• Susannah Hart

Richard Pierpoint - Entrepreneur

An interview with an inspiring small business owner who believes that there has never been a better time for small businesses.

Around a long table in a shore side Mediterranean restaurant a jovial group of diners are laughing and drinking. A tall, distinguished man stands up to make a speech. To the casual observer, this lively gathering looks like any other party of exuberant holidaymakers, but in reality this man is at work.

The people around the table are his clients on their annual flotilla holiday, one of the many social events that Richard Pierpoint and his wife, Sue, run each year for their boat share membership clientele. Nice work if you can get it I hear you say, but is running a small business all sunshine and sangria?

In the UK more than half of new businesses fail within the first five years. The tax system, increasing costs of running businesses and lack of bank lending are cited amongst the reasons for this rather disheartening statistic. Coupling this with the recent introduction of the living wage and new workplace pension laws, the pressure on small businesses has never been greater.

Refreshingly, Richard, whose company FlexiSail is now in its12th year, feels that there has never been a better time to be running a small business.

“With the economic situation often in flux, especially now following the referendum, as a small business we are in a much better position to adapt and make the necessary changes to weather any downturn in the market. A larger company is not able to be so dynamic and has a great deal more overheads than a small enterprise will have”.

Richard is no stranger to running his own business. At the age of 35 he set up his own architectural practice, having worked for larger companies both here and in Hong Kong.

After 16 years working for himself, designing predominantly ‘soulless’ shopping centres, it was time for a change. Having been an avid sailor in his youth and then rekindling this passion in his forties following the breakdown of his first marriage, it seemed like a good idea to turn his hobby into a business.

As with anyone who turns their passion into a business, it really goes one of two ways.

Richard comments, “I soon realized I wasn’t actually in the sailing business, but in the sales business! I sail very little now and have returned to tennis, the other sport of my youth, for solace and a way of taking time out”.

The learning curve over the next few years was steep but with a proven business model FlexiSail has gone from strength to strength, with the business turnover growing 10% in the last 12 months.

“I am the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers and have had to literally reeducate myself in terms of sales and marketing – I am not a natural salesman and I find it difficult at times,” Richard admits.

The old adage, ‘fail to plan, and you plan to fail’ is very valid within the realms of business but it could possibly hinder businesses as they mature.

With results driven marketing, as opposed to brand building, you need to try different things to see what produces the best results – you need to take some risks,” explains Richard.

With a small business you can try multiple things, on a small scale, at the same time. With a larger company budgetary constraints means that opportunities may be missed when they arise. Obviously, the cash needs to be available but we do not have a strict marketing budget for this reason”.

For any business customer service is king, but good customer service is only as good as the people you employ. Richard is very clear that surrounding himself with a small, loyal team is the key to the ongoing success of the business.

FlexiSail wouldn’t be growing as it is without the individual skills and enthusiasm of our team. We only have four employees, each of whom brings something specific to the table. I am now in my 63rd year, not looking to retire but certainly wanting to take more time away. I believe I have the right team in place to be able to do that”.

Negativity surrounds the recent government imposed changes, the effects of which remain to be seen, but if this silver fox is anything to go by then hard work and positivity will overcome any obstacles.

There will always be challenges but it is how you deal with them that dictates your success. I wouldn’t change what I do. Every morning I wake up knowing that I am in control of where my business goes. Nothing compares to that and there are always compensations for the long hours, I mean how many people get to go skiing in the Alps or sailing in the Med and technically get paid for it!”

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