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Running a family business: clear separation of roles needed

27-Jul-2015
What’s the philosophy behind Steamer Trading?

Steamer Trading is a shop that sells everything for the kitchen. We’re recognising that the kitchen is very much at the heart of the home for many families and we offer anything that fits in a stylish kitchen. There is a s strong focus on the more enthusiastic cook, but we do cover everybody who loves their home.

So, how did you get involved in the business?

My parents started the business 30 years ago and I took it over back in 2001. I saw the opportunity to grow the business into what it is today and started the project about 14 years ago now.

Did you always think you would end up running the business?

No, not initially. I spent 11 years as a Managing Director of an investment bank, but retail is something that is in your blood. If you enjoy retailing then ultimately it’s what you really want to do. So it wasn’t perhaps a surprise when I came back to it.

Steam Trading Lewes

Was there a specific trigger that made you decide to join the family business?

I think it was the realisation of the potential of the brand and the fact there wasn’t anybody else around focusing on kitchenware alone. And even today it’s uniquely untouched, which means it’s a great opportunity to continue growing.

What are the best things about running a family business?

You have a fantastic immediacy to making any decisions. You can literally decide and go on and make it happen and see the results fairly quickly. And you can focus on the things that are really important, such as building loyalty amongst your team and your customers. As a family business you can focus on the things that matter to you, like building a long term brand and keep investing as opposed to serving the short-term demands of shareholders.

First Steamer Trading Shop

As a second generation business owner, what’s your main advice to people entering the family business?

I think the main challenge is to have a clear separation of roles. Somebody who has started the business will continue to have very strong views and beliefs on how the business should be run. Somebody who takes the business forward is more likely to take more risks. This means you need a very clear separation of ownership. On the one hand you need to show respect to the original values of the business, but if you want to accelerate and take the business into a different direction you have to make sure that it is clear who makes the decisions and that has to have an impact on who owns the business as well.

Has this always been a smooth process in your case?

Yes, it has been amazingly smooth. Coming into the family business you have to be extremely respectful of what has been built up before and of the values of the business and very clear about what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. At the time my parents were ready to take the back seat. They always believed in the greater potential of the business and are very proud of the way it has grown.

Steamer Trading In The Shop

Steamer Trading has grown from 1 single shop in 1985 to 35 outlets now. How did you manage that growth and what were your main learning points on that journey?

Firstly you have to have a very clear long term strategy. You’ve got to know where you want to take the business and what the objectives are. Quite often people don’t have a clear vision or idea why it deserves to exist. You also have to adapt and realise when the market is changing. The retail market in the last 10 years has changed more dramatically than in its entire history. Lastly, you have to be very careful in managing all elements of cost within the business. It’s easy to get carried away and lose track of your spending. You have to keep disciplined on budgeting and cash flow. I think there are a lot businesses that lost that focus.

How easy it is to maintain your brand identity whilst expanding?

It’s a main challenge and we respected that from day one. A lot of retailers manage to run one shop extremely well. Some run two shops very well and generally trip up on the third, just because you can’t be everywhere at the same time. As a team we constantly kept our eyes on all the stores, including those that have been there for some time. You have to make sure that they are all performing to the same standards and most importantly, recognise when they’re not. You constantly have to go back to shops that are already set up and challenge whether they are working the way you want them to work or whether they deliver the customer experience you want to deliver. You have to keep on top of that the whole time, because that never stops.
You have to build a team that constantly works to delivering a consistent brand experience. Just now, we are going through that evaluation process yet again. A large part of that process will not be on the new stores, but on making sure that established stores are fully supported to deliver that customer service.

This sounds like hard work. How do you keep yourself motivated?

You have to do what you enjoy the most and start delegating. You have to understand that you need to let go, so others have a space to develop a career and hopefully can do a better job than you in those areas.

 

Razor Sharp Retail Insight

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