Telling the truth about SME life today

When Charles Swindon set up RJH Trading (13th) in 1997, he was refused funding by the banks for three years. Now, with a turnover of £170m and predicted revenues of £250m in 2008, they are bending over backwards for his business.

RJH Trading does 98 per cent of its business in international markets, trading everything from ferrous metals to plastics and scrap. 

Derek Raphael also managed to get his eponymous metals trading business (55th) up and running without a penny of outside equity or bank borrowings. This London-based firm now boasts a mighty £328m turnover.

If you need even more proof that you don’t need much cash to start up a business, just ask entrepreneur Henry Goldenberg. The founder of HQuk (44th) didn’t put up a penny to launch his online hair and beauty products firm: “We didn’t need to buy stock. From day one, we fulfilled orders for professional hair products from the shelves of our salon and the business grew from there.” Sales have grown 91 per cent during the past four years to now stand at £8.8m.

Natalie Massenet is also making a mint through online sales. Her online luxury fashion store Net-A-Porter (58th) is enjoying a third consecutive year in the Hot 100, with sales topping £37m. The business stocks clothes from top designers and ships to more than 170 countries, delivering to any destination within three days.

Charles Walton and Alan Sames are also fans of the internet. They run homeware and garden products site Kybotech (84th) and online stationery company Phase Office Supplies (93rd), respectively. Walton reckons there’s still room for online retail to mature, and he plans to ride the growth in the market until it does.

Mark Needham’s got his finger on the pulse when it comes to tech trends. He was the first importer of TomToms in the UK. His Hertfordshire-based firm Widget UK (40th) now distributes a range of PDA/Smartphone accessories, satellite navigation and mobile scanning products to the likes of Dixons, and Carphone Warehouse.

Radley (34th) and Offshore Procurement Services (73rd) are two more traditional retailers. Handbag and luggage brand Radley – sold to private equity firm Exponent for £130m at the end of last year – was born in 1984 when its founder Lowell Harder began designing handbags and selling them in Camden Market at the weekends. Today, Radley products are sold in 500 independent retail outlets and department stores.

Offshore Procurement Services’ products are all over the high street, too. This London-based shoe wholesaler, set up by Ara Ashdjian and Tim Cooper, imports footwear from countries such as China into the UK. “It’s all about quality and efficiency,” says Ashdjian. “We set realistic delivery dates and stick to them.”

It’s a winning formula: sales topped £18m last year.


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