Lessons From Mountain Warehouse Founder Mark Neale
Many people don’t purse their dream of opening a shop because they’re waiting for the perfect idea but it often never comes along. Mark Neale
Privately-owned specialist outdoor retailer Mountain Warehouse continues to post record-breaking annual sales and pre-tax profits, recently notching up four consecutive years of growth including online sales up 49%.
But it hasn’t always been an easy journey. Founder Mark Neale shares the lessons he’s learned on the road to success.
Know your ambitions
Mountain Warehouse started in 1997 as a discount, clearance shop for branded outdoor clothing located in McArthur Glen’s Swindon outlet centre. A second store followed within the Cheshire Oaks outlet centre and we now have more than 240 stores.
I was always thinking of a national chain of shops rather than just one or two shops. You have to have a clear idea of that early but also be very open-minded about allowing the business to evolve and finding a formula that works.
You have to keep trying things and be open-minded. If something isn’t working, find out how to do it better or change it.
By 2002 the business had grown to about 30 shops but was struggling, and I was forced to review everything.
One of the areas of the business that was successful at that time was our own brand. So the big idea was to move completely to own brand. It might not have worked but thankfully it did and we’ve never looked back since and have opened between 20 and 30 shops a year ever since.
Know your customers
It seems obvious but too many small retailers set up the business they would want to buy from. I would never say I’m a hill walker or a mountain climber, but all our buyers have a clear idea about our customers who do want to take part in those pursuits.
Manage your risk
You can’t be afraid of risk. Many people don’t purse their dream of opening a shop because they’re waiting for the perfect idea but it often never comes along. They are also worried it might fail and put everything at risk including the family home. But it’s vital to manage your risk – you don’t have to risk everything and nor should you.
It is also important to recognize and react to any opportunities that present themselves to you. By 2007, the retail property market hit a big downturn and I suddenly found that landlords were very happy to talk to me about taking shops and on very favourable terms. In 2010 we’d opened our 100th shop and we continue to open on the same scale.
It’s absolutely critical. We might still be opening up to 30 shops a year but I will spend time standing in a high street watching shoppers and where they buy from before deciding that it is the right place to open a shop.