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Nigel Whiteoak: Creating a hub for all knitters

6 Mins

Name:

Nigel Whiteoak

Role and company:

Co-founder of Broadmargins

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric): 

We’re still young, but already at a seven-figure annual run-rate of sales and re-investing for growth.

Employee numbers:

We were 15 on Monday, and with 17 today we are quickly running out of desk space!

Growth forecast for the next three years:

Fast! We weren’t around at the start of last year, so it’s been breakneck speed so far.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

Online retail’s a huge market, with giants like Amazon and eBay still growing fast, but there are lots of product categories for which the generic shopping experience they offer is ill-suited. We’re building distinctive online retail businesses for passionate communities, starting with knitting at www.loveknitting.com.

What’s the big vision for your business?

Knitting’s a great example of the type of community that we think has been poorly served so far by online retailers. There’s so much passion amongst the knitters, so much richness in the history of the craft and the yarns used and so much love in the art of knitting itself. We want to create a place online where knitters can find the products they use, discover interesting new yarns, get inspired to make something new and perhaps make some new friends. 

Current level of international business, and future aspirations: 

We’ve always thought about our business as a global one and our sales mix reflects this: we’ve got customers in over 40 countries around the world, despite only having English-language websites currently.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it: 

Before Broadmargins I was selling high-heeled shoes for Kim Kardashian’s online show club, Shoedazzle. I joined to build the UK business: growing the team and customer base. The business got a new CEO on the same day that I joined who’d built his career success on keeping laser-focused on the US market. Sure enough, a couple of months later he decided to close the UK arm, and I had to lay off the team I’d just started to build.

It taught me that you’re always subject to the fickleness of others’ whims when you’re in someone else’s business, which led to me pursuing my own entrepreneurial ambitions.

What makes you mad in business today?

Business can be an amazing force for good in society. At its core, business is just people and resources being organised to help each other out; with bigger rewards going to those organisations that society finds the most helpful. It generates fulfilling employment, tax revenues to support public services, as well as rewards for the investors who’ve put their hard-earned cash at risk.

It’s a shame when this gets distorted by people looking to make a fast-buck – whether via marketing or customer experiences designed to deliberately confuse, or complex legal structures designed to minimise tax. It’s these folk who give business a bad name that it really doesn’t deserve.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

eCommerce is being hugely impacted by the rise of mobile internet usage – it’s almost like we’re back in 1999 and the internet boom is happening all over again. The knitting market’s also going through some big changes too. The internet has encouraged knitters all over the world to share ideas, and allowed knitters in Kobe to discover yarns from Keighley: what was a historically a largely local market is globalising quickly.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

We’ve been fortunate to have visionary investors who share our perspective on the future of online retail, as well as supportive suppliers who’ve helped with payment terms when we’ve grown our range.

How would others describe your leadership style?

I asked. They said: “democratic”, “nurturing”, “fair”, “expert monkey repeller” and “like some pimpin’ gangsta: relentless, pistol-whipping badass”. I think (hope?) the last was a joke.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

I’m not really a big spender and think time’s our most precious commodity. I’ve been generous with myself in taking chunks of that time to explore the world. My last big trip was to Argentinian Patagonia including the Nahuel Hapi traverse and Fitz Roy – I’m a big fan of the outdoors.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

Cut the red tape for businesses even further – there’s still too much box-ticking, low-value-added activity; the EU cookie directive was a classic example.

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