From the top · 3 December 2015

Cresting administration to reach retail success

Angus Thomson never doubted that ambitious expansion was the best way to get Saltrock back on track after it was rescued from administration.
Angus Thomson never doubted that ambitious expansion was the best way to get Saltrock back on track after it was rescued from administration.

Surf-inspired clothing retailer Saltrock faced every business owner’s nightmare when it fell into administration – but remained committed to ambitious plans for the future.

Not only did the company make a full recovery, but its owners succeeded in achieving impressive growth and were crowned Retail Hero in the 2015 Growing Business Awards, hosted by our sister title Real Business.

To find out more, Business Advice spoke to co-founder Angus Thomson about how his business managed to bounce back.

Saltrock was established by brothers Angus and Ross Thomson as a wholesale casual clothing producer in the 1980s and only moved onto the high street in 2002 – when the firm’s owners leased expensive retail space to sell men’s, women’s and children’s t-shirts, hoodies and beach clothing.

In retrospect, Thomson (Angus) thought that the move into retail was bad timing. “We were stuck with some pretty onerous rents when the financial crisis struck in 2007,” he explained. The recession proved too much for the fledgling retailer, which went into administration in 2010.

He described Saltrock’s insolvency as “a real low point” for him personally. “I was 23 when we started Saltrock – I had been growing it for most of my life – and it was incredibly difficult to see the business fail,” he added.

The company was rescued by Devon entrepreneur James Brent, and its founders were determined to follow through with the strategy of expansion that they had decided on before the recession. The brothers – who remained shareholders and continued to run the company –  quickly saw the plan pay off. In 2014 Saltrock’s sales increased by almost 50 per cent.

Thomson was confident that his company’s “bricks-to-clicks” model – opening new stores in coastal towns and using them to get email data and increase online sales helped the retailer grow quickly.“It’s given us low cost entry into a competitive market, and we see our stores as great windows to our brand,” he added.

Saltrock’s founder never doubted that aggressive expansion was the best way to get the brand back on track after it was rescued. “We picked up where we left off and continued as we had been doing, and it was brilliant when we succeeded because it showed us that our strategy had been the right one.”

Having succeeded in achieving such phenomenal growth, the brothers have no plans to slow down. “We’ll be growing to between 80 and 100 stores, and creating much stronger internet presence,” Thomson explained.

And he was insistent that being able to deal with setbacks was the most important attribute of a successful entrepreneur. ”Even with all the knocks – and there will be knocks – you have to keep going,” he said.

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Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

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