As part of Business News Wales’ ongoing series of interviews with some of Wales’ leading figures in business, we had the opportunity to interview Phil Stephens, Managing Director of Socket Store.
Tell us about your business?
We are a lighting, LED lighting and electrical retailer. We have a wide range of lights and LED energy-saving lighting and also one of the most comprehensive ranges of sockets and switches in the UK. We are predominantly an online retailer although we do have a showroom in Trefforest for our growing local customer base.
What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?
We have some great growth plans, including continuing to broaden our range of lighting and sockets and switches. By working closely with our suppliers, we can react extremely quickly to the market place and the latest fashions. We’ve already introduced several ranges in response to new trends, and we look forward to continuing this in the future.
With the rapid development of LED technology, we also see the LED market as a key growth area. As confidence in the technology continues, along with an ongoing upward drift in energy pricing and a growth in environmentally conscious consumers, we expect LED bulbs and lighting to become standard in most – if not all – homes.
What do you wish you had known when you started out in business?
Building a network of like-minded people really helps. Even if you don’t need their services at that point, it’s great to talk with people who are in a similar position to you, to share advice and experiences. It really makes a difference!
Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently?
No, definitely not. I think everything you do in your career helps create the person you are today. If you don’t have the experiences, both good and bad, you have nothing to learn from. Of course there are situations I could have handled better and decisions I got wrong, but again it’s all part of the learning experience.
What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?
Willingness to learn is definitely high on the agenda. The ability to get on with a job and see it through is also important. The next one I think is a slight contradiction. You need to have the belief and strength to carry out your plan in the face of opposition and adversity, but you also have to be flexible to realise when something is not working, or to see a better way of doing a job and adjusting your plan accordingly.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?
It’s an age-old piece of advice – do it! Be prepared for some tough times, but also be prepared for some great times. One thing’s for sure, things will never be the same again!
What are your top three tips for success?
Cash flow is probably the single most important thing in business. Manage it carefully, as it has been the undoing of many businesses great and small.
ii. Be enthusiastic in everything you do. Enthusiasm is infectious, affecting staff, customer and suppliers alike. Don’t underestimate the power of positive energy!
iii. Never stop learning. You may be the expert in an industry today, but if you stop learning others will soon pass you by.
What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?
I think one of the key strengths is its clear identity; being part of the UK is an important asset, but having our own identity is also a powerful thing. One of the major weaknesses is still how disjointed the different regions are. There remains a big disconnect between north, south, mid and west Wales and certainly I think many people, especially in the north, feel there’s a disconnect between Cardiff and the other regions. Some are geographical challenges, but it would be great to see everyone working in closer harmony.
What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?
Infrastructure is key, and currently a major weakness. One of the keys to inward investment is to break down the barriers for businesses working in Wales. There are plenty of willing people still looking for work, but not necessarily located where businesses are looking to base themselves, so it’s vital to ensure easier commuter routes and trouble-free travelling between Wales and other countries. The proposed Metro project is a step in the right direction for south east Wales, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions when it comes to congestion around Newport, the north/south infrastructure and many more issues that I’m sure your readers battle on a daily basis.