally, there was only a team of three people working at Kew, which made life hard, but now we have 11, with a diverse range of backgrounds and experience. If I could go back I’d have had this sort of skill-set from the beginning.

…or yourself!

I brought family business values to the company, but that meant I had a tendency to over-commit myself at the start. Time management has become paramount. I now have to travel extensively for work and, although that might all sound very glamorous and exciting, it can often be bloody hard work.

Initially, we were firmly focused on the UK market and UK trends, but over time realised how important it is to see what else is out there. This has led to a number of opportunities for us – we’re expanding into the Middle East, which is a good market to be in, and continuing to expand in Australia, while still importing technologies from the US.

Also, we were a bit slow at the outset keeping contact during travel and I think this stretched us all. So, we upgraded our email and communications systems and this fixed the problem.

Not everybody thinks like you do

With these new opportunities has come the realisation that not everybody in the world will share your values. We always try to do the right thing, the ethical thing, but when you’re meeting other companies or collaborating with other people, it soon becomes apparent that people respond to you very differently and don’t necessarily share your views. Their product might be good, but perhaps their back office support is a bit lacking or they’re just on a different wavelength to you.

We now have a comprehensive supplier auditing process in place, so we can make sure the people we’re working with are on the same page as us. It’s important to me to maintain a truly personal service for our clients and I think it’s much easier to do that if you can concentrate on your customers and not worry about your supplier relationships.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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