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Preview Internet Retailing Expo: Nick Wheeler, founder of Charles Tyrwhitt Shirts

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Tell us more about how you founded Charles Tyrwhitt Shirts. How easy was it to juggle growing a business around your other commitments?

I started Charles Tyrwhitt from my room at Bristol University. The only certainty in my life was that I knew I wanted to work for myself. Working in Charles Tyrwhitt has never really been work to me. It has always been fun. I have loved every minute and so juggling it around other commitments was never a problem. Whenever I had a spare minute, I wanted to spend it on my little business. Having said that, I didnt get a very good degree!

At IR Expo you’re talking about building a business one customer at a time. What were the key lessons you learned in the early days?

I believe passionately in growing a business one customer at a time. I have a quote on my wall by Ellory Gordon, You build and lose a business the same way one customer at a time. It doesn’t matter whether you are BP or the little corner shop, this is true for every business. That is why I spend much of my time trying to understand what our customers want and how they feel about the business. It is usually the simple things in life that make the difference between success and failure and my current love is a very simple product called Feefo. It gives me a daily update from our customers and what they think about us. I don’t need to rely on customer service managers or operations directors to give me the good (or bad) news. I get it straight from the horse’s mouth and that is very powerful.

How has ecommerce, which the company adopted in 1998, changed your business? What challenges and benefits has it brought? Is it the main driver for your expansion into overseas markets?

Ecommerce has absolutely revolutionised my business. It is modern mail order and I realised early on that it would transform the way we work. We have hardly scratched the surface and already it accounts for 70% of our direct business. It benefits us in terms of making the back-end more efficient. Customers are now entering their own orders for example and often doing their own customer service. However, it is fantastic for the customers too because it gives them huge choice. A competitor is always just one click away and we need to really make sure that our offering is perfect at all times. The big are getting bigger online and the small will disappear if they cannot compete. That is a challenge. I am still a believer in multi-channel. Ecommerce is vital for our overseas expansion, but only in tandem with catalogues and stores

What’s the next big challenge for Charles Tyrwhitt?

To create a level of customer service that is totally unbeatable. To give customers exactly what they want before they even know they want it; to be there for them 24 hours a day and to ensure that they complete every purchase every time with a huge feeling of joy. It is quite a hard thing to achieve!

From your own experience, what advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to start or grow an ecommerce/multichannel business at the moment?

Go for it! The hardest thing is making that first step. It is always a good time to start your own business and you will embark on a life where nobody can ever tell you what to do! I rather like that. For a business to succeed, you need a few key qualities. You need passion in your product and an innate belief in your idea. Deep down, you need to know that it will work. You need patience. It takes a long time! I have been doing my business for 24 years and I still feel like I have hardly started. But above all, you just need to start. Get on with it. The younger you start the better. It is a very full-on thing and the fewer responsibilities you have at the beginning the better.

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