We spoke to Andrew Tomlinson, Co-Founder of Andrew James, a Durham-based online cookware retailer which has a turnover of more than £25 million. Here, he shares the company’s story of growth.
Tell me about your business in a nutshell
Andrew James is a fast growing, family owned online retailer which supplies cookware, kitchen equipment, homeware and gadgets. I formed the company in 2005 with my cousin James, after an idea sparked by a dinner party conversation – we spotted an opportunity to start a business based around home cooking when we realised it was difficult to source a European-style raclette grill here in the UK. We placed our first order with an international supplier for 3,000 grills, and Andrew James was born.
Since then the company has grown to reach a turnover of more than £25 million, we’ve expanded our premises to incorporate warehouse and office space, and we’ve appeared in the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 companies.
How has your life changed since you started Andrew James in 2005?
We started out working from a garage and our company structures, processes and professionalism have all changed massively as the company has grown. It’s been an interesting journey for me personally, and nothing beats the feeling of being in a privileged position that now enables me to give back to the local community and our team.
My life has certainly changed since I was 17 years old and sat in my bedsit with no money on the electricity meter and a tin of cold spaghetti to eat.
What's been the best business advice anyone's ever given you?
Don’t let yourself be surrounded by negativity, and employ the right people.
And what advice would you give to someone who was starting out in business today?
I’d say that if you work hard with passion, know your numbers and ensure your business is compliant then you will sleep well at night. And when things are tough, be determined and don’t be afraid to knock down walls. You’ll always find a way to succeed.
Name three characteristics you think you have that have served you well in growing your business.
The first two would be respect and honesty. In business things don’t always go to plan and when that has happened, we aren’t afraid to be respectful to our customers and our people by putting our hands up and admitting our mistakes.
And thirdly, commitment. Always work hard with passion and this will ensure you have the right attitude in order to succeed.
Can you tell me any memorable highs and lows on your journey?
The business experienced such rapid growth that we struggled to fulfil orders on the UK’s first ever Black Friday – we had more than 40,000 orders. The company had grown beyond our expectations, from a £6 million turnover to £17 million within two years and our systems and infrastructure were not up to speed.
Since then we’ve developed a £10 million state of the art distribution centre and offices in Seaham. The project was recognised with Sir Richard Branson’s award for Best Use of Capital Investment, and it was a massive achievement as our own team at Andrew James project managed the new premises.
We’ve won numerous awards, including being named North East Business of the Year in 2015 and in the same year reaching the Northern finals of the HSBC Global Connections Competition which involved a Dragons’ Den style process involving more than 15,000 companies.
But for me, our biggest achievements to date are that our first ever employee, Barry Robertson, is still with us today, and that we are able to give back to charities and the local community and schools.