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Entrepreneurs Panel

Steve Purdham
Richard O'Sullivan
Laura Tenison
Brian Hay
Michael Oliver
Tony Caldeira
Jeremy Roberts
David Pollock
Debbie Pierce
Charlie Mullins
Julie Meyer
Jennie Johnson

And the winner is…

Former professional golfer turned entrepreneur Colin Stevens has had a busy 18 months. The Better Bathrooms founder has increased turnover at the firm, secured a multi-million pound investment and has managed to pick up 15 awards along the way.

It’s fair to say that Better Bathrooms has had a phenomenal 18 months. The bathroom retailer, which generated revenues of £32 million in the last financial year, is on track to turn over around £42 million this year.

The company has won a total of 15 awards in the last 15 months and its owner Colin Stevens was named as the EN North West Entrepreneur of the Year at a glittering awards ceremony in October.

So what does it feels like to be the Manchester United of the retail world, with a bulging trophy cabinet and all that?

Well, according to Stevens, it feels “absolutely amazing”.

“I never envisaged that we would get this many awards, I was happy with one. I remember the first award we won in Warrington.

“I didn’t realise how well we were performing on so many levels as a business.

“It is a great feeling and everyone is really buzzing at the company. It is a great place to work at the moment and certainly the awards are testament to that.”

He says that the firm has had to create an extra trophy wall after the first became full, which isn’t surprising given its recent form.

Stevens, who was a professional golfer up until the age of 21, founded Better Bathrooms from his bedroom 12 years ago as a bit of a joke after his mother suggested he try selling taps online.

At the time she worked at a tap company in Leeds and he was selling golf clubs on eBay after realising he wasn’t going to be the next Tiger Woods.

He took his mothers advice and put a set of taps online and they sold within 24 hours. Stevens realised he was onto a good thing and Better Bathrooms was born.

Stevens says that the highlight of this year was securing a £10 million investment from the Business Growth Fund (BGF).

The BGF bought a 30 per cent stake for £10 million.

“Signing that deal was a big thing for me. It has allowed me to securitize myself and grow the business without worrying about money.

“I think that will be a defining moment to how the business shapes up over the next three years,” he adds.

Stevens was fully involved in the deal and says that it was an enjoyable exercise, but that it “was very time consuming”.

The entrepreneur, who is still the majority shareholder, says the investment will help the company to grow.

Better Bathrooms, which currently has around 200 employees, is expanding into Europe and has already sold products in France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Africa without having any advertisements or promotions.

“We have sold naturally with people ringing us up asking if we could we supply them. Our biggest overseas order was for £42,000 to a hotel in Africa,” he explains.

Stevens says he had no idea the business would grow at such a rapid pace.

“I knew the business could get to about £20 million and I figured at that stage I would probably get out and sell it.

“I remember someone else I knew years ago who got bought out by a big group when they reached £20 million. It only sold for about £10 million though, and we got £10 million for 30 per cent of the business.”

His top tip for budding entrepreneurs is to listen to your customers and concentrate on each other.

“If a manager in one department has a problem then rally round to see if you can help. Find out what support you can offer them. It’s all about teamwork.”

Turnover at Better Bathrooms is expected to surpass the £100 million mark within the next three years, while staff numbers are predicted to reach around 500 - not bad for a business that started on eBay.

By Kirsty Hewitt

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