Dave Dodd: The Austerity Entrepreneur

Poundland was a “treasure hunt” destination, selling everything from Tetley teabags and lace knickers to garden gnomes and snooker sets for, you guessed it, £1.

Single-price retailing wasn’t new. In the US, it had been an established feature of the retail landscape since the fifties, with three major operators (Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar) dominating the landscape, although Dodd says he and Smith were oblivious to what was going on across the pond.

“I didn’t have a clue about running a bricks-and-mortar retail chain,” he admits. “I must have visited that Burton-upon-Trent site 30 times before agreeing to buy it. I’d be there at different times of the day, on different days of the week, counting how many people walked past in a minute.” His formula wasn’t very technical: “Sub-20 was poor. Between 20 and 40 was okay. Anything above 60 was great.”

He learned how to deal with landlords: “All they really care about is whether you’re going to increase footfall or whether you’re going to go bust,” he says. “Prove you understand the area and what your business will contribute to it.” He always asked them to sign confidentiality agreements and he resolutely refused to provide personal guarantees. Only one in 75 Poundland stores were freehold, the rest were leasehold.

While Smith gravitated towards IT, Dodd handled property, retail operations and HR. “We hired a first-class finance director. I wanted someone who could hand me a single, A4 sheet of paper telling me exactly what was going on with the numbers.” He picked his advisers very carefully: “Find somebody who is a fan of your business; if your advisers are genuinely enthused by what you are doing, they’ll do a proper job for you,” he says. “I first met our legal adviser when she was a paralegal. When she changed firms, I changed with her. She worked for us for nearly 15 years. The letterhead isn’t important to me. It’s the name at the bottom of a letter that matters.”

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