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6 Highly Successful UK Businesses: What Can You Learn From Them?

There are 5.82m small businesses in the UK and they make up 99.3% of the total business population. They range from owner-managed one-person bands through micro businesses (ie fewer than 10 employees) to the largest small firms (ie up to 50 employees and/or a turnover of up to £10.2m).

Small businesses are vital to the UK economy. They provide jobs for about 13.3m people (48% of the total UK workforce) and have a combined turnover of about £1.6 trillion (source: FSB). Small businesses often have inspiring, insightful stories to tell. Here are six such businesses and the key lessons you can learn from them.

 

1. Being daring and provocative can pay off…

Martin Dickie and James Watt were “bored with the industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominated the UK beer market.” So, the 24 year olds started their own craft brewery in Aberdeenshire in 2007. After creating their BrewDog brand, they brewed small batches, filled bottles by hand and made sales at local markets out of the back of an old van.

A year later, BrewDog created the UK’s strongest-ever beer, which “resulted in a huge media storm”. Their beers were banned, but undeterred, in 2009, they created the world’s strongest-ever beer (32% – Tactical Nuclear Penguin). The duo wanted to “push boundaries and smash people’s perceptions of what beer can be”. In 2010, they brewed a “55% ABV beer and packed it into roadkill, making it the world’s most expensive beer ever”.

 

After moving to a new brewery and opening their first bar (they ended up with 70 and a hotel), BrewDog continued to court controversy, including projecting a naked image of themselves onto the Houses of Parliament. Challenging convention has proved a successful strategy. BrewDog is now worth some $2bn (source: Forbes), but its founders remain no less passionate or uncompromising.

 

2. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough…

Liv Conlon started her first business aged just 13, selling fingernail foils she imported from China. Being bullied at school increased her determination to succeed. Although her teachers wanted Liv to take A-levels, she left school and would soon start her second business, The Property Stagers.

After her mum was struggling to sell her investment property, 17-year-old Liv had an epiphany. “I knew about staging – giving your home a ‘show home’ look to achieve a quick sale – and we decided to engage a staging service provider,” she remembers. “However, we couldn’t find anyone at an affordable price. So, I did it myself.” Just three days after staging her mum’s property, it sold, above the valuation, with a tidy profit also made on the staging furniture.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by ThePropertyStagers (@the.propertystagers)

Now offering home-staging services throughout the UK and furniture packages for landlords, The Property Stagers has 10 employees, furnishes about 300 properties a year and turns over more than a £1m. Multiple award-winning 22-year-old Liv has written a book (Too Big for Your Boots: How I Built a 7-figure Brand as a Young Entrepreneur with No Startup Funds and No Experience) and speaks at conferences around the world.

 

3. Having a strong, appealing brand can really fuel your success…

Famous for its “superpower-infused” leopard print loungewear and vibrant designs, award-winning Scamp & Dude is a “British purpose-led fashion brand with a huge heart”. It was created by former fashion and beauty PR, Jo Tutchener-Sharp, and it’s proof that sometimes good can come from very bad things.

In 2015, Jo suffered a brain haemorrhage and had to leave her children for a long stay in hospital to undergo life-threatening brain surgery. “I was thinking about kids who had to be separated when their parents are ill,” she explains. “I thought what I’d really like to give them is a superhero to watch over them. That was the start of it.’

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Scamp & Dude® (@scampanddude)

Three months later, Jo registered her company name and had developed her first product, Superhero Sleep Buddies, cushions with a pouch into which a photo of a loved one could be kept. For every one sold, she donated another one to a child separated from their loved ones. T-shirts and other items soon followed. Scamp & Dude opened its first store in 2018 in Highgate and celebrity fans now include Robbie Williams, Giovanna Fletcher and Billie Piper. The brand has an army of fiercely loyal customers, advocates and Instagram followers.

I was thinking about kids who had to be separated when their parents are ill. I thought what I’d really like to give them is a superhero to watch over them. That was the start of it.

Jo Tutchener-Sharp Scamp & Dude

4. Whether large or small – don’t be afraid of the competition

Aron Gelbard and Ben Stanway set up online flower-delivery company Bloom & Wild in 2013. At the time they were up against the large, well-known national flower sellers as well as local florists. Crucially, they had a number of key differentiators.

Bloom & Wild were a disruptor because their flowers could not only be ordered for delivery in under a minute by customers using a smart phone, but the flowers were also packaged for more convenient delivery through people’s letterboxes. That meant recipients didn’t have to answer the door or even be at home when the flowers were delivered by post.

Bloom & Wild now has 30 employees and markets itself as “the UK’s most-loved online florist”. It’s credited with having “single-handedly disrupted and revolutionised Europe’s £14bn fresh-cut flower market”. Bloom & Wild’s revenues reached £10m within three years of launch and more than 50m Bloom & Wild flowers have been shipped to date from growers directly to customers in the UK, Ireland, France and Germany.

 

5. Offer something superior to give customers a clear reason to choose you…

Reportedly, about a million people in the UK now eat a vegan (aka plant-based) diet, while about a tenth of the population is lactose intolerance. To serve both markets, in recent years, many new dairy-free brands have sprung up, and among the most successful is Nush Foods.

Ex-Met police officers Bethany and Paul Eaton launched the business in 2016, after spotting a gap in the market for a yoghurt alternative that was as “light, creamy and tangy” as dairy varieties. The Eatons weren’t impressed with available soya-based yogurts, so they created their own delicious almond milk-based yogurt in their kitchen.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Nushfoods (@nushfoods)

Now available in Waitrose, M&S, Sainsbury’s, many other stockists and online via Ocado and their own website, Nush sells an impressive range of almond and cashew-based yogurts, as well as dairy-free cheese spreads. The Eatons believe in “doing dairy-free differently”, and using the “highest quality natural ingredients and most ethical suppliers to create the most amazing dairy- and soya-free products.” Just 18 months after launch, Nush reportedly achieved a £2m turnover.

 

6. Provide something that takes away your customers’ pain…

Quite literally, that’s what has enabled the success of award-winning Sole Bliss. Its founder is Lisa Kay, who has been designing shoes for 30 years. After growing a bunion on her big toe she looked into how many women this affected and found out there were 10 million in the UK alone.

 

Lisa set herself the challenge of creating stylish shoes for women with bunions and wide feet. After five years of research and development, the first collection of Sole Bliss shoes were launched in 2017 and they proved highly popular. Sole Bliss’s shoes are designed in the UK and made in Italy. They’re loved by thousands of women across the world, including Hollywood A-listers and the Duchess of Cornwall. 

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Mark Williams

Mark Williams is an editorial consultant, freelance content writer, business journalist and editor. For 15 years, he has specialised in writing content for and about UK SMEs.

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