Robert Ginsberg, HiB
Bathroom products firm HiB used the lockdown period to invest in new processes and technologies. Managing Director Robert Ginsberg explains how the Staffordshire firm, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is quietly powering ahead.
- What was the inspiration for the business?
My father started HiB after working for a business which manufactured mirrors. He saw a gap in the market for designer bathroom mirrors which would make mirrors a more central part of the bathroom design. That led onto developing other products and ranges for bathrooms. I joined the business in 2002 and became Managing Director in 2012.
- How did the business find its first customer?
Our first customer was a bathroom showroom which was situated round the corner to where we lived at the time. They are still a very good customer today, 30 years later, and we have an excellent relationship with them.
- How did you finance the growth of your business?
Firstly, through bank loans. We have a strong long term relationship with our bank that goes back 30 years and having that banking support in place for when funding moments are required has allowed us to concentrate on growing the business. Secondly, through growing the business in a profitable and sustainable way and reinvesting those profits back into the business. Yes, you have to take risks in business but we have always take controlled risks. I want to sleep at night and know that if something challenging was to happen tomorrow then it wouldn’t have an immediate impact on the business.
- What has been the most challenging part of growing the business?
One of the biggest challenges has been putting organisational structure in place ahead of growth, which at times we haven’t got right. One time in particular when this didn’t happen was when we came out of the recession period in 2013. We grew substantially, but the business lacked some processes and technologies that we should have invested in a few years earlier and didn’t, because we had been cautious about doing so in the middle of a recession. So we had to go through a few years where we really had to get ahead of the curve operationally, from being behind it.
- What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?
In terms of the impact on revenue and people, we had to go through the process of setting up a remote workforce that we weren’t particularly ready for and we had to furlough half our employees. We primarily supply retail showrooms so sales were down 95% for a period. But five months later we have no-one on furlough and sales have rebounded to the extent that they are now more than 10% ahead of the same period last year. But more than that, during the lockdown period we undertook a number of projects that were always normally nearer the bottom of the pile, such as technology, digitalisation and organisational structure. For example, it became clear that we needed an IT manager so we have just recruited one. These projects will put us in 12-18 months where we would have been in 4 or 5 years. I think we will look back and see this as a transformational period for the business.
- What has been the secret of the business’s success so far?
Developing a strong, committed team. Every board member has been with the business at least 15 years and has grown with it. Our Marketing Director was the first sales manager my father ever took on 28 years ago, our Operations and Logistics Directors both started from school as pickers and packers in our warehouse, our Employee experience and Customer Services Director started 15 years ago as my PA. Developing that sort of team and creating that sort of culture is massively important.
- What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?
Put your people at the heart of the business. If you get that right, they will create the growth for you. I wish we had focused a bit more on that in the early days as opposed to just growing the business. Our people have driven our growth which has led to the success we have had.
- What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?