ALASTAIR BROOM is the proprietor of Garageflex, which installs residential garage storage systems, with headquarters at Westfield Farm in Medmenham. Born and raised in Maidenhead, he went to boarding schools in Wiltshire and Dorset and then had various jobs, including diamond sorter and squash coach, followed by a few years with an insurance broker. He then spent three years travelling around the world. He supported himself by working and his jobs included sugar cane harvester and fruit picker. When he returned to the UK, Alastair took up a friend’s offer to become an estate agent. He spent several years working at Giddy & Giddy in Maidenhead, which was acquired by Hamptons, and he became a main board director. Alastair lives in Lane End with his wife Barbara. They were married in 1978 and have two grown-up children and four grandchildren. Alastair loves playing golf, watching cricket and working on his allotment. He is a member of the Henley Business Partnership.
Describe your business
We design and install bespoke garage storage and organising systems in residential properties. We offer a range of wall storage solutions, including cabinets, shelves and bike racks, storage accessories for ceilings and a choice of resin and tiles for floors. Our aim is to help our customers transform their garage to whatever they may want it to become, ranging from a home gym to an office, while providing neat storage for garden tools, sports equipment, bicycles and even cars!
How many people does it employ?
There are 10 of us covering fitting, sales, marketing and the back office, including Barbara, who works two days a week.
What did you do before you started this business?
After leaving Hamptons I set up, with a partner, Stump Busters, which we ran together for eight years but I slowly became bored. The property market was well accustomed to trends, such as conservatories, orangeries, patio decking, hot tubs etc., and while discussing this with Barbara one evening it occurred to me that nobody had considered the potential for transforming garages. I researched the idea and found a company in America which had developed the market there, so I flew out and negotiated the UK distribution rights.
When did you start your business?
In December 2005.
What was your objective?
I still felt young enough, healthy and fit enough and ambitious enough to give something new a go.
Who and what influenced you?
I put that down to having sufficient confidence in myself and determination to make it succeed.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
Yes. For the last five or six years I’ve had a business coach and I also belong to a mentoring group.
What would you do differently if you could start again?
I would probably look for a partner and expand more quickly. And maybe invest more in technology.
How is your business doing?
Last year was our best ever and after a bit of a slow start we are now looking to do even better this year.
How do you market your business?
We have a strong website with good promotions. We advertise in the magazines that we know work. Exhibitions, social media, referrals, recommendations and developing partnerships with related but non-competitive business are all part of our strategy. The Henley House and Garden Show was brilliant for us.
How important are online sales?
Very. We have an online store and most of our enquiries come from our website. DIY enthusiasts looking to transform their garage can buy everything they need from us online.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
The people I work with — we have a great team. And knowing that the service and product we offer our customers really does make a difference.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Day-to-day issues that I have to deal with as the buck stops with me.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
That I am actually dispensable!
What would you advise someone starting a business?
Thoroughly research it. Talk to someone who is doing something similar and make sure you are young enough to have time to recover from any mistakes.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
I stayed involved with the US company for too long.
What three qualities are most important to success?
Honesty, a hard work ethic and a strong belief in what you are doing.
What’s the secret of your success?
Passion for what we do. Selling a service which people can trust and having a unique product.
How organised are you?
Fairly. I like systems and spreadsheets and, in the words of one customer, I like to have a place for everything and for everything to have a place.
How do you dress for work each day?
We have a smart casual uniform, shirts and sweaters bearing our brand name.
What can’t you be without every day?
My smartphone and some of my homemade marmalade.
Lunch at your desk or going out?
Either at my desk, while out walking, or on the run.
What do you read?
Lots of business books, autobiographies, thrillers, the Sunday Times and BBC News online.
How are you planning for retirement?
I don’t expect to be doing this 10 years from now but I’d like to have somebody take up the reins and continue to grow it so I can gradually let go. With four grandchildren, I’d like more time with the family, to travel more and to improve my golf handicap. I’d also like to do some voluntary work with, say, the National Trust.