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IRX 2012: PREVIEW: Interview with John Sollars, managing director, Stinkyink

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In our latest preview of one of our major events of the year, Internet Retailing Expo (IRX 2012), we have an interview with serial entrepreneur John Sollars, who will be speaking at the Fast Track Conference on March 21, the first day of the free-to-attend two-day event. Now managing director of, he shared with us some of the lessons he’s learned from his experiences.

John Sollars, managing director of printer ink superstore, says running a business is ‘a learning curve all the way through’. And certainly he’s had plenty of experiences, both good and bad, to learn from.

He started out in 1982 with a CB radio shop in Kidderminster that failed when the shortwave radio bubble burst. A decade on, he bought an electronics subcontractor assembly factory – but that went out of business in the 1992 recession. When he set up his third venture, he lost £32,000 when he was targeted by credit card fraudsters. But a decade on, is celebrating 10 years in business. Ahead of IRX 2012, we asked John Sollars to share some of the lessons he has learned from his earlier experiences.

An ecommerce business is like any other business – you have to have the basics in place. Having been through the pain of recession and business failure, Sollars says when he set up he was “very careful about having the basic business principles in place.” So what were his mistakes with his previous businesses? “Being underfunded, being too niche in too narrow a marketplace, not understanding the basic financial principles of a business. You have to learn from the experiences you have.”

Make your business sustainable. “I was careful to make sure the business was running profitably and that we were sustainable. People use sustainable as a green thing these days, but the business has to be sustainable as a business as well as in terms of the environment. It comes back to financial understanding. It’s important to understand that you’re making money and accumulating wealth around the business.

“Businesses that have been running for a long time have a measure of wealth around them in terms of premises, stock, fixtures and fittings and machinery. They have spent money and accumulated wealth that gives them strength that as a new business you don’t have. You have no balance sheet, essentially. It’s always an issue.”

Any time is a good time to start an online business. “If you have an idea you think will work the basic entrepreneur will kick in and say go and do it. The internet is superb as a selling medium. I’ve been on the road a lot of years selling to people but this is the first business where people come to me as opposed to me going to them and it’s absolutely wonderful.

“The internet means you can make the back end of your business very efficient. We can download and process a lot of orders every day. In a traditional environment, if you had telesales staff taking orders, you’d have to have a huge resource. The internet is a very efficient way of doing business. I love it.”

Test your ideas first. “I would say to anybody starting up, trial it on eBay, Amazon, make sure you can make enough income to give up that well-paid job, before you start investing your time and money into a proper website. Those avenues weren’t available back in 2002. I think there are opportunities to try things without spending a huge amount of money and that’s important now – if you have a bright idea there are two very good ways to market without committing to spending lots of cash in building your own website.”

Use the internet to manage your costs. “When I had a shop, I was paying prime rents and rates. The actual overheads associated with a shop front are enormous. We’re in a nice tidy unit in a small industrial estate now, paying affordable rent and rates. We employ 14 people full-time now.”

Focus to survive in a recession. “Recession is tough but it gives you a kick to look at what you do and refocus your attention on it.

“When times are good it’s easy to get distracted and start doing things you probably shouldn’t be doing. When times are tough you can’t afford to do that – you have come back in, reduce costs and refocus your resources on doing what you are good at. We are good at selling ink.”

John Sollars, managing director of, will be speaking at IRX 2012. His presentation will be in the Fast Track Conference at 11am on March 21.

Entrance to IRX 2012, which will be held at the NEC in Birmingham on March 21 and 22, is free. More than 4,000 visitors are expected at the event, which features an exhibition of 150 suppliers to the ecommerce and multichannel industries alongside a two-day learning programme, Selling in the Digital Age.

The programme features four conferences, dedicated to Mobile and Social Commerce, Fast Track, Enterprise and Customer Experience, as well as a series of workshops, learning sessions and demonstrations of the latest technology. To find out more or to register, click here.

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