Q&A with our client smallcarBIGCITY
Can you tell us about yourself and your company?
My name is Robert Welch, I am 33, live in Brockley South East London and am the Founder / CEO of smallcarBIGCITY. We are a travel and tourism business that offer private/bespoke sightseeing trips of the capital, team building activities and self-drive hire in London in a fleet of classic British cars. We have restored ten classic Mini Coopers and trained a team of passionate local guides to help show off this great city through the eyes of a Londoner. I set the company up when I was 23 so we are going to be celebrating our tenth-anniversary next summer. In that time we have taken over 35,000 people around and were listed the No.1 Greatest Thing to do in London by Time Out in London in 2012.
Describe how you first got into classic cars?
My father bought me a 1974 Mini Cooper Innocenti for my 17th Birthday to learn to drive in and I immediately fell in love with the simplicity of the mechanics and the engaging driving experience. Nothing handles like a Mini and it is the perfect town car to get into all the little nooks and crannies that this historic city has to offer. I went to university in London so began to notice how popular the car was and how capable it was a negotiating the ancient twisty streets. I was looking for a better way to discover the city and didn't fancy sitting on a tourist bus; I wanted something more personal and authentic, so I started collecting them for fun and accidentally discovered a niche in the marketplace.
Can you tell us some of your strengths that really helped you in starting up your business?
Tenacity. I was told by many that it was a silly idea and flat-out told it was impossible by Transport for London and the Public Carriage Office (who we are licenced and authorised by). It took about a year of letter writing to the Mayor (Boris Johnson at the time) and banging on many doors before the concept started to look possible.
I also like to read a lot. I knew nothing about business or running a company when we first started, so had to learn fast. If you are humble and hungry, most business scenarios have been well documented by people with far more experience than you have when you first start out. I definitely grew faster by learning from the best. If you can, I would find a business mentor to shadow.
How would you describe your management style?
I'm definitely more carrot than stick. I never ask anyone to do anything they have not personally seen me do first. People are motivated by a multitude of factors. If you really invest the time to find out a particular person's goals or ambitions and try to help them achieve them, they will almost always display an exceptionally strong work ethic and loyalty. Employing people is usually the largest overhead for any business, so the old clique of - fire fast, hire slow - is necessary. Train people well and it will save you 1000s of hours in the long run. Fundamentally, I care enormously about the services we provide and the people who work in the business. The staff are always the first and last point of contact that the client experiences; if the staff are not happy then your business cannot thrive or even survive.
What do you think is the best service your company provides?
There are two services I am particularly proud of: the street food and street art experience which is self-explanatory and our Italian Job style Cooper Caper. This involves a group of up to 30 working in teams of 3 against each other, to solve puzzles around the city, dressed in bright blue jumps suits and tweed flat caps (just like they did in the movie) and using the Minis as get-away cars post bank job. It is so much fun to carry out, never gets boring and never fails to turn heads when you are running down Bond Street with a bar of gold in your hand.
What's the best £100 you've spent on your business?
I bought a Mini for £100 that was falling apart and used it for spares. That has probably saved me £1000s. I spend £100 once on a Facebook sponsored post and got discovered by a journalist in Australia. She wrote an article about us and as a result, we had a steady stream of Australian visitors over the course of the year that equated to over £50k in revenue! Just because something is expensive does not mean it will work. We once signed up to a leaflet distribution service that was £1500 per month and it did not generate us one single sale, yet something like our attraction listing on TripAdvisor is free and has generated us £200k worth of business a year since we have been on it.
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